Duran Duran

Capitol Records, 1982

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


To this day, the mere mention of Duran Duran in the rock press brings with it much disdain, if not outright dismissal. Classic rock purists sometimes believe their word is gospel, so you won’t find many who dare to stray from the guitar-based genre they hold in such high regard -- that is, anything with synthesizers is evil. You’d be very hard pressed to find any Duran Duran album in an American list of top rock albums.

However, if you were to ask a British or pop music journalist about Duran Duran, you’d get a different story. They were, after all, one of the bands involved in the second British invasion of America. Not since The Beatles had a music group ever become so successful so quickly over here, and like the moptops it was the female population that latched on to the band. Over the years, the band has lost members and their standing, but at some point critics will have to show Duran Duran some love -- if for no other reason than their endurance in a precarious rock scene.

This critic, at any rate, thinks Rio is quite a sophomore album, brilliantly capturing the original vibe and intangible aura that is Duran Duran. Why the folks at Capitol had such a hard time trying to figure out how to market this group is beyond me. All the elements were literally staring them right in the face: well-dressed pin-up boys, interesting lyrics, tight rhythm section, elaborate videos in foreign locales on MTV, Colin Thurston’s glossy production...I could go on. Duran Duran had it all in spades, you see. They were perfection on wax.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Duran Duran was the first stadium band designed squarely for the youth market, an audience that has essentially grown up right along with them. After their understated self-titled debut (primarily known for the X-rated video of the song “Girls On Film”), the band was determined to come up with a formula that would sound amazing coming out of stereos, radios, televisions and arenas all over the world.

The epic song “New Religion” is probably the most representative of this new romantic sound. Lead singer Simon LeBon handles a tongue-twisting lyric such as this one like a pro: “Army majors pull a mean cool truth / there lying in a swimming pool / searching for the undeniable truth that a man is just a fool.” The song is so rich and complex that it bears the subhead “A dialogue between the ego and the alter ego.” Pretentious, perhaps, but it sure sounds good.

Things are much more straightforward on the danceable singles “Rio,” with its slightly haunting chorus, and the perennially-popular “Hungry Like The Wolf,” two songs bolstered by constant radio airplay and heavy rotation on MTV (which was still in its infancy). Also of note is “Save A Prayer,” perhaps Duran Duran’s greatest single, though it was actually released much later in the U.S. in conjunction with their live album Arena in 1984. Plus, the fact that it’s an uncharacteristic ballad makes it one of the more forgotten hits.

Other highlights include the above-average first song recorded for the album, “My Own Way;” the hypnotic “The Chauffeur” and my pick for best and most scorching Duran Duran album track ever, “Hold Back The Rain.” The only two songs on Rio that could be seen as filler are “Lonely In Your Nightmare” and “Last Chance On The Stairway.” They are the pair of tunes where things begin to sound a tad repetitive.

The fact that Duran Duran chose a Nagel painting of a female for its album cover should say everything you need to know about this band. It’s almost as if they were trying to show the rock press they were not just pretty boys but had some musical merits to offer. Rio is proof that this was indeed true. You would do well to hear it.

Rating: A-

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© 2007 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.