One Quart’s ongoing Duran Duran series continues with Nick Triani explaining why he missed the Duran Duran boat, but has grudging respect for their late career nadir Thank You.
It may be the case that I was unfairly critical of Duran Duran when I was a teenager. They represented some kind of pop world Toff’s Utd. Of course, it’s not necessarily true, Duran Duran were certainly not working class heroes – but neither were they Rockefeller.
I’m not sure any of my friends liked Duran Duran either, though there was a nudging respect for ‘Girls On Film’ and ‘Planet Earth’ – Duran Duran were seen in those early days as a band John Peel liked (which meant at that time they passed some sort of geeky/credible test to me and my friends). But as the 1980s moved on and Duran Duran became huge with number one record after number one record, it became impossible to ignore them and what they seemingly represented.
I do remember a real disdain from music critics for Duran Duran in general (a time when critical consensus meant something). Duran Duran were affiliated with the early New Romantic movement, but quickly turned to something more sophisticated and commercially viable with the Rio album. In a social/political sense, at this time – early 1980s – Margaret Thatcher permeated life for many in the UK into a living hell. It was therefore hard to stomach Duran Duran posing on yachts or living out their Indiana Jones dreams in lavishly shot videos. In my eyes Duran Duran were posh boys playing some kind of plastic fandom fantasy – it was easy to see the band as a happy shopper version of Bowie or Roxy. Of course, in the dull pop framework of 2018 that almost sounds thrilling.
In my eyes Duran Duran were posh boys playing some kind of plastic fandom fantasy – it was easy to see the band as a happy shopper version of Bowie or Roxy
With so much vital music being made at the same time (and also being commercially successful), it was easy for me to dismiss Duran Duran as ‘the enemy’ – living it large as international playboys. As an idealistic and unreasonable youth I wanted my music to reflect my disdain of the establishment. This is why I dismissed Duran Duran altogether. I stuck to my northern miserablism and jangling cacophony of discordant. And as the essential and competing new pop movement grew, Duran Duran seemed like lightweight imposters with no context. Of course, it’s hard to carry that hate for so many years – and boy, have I tried.
As an idealistic and unreasonable youth I wanted my music to reflect my disdain of the establishment. This is why I dismissed Duran Duran altogether. I stuck to my northern miserablism and jangling cacophony of discordant
Years later, something’s changed for me. Much after their commercial peak Duran Duran released the single ‘Ordinary World’ (1993) – which I enjoyed despite myself. By this time, the band no longer dominated much at all, let alone the pop charts – they even became an after thought of the tabloid scrum. Typically, Duran Duran became a little bit more interesting to me. The height of my interest in the band came with the release of their covers album Thank You (1995). Whatever way you look at this record – either as a car crash – or as a band ballsy enough to cover some songs that no one else would dare attempt, I really enjoyed the ridiculousness of the enterprise. Thank You has been described universally as the worst album ever made by anyone in the history of popular music. Doesn’t that make you want to listen to it now?
Thank You has been described universally as the worst album ever made by anyone in the history of popular music. Doesn’t that make you want to listen to it now?
Extra kudos has to be given over to the fact that Duran Duran attempt so many ‘classics’ with no apology, diving in and destroying with the hardest sledgehammer possible – with seemingly no remorse or care for things like ‘reputation’. It’s a true act of subversion and easily the most interesting concept the band have ever come up with. I draw the line at saying ‘interesting music’, as the idea of Thank You – and it’s wanton carelessness – is far more interesting than the actual music contained within.
the idea of Thank You – and it’s wanton carelessness – is far more interesting than the actual music contained within
Duran Duran covering Grandmaster Flash’s ‘White Lines’ really is a disaster of epic proportions, but strangely funny. Thank You may display that Duran Duran covet some decent music, but somehow they manage to miss the point as to why any of these songs were special in the first place. Still, amongst the wreckage, there are moments. Their version of Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ is passable and dreamy, one of the occasions they reign it in on the album (at least until the really over the top backing vocalist tries to ruin things at the end). DD’s ‘Perfect Day’ was labelled by Reed himself as “The best cover ever completed of one of my own songs.” I’m not sure how relevant this is, but perhaps this quote questions the value Reed held for one of his most famous tunes.
Elvis Costello’s ‘Watching The Detectives’ is stripped of all the original’s venom and replaced with a white reggae veil of muzak mush, it’s so wrong that it almost works. The verses of Costello’s noir-story are rendered into something as beguilingly ugly as Belouis Some’s ‘Imagination’ (no really), but the guitars here are pretty and make this exercise interesting at least.
Interpretation is of course open, but one thing Thank You ably demonstrates is the feeble nature of Simon Le Bon’s voice (a constant in the Duran Duran catalog). It’s a nondescript, characterless voice, devoid of personality, just an empty vessel able to produce the required notes. This can work quite well in music, and it’s only when Le Bon gets ideas above his station – i.e.rapping, over emoting – that he doesn’t serve the song in an adequate manner. In this respect, Duran Duran’s cover of ‘Lay Lady Lay’ really highlights what a great singer Bob Dylan is by comparison. But it also works as a great vehicle for Le Bon, because as we know, Thank You shows no reverence to the original, so Dylan’s song is as pure pop as Thank You gets.
When DD tackle Iggy Pop’s ‘Success’ in the vein of the Glitter Band we really do run into problems. Whatever you think of Duran Duran, you don’t want to imagine them as a middle aged pub band – which they sound like here. There is at least however the sense that the band are enjoying themselves. ‘Success’ is also one of the only tracks that isn’t so dated by some very fashionable production techniques of the day; distorted vocals a la Beck, that mid 1990’s pitched snare sound that dominates here, various sample effects just thrown in for the sake of it because someone heard a Prodigy album. It’s an oddly un-produced sounding record.
There is at least however the sense that the band are enjoying themselves. ‘Success’ is also one of the only tracks that isn’t so dated by some very fashionable production techniques of the day
Public Enemy, Sly Stone and The Temptations covers amply demonstrate that Duran Duran don’t groove – however much studio trickery and however many backing singers they use to try and convey they do. All these tracks are blighted by a Power Station stodginess. Alternatively, the faithful cover of The Doors’ ‘Crystal Ship’ demonstrates a career as a late blooming goth band may have been a good move for Duran Duran. Le Bon’s voice really works here – that lack of personality and straight delivery removes the annoying hoarseness of Jim Morrison‘s original vocal and replaces it with a splendid detachment. Like the best moments of Thank You, it demonstrates that the band finally worked out the difference between The Blue Nile and Kajagoogoo. Of course, a lot here sways towards the Kajagoogoo side of things. This is exemplified by the fact I can’t even bother to write anything of note about the Led Zeppelin cover contained in Thank You‘s grooves (the album’s title track).
Like the best moments of Thank You, it demonstrates that the band finally worked out the difference between The Blue Nile and Kajagoogoo
But Thank You displays a nothing left to lose surrealness. Duran Duran let it all hang-out in a most ungainly way. Being a contrary bastard, Thank You’s unrestrained contrariness appeals to me greatly. I don’t love it, but respect its existence in the pantheon of pop folly gone awry. Duran Duran’s ultimate failure and humiliation could be talked about in years to come. But their lack of cultural meaning or context means it’s highly unlikely.
Being a contrary bastard, Thank You’s unrestrained contrariness appeals to me greatly. I don’t love it, but respect its existence in the pantheon of pop folly gone awry
Like that other famous misstep (Dylan’s Self Portrait), Thank You may find an audience to resurrect its best moments – or at least discuss the sheer misguided audacity on show. But as Dylan’s catalog is treated with increasing reverence with each passing year, Duran Duran’s music is viewed in almost the exact opposite terms. Thank You’s widespread critical rejection has only hastened such perceptions. Duran Duran are a pop side-note, another band that had their 15 minutes. Whilst the band are remembered in such a dismissive context – and excluded from the increasingly dull pop cannon conversation, it’s unlikely anyone will tell you to look here for some arch thrills.