It’s not "Rio." Nothing ever will be. I think the sooner the Duran Duran fan—avid or casual—gets over this simple truth of life, the better. And the closer one can get to judging Red Carpet Massacre, the band’s 13th studio album, for its own merits. From my casual perusal of reviews online, much was expected. Rumors abounded that guitarist Andy Taylor left the project because of the band’s decision to go with Nate “Danja” Hills and prominent hip-hop figure Timbaland as key co-producers.
To some extent, I can’t say I blame Andy. The tracks produced by Timbaland—-the tepid “Nite Runner,” which never takes off the ground, and the initially catchy but subsequently annoying “Skin Divers” (all fine until Timbaland opens his mouth)--are the weakest songs on the album. Unlike much of the population in my age group, I don’t understand what is so great about Timbaland. His productions are manufactured and their sound doesn’t last. Nelly Furtado’s “Maneater” grates on my nerves after repeated listens and “Sexy Back” is the worst track on an otherwise brilliant Futuresex/Lovesounds by Justin Timberlake.
Oh, but the reviews of Red Carpet Massacre were scathing. I don’t want to get into addressing them in detail, but they ranged from calling the music boring and ineffective to criticizing the band of being sleazy and side-men in their own show. Most brutally, more than one reviewer implied that it wasn’t a Duran Duran record. I could take it no longer. I had to defend the boys. Or at least find out for myself if the music was worth defending.
It is. Overall, it’s a superior production to 2005’s Astronaut. The title track “Red Carpet Massacre” rocks respectably, with more drums than I’ve heard in a Duran Duran song. The Timberlake/Duran Duran collaboration proves to be more successful. By far the strongest track on the album is the melodic “Falling Down.” I made the mistake of listening to this song first by watching the ridiculously decadent video, reminiscent of “Girls on Film” and little more than an excuse to be with pretty model girls (yes, I think it was inappropriate for Simon Le Bon, a 49-year old father of 3 teenage girls, to be doing this video). Duran Duran is forever guilty of exoticizing and sexualizing all women. It took several listens for me to realize “Falling Down” is on league with “Ordinary World” and quite possibly the best song Le Bon has written since then.
Simon--with a voice like liquid sex—sounds as amazing as ever, exactly as he did 25 years ago. I used to attribute a lot of Duran Duran’s creative success to Le Bon and creepy keyboardist Nick Rhodes (Nick is sleazy—that much I’ll admit). I still do. However, I think Le Bon is kind of the in-house poet. He writes all the lyrics and sings all the songs. I think Rhodes has always been the brains behind the band. And I don’t think he would have let anything go that he didn’t approve of, despite handing over the production of many of the songs to outsiders. Everything on the record retains the sound of Duran Duran. Some of it is quite reminiscent of The Wedding Album, Notorious, and hinting at the cold landscapes of “So Red the Rose”(produced under the name Arcadia due to legal issues around the Duran Duran name at the time), and even “Rio.”
Let’s face it. “Rio” was a unique convergence of youth, sexual frustration, and a specific period in musical history. Duran Duran was a quintet of cerebral, artsy, geeky guys, who essentially brought disco into the 1980s. “Rio” unfolds in gorgeous narrative fashion, chronicling desperate encounters with cold, distant, and dismissive women—chase, capture, and ultimate rejection. Duran Duran made this record while still in their early 20s. “Rio” sky-rocketed them into fame. What do you do after that? There is nothing they have to prove to the world. The frustration that drove those early songs was gone. Le Bon successfully courted supermodel Yasmin Parvaneh (one of my favorite women aesthetically speaking), marrying her when she was barely 21 and he barely 27—and they are nearing a quarter-century of marital bliss.
Red Carpet Massacre is a tongue-in-cheek criticism of the way in which celebrities of today self-destruct, with the bottom line message being that they really have no excuse. Duran Duran has been singing about fame since Seven and the Ragged Tiger, a sexy record about drive and ambition, climbing to the top and wanting more. Duran Duran survived their fame with considerable grace relative to their massive success, and for that, I think they have every right for making this social commentary of decadence and moral decline.
I think the essential problem for me is this—when Duran Duran came out onto the scene, they were fresh and innovative, taking music that was on their heels and propelling it into future—giving us a sound unlike anything we’d ever heard before. I want to hear something entirely new again. But that’s really too much to expect from a band that’s already left an indelible mark on the world of music.
I’ve given up on expecting a “Rio” for my generation from anyone. It’s very possible that rock/pop/hip-hop is nearing the fringe end of an era—what lies next is the question . . .
Because I really don’t want you to watch the video for “Falling Down,” satisfy yourself with this:
It’s just as ridiculous, but I can forgive it for being the 80s . . .