14
Nov
09

When They Were Emperors: Duran Duran’s Collector’s Edition Rio and Live at Hammersmith DVD

Duran Duran Rio Collector's Edition

Many shy away from admitting they enjoy some Duran Duran; the fact they had thousands of teenage girls screaming for them for a few years somehow degrades their pop value (teenage girl fans are apparently credibility-suckers – another argument for another time). As a band, Simon LeBon and Co generally take the flak for the sins of the 80s: excess, commercialist greed, hyperbolic style, etc. I, myself, was a teenager in the 90s when I first heard Duran Duran, and while listening to songs like Planet Earth, Girls on Film, Hungry Like the Wolf, and The Reflex, I became a fan. Later, as I realized that I was really only interested in the first few Duran Duran albums and that the band had disintegrated quite spectacularly by the time I was halfway through high school (I distinctly remember Electric Barbarella playing on the radio then), I became more interested in their contribution to early music videos. Should you so choose, you can click here to read an undergrad essay I wrote about the post-colonial issues in their Rio-era videos. So, I suppose I could add post-colonial imperialism to their list of misdemeanors, but for some reason, as you can see, Duran Duran never left me. At least, the original incarnation of Duran Duran never did. And with EMI’s release of the Collector’s Edition of Rio coinciding with the release of a DVD/CD combo of their 1982 gig in Hammersmith, I’m starting to reflect on the insane success and inevitable decline of the band and what exactly appealed to me when I first heard them fifteen years ago.

Rio, like its bookends, Duran Duran and Seven and the Ragged Tiger, appealed to me because its lyrics largely didn’t make sense. Let me explain. Like abstractions of a dreamworld, Duran Duran lyrics were often so oddly phrased that they seemed extraordinary – sure, a vague plotline that might involve pursuit of romance/sex was present, but the metaphors and diction weren’t straightforward. Examples in Hungry Like the Wolf include: “Dark in the city night is a wire/Steam in the subway earth is afire,” “Smell like I sound I’m lost in a crowd,” and “Strut on a line it’s discord and rhyme.” When the ostensibly awkward lyrics collided with the music, the songs became otherworldly. Their blend of disco, post-punk and New Romantic synthpop still stands up today; the crisp, clean drums and glacial synths glide over the organic groove, making the music feel like it could simultaneously shatter in icy shards while undulating under that elastic bass rhythm and wailing sax. Their self-titled debut leaned more heavily on cold electro and spiky punk energy to fashion a strange alien glamour that drew from the past and future at the same time, a feature that they absorbed from New Wave and blew out to its extremes. Rio, in particular, takes exoticism to new heights; not only do the videos for the record signal this quite clearly, but take the example of Save a Prayer and its bizarre ululating synth that mimicks Tarzan’s call. And my all-time favourite Duran Duran song, The Chauffeur, happens to be the finale of Rio; the haunting, Teutonic coolness is still tempered with what sounds like South American pan pipe sounds, and it continues to give me chills like creeping shadows.

The Collector’s Edition of their 1982 record is just that: for collectors. The first disc is the digital remastering of the original tracks along with a Carnival Remix of My Own Way and US album remixes of Rio, Lonely in Your Nightmare, Hungry Like the Wolf and Hold Back the Rain. It includes a second disc of bonus material, including Manchester Square demos (recorded 28 August 1981) of Last Chance on the Stairway, My Own Way, New Religion, and Like an Angel, and various b-sides and remixes. It is best enjoyed by Duranies and those who never got a hold of these alternate tracks or b-sides via other channels through the years. The problem with this re-release, as it is with many bands I’m sure, is that there just isn’t much point digging into the back catalogue for alternate versions when differences are often so subtle that it takes either a really dedicated fan or a really trained ear to care. For instance the difference between the original Rio and the US Rio is that on the latter track, there’s a looser snare and a shorter intro of TARDIS-like noises; in the end, the US mix feels softer, but I only realized this by flipping back and forth between the two until my brain smoked. Yes, the second disc of demos are more clearly differentiated from the originals, but are likely most interesting for hard-core collectors (and of course for me, I was most drawn to the alternate acoustic version of The Chauffeur). For a Duran Duran completist, this edition would be useful, and if you don’t already own a copy of Rio, you could spring for this one as something beyond the regular; however, then you may as well go for the similarly priced Collector’s Edition vinyl.

Duran Duran Live at Hammersmith

Now, to the Live at Hammersmith ’82 DVD/CD. I’ve never seen Duran Duran live, and at this point in both their history and mine, I don’t think I want to. However, I do admit to enjoying the early live footage of tours and performances, and this Hammersmith gig is one of those. What strikes me the most about concerts like this one is the feeling of witnessing a band at their zenith. One can argue about when exactly Duran Duran peaked (the end was definitely with Live Aid), but I would contend that 1982 was the moment. They were worldwide superstars with two successful albums and videos in high rotation on MTV, the absurdity hadn’t quite overshadowed them yet (as it did in a video like Wild Boys) and the jaded strain hadn’t gotten to them at this point. It is the MTV-darling, visual component of their identity that makes these live performances worth watching. Because I’m personally drawn to androgyny and glam style, Duran Duran’s image would have always been attractive to me; the band was aesthetically pleasing, especially Nick Rhodes and his David Sylvian-pilfered look, moving like a beautiful automaton over his keyboards.

This gig is also an energetic, lean performance, by which I mean the setlist didn’t contain much filler (when a band only has two albums to draw from, it’s can be expected to be tighter). Even when doing the slower, slightly darker numbers, they appeared to come from some place of fantasy and youthful exuberance – they couldn’t believe their good fortune, and took you with them on that ride to the top. I will also say that I hadn’t been aware that Duran Duran did a cover version of Cockney Rebel’s Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me), which they do quite admirably in the encore of this performance.

As bonus material, this DVD features the Rio-era music videos and TOTP performances, and oddly enough, I don’t remember having ever seen the video for Lonely in Your Nightmare before – it would have been helpful for that essay on visual rhetoric and post-colonialism. These videos, more than the others from Duran Duran, remain iconic in their imperialist adventurer guise, and remain fascinating to me precisely because they were shot with epic budgets on location in “exotic” locales. It becomes incredibly difficult to dissociate the songs from the video imagery, and I think it’s interesting to compare and contrast these videos with other iconic New Romantic videos like those of Adam and the Ants; by drawing on the past images of Victorian and Edwardian dandy dress, they inherited notions of British empire by proxy. And if I combine that with an appropriation of “other” musical sounds from those who would have been conquered by the British, I’ve got an extension for my original essay. Again, an argument for another time.

Despite the fact they came from a legitimate background of punk/glam rock and despite their former massive popularity, why were/are Duran Duran so denigrated? Perhaps, unlike their heroes David Bowie and Roxy Music, their artificial glamour ceased to be a pose. They showed off a little too much, they seemed to be wrapped up in their own hyperbole and absurdity. Maybe their collective pretty boy image also made it less likely they would be taken seriously by critics. And then, there were those armies of hysterical girls.

Considering the massacre that was Red Carpet Massacre and the second departure of Andy Taylor a few years ago, Duran Duran’s music now sounds like middle-aged desperation. Their breathless courting of producers like Timbaland and Mark Ronson depresses me because it signals quite clearly that Duran Duran no longer know who they are as a band and are aching for someone else to tell them who to be. All that had once been fresh energy and style has leached away into hollow attempts to stay current and hip. It’s not as though they’re the only band in this situation; not too many artists sustain a high level of interesting musical output beyond a decade or so. Being boxed in by those heavy 80s brackets doesn’t help. And so I prefer to turn my attention to twenty-seven years ago when Duran Duran were emperors of their own paradise.

The Chauffeur (Sing Blue Silver Version) – Duran Duran

Rio (Live at the Hammersmith ’82) – Duran Duran

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2 Responses to “When They Were Emperors: Duran Duran’s Collector’s Edition Rio and Live at Hammersmith DVD”


  1. 1 Ant
    November 16, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    Jeez – Where do I start with this band? I really have no idea and I’m not sure I ever will. You’ve just managed to do something well that I probably can’t.

    From what I can tell, we’re roughly the same age (late twenties) – But unlike you, I considered myself keen on them since their original heyday. As a wee lad, my teenage sister had “Rio” and “Seven and the Ragged Tiger” on regular plays, and I’d picked up on them at the age of 4. Granted, I didn’t become a “fan” but they were the first pop group I was into, so to speak. I will defend this lot til the ends of the earth. It was of it’s time, but it was great pop music, and it came from the right place. And I’m not just talking about Birmingham.


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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave

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So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun

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Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head

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Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away

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Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners

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Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away

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You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender

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I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding

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You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black

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Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

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Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb

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Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape

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Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

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And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning

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My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it

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Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love

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We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

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It's not supposed to happen like that

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Make me smell like myself

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To make me smell like someone else

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Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

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Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

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We're a couple, when our bodies double

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Sister feeling call

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Bloc Party Silent Alarm

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Empty

Running on

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He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

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Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

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There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

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Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell

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Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are

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You must let her go

She's not crying

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Baiting

Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times

Valentines

Hating

Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone

Whipcrack

Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't

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So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need

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The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest

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Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know

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No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more

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All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids

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Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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