Unless you reside under a rock, are without Internet service or are too young to really appreciate the '80s, you already know that the onetime Fab Five (known to pedestrian pop fans as Duran Duran) is due to grace the Bayou City at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion next Saturday. As one of the most anticipated concerts to resurrect the decade that gave us super-consumable pop music and deliciously satisfying men in frilly shirts and eye shadow, this show promises to be the highlight of Houston's early-summer concert season.
Incredibly, Duran Duran’s music has remained relevant since the group's late-'70s inception. Consider Eagles of Death Metal’s cover of “Save a Prayer” or Notorious B.I.G.’s rap samples, or bands like Jets to Brazil and Radiohead claiming the group as inspiration. By helping popularize a new wave/post-punk sound that soon dominated '80s dance floors, film and pop culture, Duran Duran remained an influence long after Reagan left office. So, to celebrate their arrival in Texas next week, we present DD's Top 10 albums for your nostalgic pleasure. Get out your fluorescent Ray-Bans, load up your forearms with bangles and pop that collar: it's time to reflex some careless memories.
10. Duran Duran ("The Wedding Album"), 1993
A clear departure from DD's '80s sound, this album included the tremendously popular "comeback" hits “Come Undone” and “Ordinary World.” Unfortunately, it was also a harbinger of the downward turn in their career that began in earnest with 1995's all-covers disaster Thank You and eventually included not only misfires like All You Need is Now (2011) but all-out flops like Pop Trash (2000) and Medazzaland (1997), which didn’t even chart in most countries. None of that can be laid at the feet of the majestic "Come Undone," though.
9. Big Thing (1988)
Ironically forecasting their last big thing for half a decade, this Andy Warhol-dedicated album rides what enormous popularity these boys held across the globe into their later years, where things became muddled and confused. Flawed it may be, Big Thing still recalls a time when pop music included musicians who not only played their own instruments, but wrote groundbreaking songs and had incredible talent. Would it be too much to ask of Kanye, Miley and The Biebs to rise to half of the artistry and skill of Duran Duran? Please?
8. Red Carpet Massacre (2007)
There was so much pre-release hype about this album that I, too, had hopes for a smashing comeback, but not even a collaboration with Justin Timberlake could save Duran Duran fro m themselves.
Another attempt to reincarnate themselves as someone else, the songs sound overtly cosmetic and clinical, not unlike elevator jazz. The odd yet beautiful standout is “Box Full O’ Honey,” with its classical arrangement, acoustic guitar and flute. Overall, Red Carpet Massacre is what happens when a famous producer (Timbaland) tries to modernize a classic band but only comes out looking (and sounding) awkward.
7. Paper Gods (2015)
DD's latest LP is another hit-and-miss collection, but luckily the hits are huge. The title track sounds like old Duran Duran thanks to Simon LeBon's a cappella verses; John Taylor's deep, bubbly bass; and some melodically forward synth from Nick Rhodes. The misses are pretty awful, even for Duran Duran. “Pressure Off” sounds like it was literally borrowed from High School Musical; “Butterfly Mire” like tired late-'80s bourgeois blandness from Paula Abdul. There’s not much that’s interesting here, so better move up the list quickly.
6. Decade (1989)
Yes, a greatest-hits record, but Decade is actually a well-rounded collection of wildly popular smash hits and well-chosen lesser-known tracks. Therefore, it makes a perfect DD starter album for readers who may be unfamiliar with the second wave of the British Invasion, or collectors of radio edits and various remixes.
5. Notorious (1986)
After the 1985 No. 1 hit “A View to a Kill,” theme for the James Bond film of the same name, fans anxiously anticipated another smash record. Sadly, by this time Duran Duran was no longer the Fab Five, as Andy Taylor (guitar) and Roger Taylor (drums) had left the band to pursue other interests. Despite the personnel disruptions, though, the Nile Rodgers-produced album boasts great tracks in “Notorious,” “Meet El Presidente” and “Skin Trade.”
4. Seven and the Ragged Tiger (1983)
DD's third album was their attempt to maintain the commercial success of Rio while solidifying their longevity. It worked: “The Reflex” is one of the greatest pop songs ever recorded, while the accompanying video is a sublime synthesis of music, image and presentation. Musically, LeBon’s voice was at its sexiest when coiling around the dark bass notes and synth melodies of “Union of the Snake" and "New Moon On Monday." All that helped Duran Duran prove themselves as the superstars they were.
3. Arena (1985)
Even a live album containing only one previously unreleased track, “Wild Boys,” still had the power to take over the Billboard charts and radio airwaves. Further, the band's perfectly executed performances demonstrated the caliber of talent they truly had. Taken from DD's physically exhausting 1984 world tour, Arena’s incredible energy belies the fatigue and tension the band was experiencing behind the scenes.
2. Rio (1982)
Skyrocketing the band to worldwide fame, this album took the Fab Five from Britain’s underground to massive radio play. Videos like “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Rio” became the face of MTV for months on end. Even without the hits, the work on this album is phenomenal — the emotional impact of “The Chauffeur” and poppy madness of “My Own Way” are gems in themselves.
1. Duran Duran (1981)
When a band’s inaugural album sounds like the third or fourth release by an established act, then rest assured you’re in the presence of pop greatness. Such is the case here, as DD's debut offers edgy synth-pop weirdness, pornographic themes and outer-space lyrics. Delectably quirky yet masterfully presented, pop albums do not come any finer than this, a solid foundation that soon helped DD change the musical dynamic across the globe.
Duran Duran and special guests Chic featuring Nile Rodgers perform Saturday, April 23 at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Dr., The Woodlands. Gates open at 6 p.m.
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