|Photo via Paper magazine|
I’ve been super excited to write this review, and I’m even more excited that I can write such a positive one!
DD’s fourteenth studio album came out on September 11th, and I’ve listened to it pretty much nonstop since then. “Rio” may end up being their legacy album and the one that they are most known for, but this album is surely on the verge of being one of their best. At least in this humble fan’s opinion!
Before I get to a song-by-song review (yes, I am doing that, including bonus tracks), just a few words about Duran Duran. Although much maligned as a throwaway boy band, those of us in the know understand that there was always (and still is) much more to them than that. They managed to meld a punk rock sensibility with an infectious, bass-heavy dance groove. Add in some genuinely great lyrics on many of the songs, and you’ve got a band that inspired countless others and who still makes me dance. They were also fashion icons (still are) and quite good-looking (still are). That latter may be the understatement of the year. But beyond being ridiculously photogenic, they are talented musicians and songwriters who aren’t content to be an ‘80s nostalgia band. Thus a fourteenth studio album that is some of the best work they’ve ever done. If you haven’t listened to anything beyond their radio hits, you’re really missing out. Missing the (night) boat, one might say. (I made a DD pun!) The hits are great, too, but dig a little deeper to find some amazing stuff.
Simon Le Bon once said that they are the “band to dance to when the bomb drops.” There are a lot of bands and a lot of music that I love, but if death by nuke is to be my ultimate fate, I can’t think of any band I’d rather blow up to.
[clapping hands] All right! Here we go! For your listening pleasure and enhanced reading experience, you can stream “Paper Gods”. I highly recommend it!
- “Paper Gods” - The opening track is a long-ish one featuring a collaboration with British songwriter and producer Mr Hudson. A scathing commentary on our consumerist culture, the song makes a good point that we “bow to the paper gods,” and that it’s all “paper walls falling down, paper house, paper town.” But it’s still got a great dance groove to it! I’ve been reading that they are opening their most recent concerts with this song, and even before I’d read that, I thought that this song would be a perfect opener. A sort of Gregorian chant starts it, then Simon sings, then the rhythm section joins in...that’s what I’m talking about! Nice build-up to start the album or a concert.
- “Last Night in the City” - This song includes Canadian musician Kiesza. (Amazing how many new performers I learned about from this album!) It’s a great rave-up of a song, and Kiesza’s vocals are a lovely and soaring counterpoint to those of Simon. I could dance the hell out of this song.
- “You Kill Me With Silence” - A little bit of a slower beat on this one after we all shook our booties to the previous one. Simon hits some pretty awesome high notes in the chorus, and there is a super cool guitar solo towards the end. Well done, Dom Brown!
- “Pressure Off” - Holy shit. This is the first single and it came out a couple of months before the album release. The first time I heard it, I thought I was going to DIE. Okay, I’m exaggerating a little bit there, but I think I did clutch my heart! Nile Rodgers is all over this one, and he’s listed as one of the producers, along with Mark Ronson, Mr Hudson, and of course, Duran Duran. The chorus is infectious and makes me want to wave my hands in the air like I just don’t care! Janelle Monäe is featured and she just knocks it out of the park on her verse. If this song doesn’t get you moving, call the coroner, because you’re a dead mofo!
- “Face For Today” - Another up-tempo one, although it seems almost sedate after “Pressure Off.” Some nice keyboard from Monsieur Rhodes here.
- “Danceophobia” - And the dance hits just keep on coming! This is one of the funnest songs on the album, with a spoken word cameo by Lindsay Lohan—I’m not kidding! She does a great job as the doctor with the sexy voice who tells her patient that he’s got danceophobia, and “I may have to work on you throughout the night.” Great fun!
- “What Are The Chances?” - This one features John Frusciante, formerly of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, with some killer guitar. It starts off as though it’s going to be a complete ballad, but the beat is still there. Just a little slower. This is one of my favorites on the album because Simon’s vocals send chills down my spine. Around the 3:15 mark, he just soars, and then amazingly goes even higher. Blows me away every time! I’ve read that he worked with a vocal coach to “rebuild” his voice, and he learned how to relax and just let ‘er rip (I’m paraphrasing). Even before reading that, I was struck by how strong his voice sounds on this album, so it was cool to learn that he was working to improve his voice even more. He’s always had a distinctive voice, and this track showcases it perfectly.
- “Sunset Garage” - This is a happy little song (“Sooo...halfway drunk”) that makes me think of cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway in a little convertible roadster. I love how Simon sings, “Whatever happens, we’re okay, hey, we’re still alive!” Yes. Yes, you are. And you can sing that to me in a convertible roadster on the PCH anytime you want to, Simon!
- “Change the Skyline” - Man, is that one tasty synth riff opening this up, or what?! This one starts off fast, but the chorus slows down a bit with more great vocals from Simon. The track features Jonas Bjerre, who is the lead singer of Mew, a Danish rock band. (I’ve heard of Mew but didn’t know Jonas Bjerre’s name until this album.) Another nice vocal collaboration between Bjerre and Simon.
- “Butterfly Girl” - Another strong cut that is just a great pop song. It is a little reminiscent to me of ‘70s pop (in the good way). This is another of my favorites on the album because of its positive message. “You can make it through tomorrow, set free your Butterfly Girl, and when you rise above the sorrow, you’ll be a Butterfly Girl.” More great wailin’ vocals from Simon and more guitar from John Frusciante.
- “Only In Dreams” - A slow-starting one that you think is going to be a ballad (and can I say enough about Simon’s vocals??), but then the rhythm section kicks in, with some great bass grooves from JT. Play that fuckin’ bass, John! “There’s a vampire in the limousine!” I don’t know what that means, but I love it!
- “The Universe Alone” - I’m not going to say much about this one at the moment because it’s going to get its own blog entry. I’ll just say for now that this song moves me as much as anything DD has ever done—even as much as “The Man Who Stole A Leopard.” (Ask Ken about my reaction to that song!) It’s also a great closer to the regular version of the album. More on this one soon.
Bonus tracks (from the deluxe CD version)*
- “Planet Roaring” - Fun keyboard intro that makes me think of Devo and a great chorus that makes for another tasty dance song. Guitar on this is attributed to Steve Jones. That would be THE Steve Jones, formerly of the Sex Pistols. He and John Taylor have been pals for a long time and played in a band in the ‘90s called the Neurotic Outsiders.
- “Valentine Stones” - “I don’t wanna be like the boys that you keep in tow, like your Valentine Stones.” How do they manage to make a song simultaneously menacing but danceable? I don’t know. But that’s Duran Duran.
- “Northern Lights” - Another slow starter and then the rhythm section and keyboards kick in. Man, this opening makes me think of Devo, too. More great keyboards from Nick and more guitar from John Frusciante. This song strikes me as kind of sexy and romantic. “If you want to stay tonight, write your name across the sky, nothing that I would rather like than see you in the northern lights.” Kind of a slow-jam sort of vibe here.
Bonus tracks (from the Target version)*
- “On Evil Beach” - Man, I love this one. It has a distinct reggae vibe to me, with nice tinkly keyboards, some funky distorted bass, and I’m not sure how to describe the drums—almost a steel drum sound?—but they add to the reggae feel for me. There is even an interjected “Hey!” in there every so often. Dare I say it? This makes me think of how the Clash melded punk and reggae. Yep, I said it!
- “Cinderella Ride” - I love this one, too! Once again, Simon’s vocals send me. So smooth, and yes, I’ll ride with you, Simon! “Rise up on sparrow wings, you shall be the queen of shrouds, the queen of helpless things.” Again, I’m not sure what that means, but I think it’s lovely.
So there you have it. It strikes me that their bonus tracks are as solid as anything on the main album, but if they had to pare it down to twelve songs, they made good choices. I had been anticipating this album for months and what a wonderful thing to listen and realize that not only did it meet my expectations, it skyrocketed past them. I think I like this even more than 2011’s “All You Need Is Now,” and I’ve been listening to that in my car nonstop for months. “Paper Gods” debuted at #10 in Billboard’s top 10 album chart, the strongest chart position they’ve had in 22 years, so it seems that I’m not the only one who is diggin’ it!
To make this even more special, we are flying out to Berkeley, CA to see them perform at the Greek Theater on Oct. 2nd! It will be my first time seeing them live, and I am thrilled. You know this fangirl is going to be wiggin’ out!
Congratulations to Duran Duran for making a fantastic album and for having great success with it. I couldn’t be happier for them and I applaud them for pushing the envelope and taking chances with new music and new collaborations. They are stronger for it and my fandom continues unabated. Duran Duran 4-evah!
*The bonus tracks are not included in the stream I provided, but if you want to hear the songs, they are all available on YouTube.