No, your eyes do not deceive, I am posting Music Review Monday on a Tuesday. Fact is, my internet was down yesterday. Sorry about that, you guys!
Welcome to Duran Duran week on the blog! Why? Well, I’ll be going to see them perform live at the Pepsi Super Bowl Fan Jam on Thursday. You know how it goes, you get so excited about who you’re gonna see that you can’t think of anything else, so I thought, why fight it?
Now, having thirteen studio albums, not to mention all the various side projects and whatnot, there’s a plethora of material from which to choose. In the end, because I’m also a gamer, I asked a friend to roll a twelve-sided die. I attributed a number to each of the first twelve studio albums since we’ll have a review of lucky number thirteen when it comes out on CD.
Left with a roll of twelve, we get to discuss Red Carpet Massacre. Duran Duran’s twelfth studio album was released in November of 2007. If asked to describe it in one word, I’d have to go with lush. The sound is just full and sensuous, beckoning you to enter their magical, musical world. A large number of Duranies would disagree with me. They didn’t like it, thought it contrived and/or lackluster.
It was the album I’d been waiting for my whole life.
I’ll admit, I was as leery as everyone else of them working with Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, and Danja. Personally, I thought they should have worked with Timberlake’s former band mate, JC Chasez. I was never so happy to be wrong, let me tell you! The overall style of the album is tight, consistent, well-balanced among vocals and instruments, really a testament to what brilliant producers can do working with brilliant artists.
We start off with The Valley. Already I’m swaying in my seat to the beat, before Simon starts singing. The lyrics take me on a journey “through the cities and the towers, turning minutes into hours” as I sink into the instrumentation. When John’s bass solo comes up, it’s like being lifted into the storm clouds where the gods thunder. Sometimes my heart starts to beat in time to Roger’s beat, even as my veins sing along with Nick’s keyboards. Side note: everyone in the world should hear Simon Le Bon sing the word “mischievous” because it gets under your skin in all the best ways. Normally I don’t dig heavy breathing in a song, but the I’m-running-from-something feel really fits in here.
Red Carpet Massacre opens with a dream-like interlude from Nick that alters to a pounding synth and drums tempo that wakes your senses with its brightness. Simon comes in with fast-paced lyrics that create a complementary rhythm all its own. The chorus slams in with vocals and all instruments like a wave of sound, carrying you away and giving the whole thing a sort of stylishly embattled feel. In interviews, Simon has said he was inspired by seeing the worst-dressed lists after an awards show, that the stars in question were being massacred by the reporter. “Enter the battle of the lenses” indeed! There’s even a warning to those who would brave the red carpet: “Ain’t the place to mess around when someone wants to take you down!” It’s fast, unrelenting, and an energizing shock to the system.
Nite Runner, one of the two songs in which Timberlake was involved, is a throbbing, pulsing club song about, as near as I can tell, falling for a vampire. “You’re nocturnal, only come out at night,” the opening lines, definitely draw you into the concept, especially with Simon’s voice luring you on and Timbaland’s providing a deep counterpoint. From the liner notes I can see that Timberlake has also contributed backing vocals, but his voice blends so well that it’s indistinguishable unless you really hunker down and search for it. “Love is haunting,” and that’s just what this song does, deliciously haunts us into dancing.
Falling Down, the only other song on the album to which Timberlake contributes, and the only single is a danceable ballad. Inspired by Simon’s motorcycle accident, both vocals and keyboards undulate in a constant rise and fall, the rhythm section holding steady and strong. The effect is that of a body tumbling through space, the solid ground the only constant as you hit, bounce up, and fall again continuously. “Why do the cruel barbs fly? Now when disgrace can no longer hurt me?” reminds us that, even in their less popular times the press seemed to have taken joy in mocking Duran for the crime of refusing to fade into obscurity back in the eighties. Dom Brown provides a beautifully haunting guitar piece that melts into the piano outro.
Box Full o’ Honey starts out simply, just Simons voice and acoustic guitar. The other instruments come in one by one, building into a round, full sound that fills you up. The pipe sounds dimly echo, or at least recall Save A Prayer in some ways, a welcome familiarity. The centerpiece of this song is definitely Simon’s voice, the instruments lifting, supporting, highlighting him as we flow along.
Skin Divers, probably the first song they should have released, thumps in, demanding you be caught up in the beat. Simon croons in the lower regions of his range, beckoning you to move with him as the disco ball comes down, getting caught up, up against the wall… Ahem. The song, for all it’s driving beat, flows through your veins, Timbaland’s voice a perfect, heartbeat-like counterpoint. It also contains my very favorite lyric of all time: “A blushing rose is torn from these sugar walls, I misplaced my future, could I please borrow yours?”
Tempted slides in, more airy and floaty than the rest of the album, but no less compelling. It’s poppy and peppy from top to bottom, carefree, tempting you once more out onto the dance floor. “Like you know it’s meant to, oh yeah.” It feathers along our nerves, through our veins, until we’re flying along, lost in the beat.
Tricked Out is an instrumental piece, a bit helter-skelter for my tastes. Even so, I like the way it sounds as though it’s what the aliens have playing on their spaceship as they check out the strange humans.
Zoom In is about Second Life, a virtual world where users can interact with one another through infinitely customizable avatars. In 2005, before Andy Taylor left Duran for the second time, there were plans in the works for the band to create their own islands and have an in-world concert. We’re still waiting. The song itself is just as surreal as SL itself can be, neatly capturing the spirit of the Linden Labs creation. It’s definitely a fun, danceable song that’s letting you in on a secret joke. “Now she arrives in a flaming crash like a falling star!”
She’s Too Much is a beautiful ballad that Simon has said was inspired by his middle daughter, Saffron. It’s reassuring, sweet, and full of love, letting her know that Daddy’s watching and will be there to catch her when she falls, be fighting in her corner. All too often we hear of absentee fathers and deadbeat dads, that part of the beauty of the song is that it reminds us that there are fathers out there who love their children, want the best for them.
Dirty Great Monster is a great source of debate among certain Duranie factions. The band firmly states that it’s about an abusive home, the monster being the abuser. However, at first superficial blush, much to the glee of the fandom slashers, it sounds almost like the band are admitting something about their inter-relationships with one another. “Do you ever wonder about the days when we were straight?” The music is haunting and would be right at home in the soundtrack of a horror film about parental abuse. “We’re all afraid of each other, we’re the victims in this show.” It captures that hunted mistrust rife in such an atmosphere. So well in fact that, brilliant or no, it makes me uncomfortable listening to it sometimes, recalling my own episode of abuse at the hands of a roommate from years ago.
Last Man Standing is the final song on the album. It ties everything up together, just as a good finale should, pulling in the dance-ability, musicality, and themes of previous songs into a neat little package. Rather than having dessert at the end of the musical repast, it’s a cup of rich, dark coffee over which we gather and reflect about the meal just finished.
So what do you think? Is there an album that makes a full meal for you?