In the early 1980′s, before acts like Run DMC and The Beastie Boys helped hip-hop become mainstream, MTV was dominated by primarily two types of music – heavy metal and new wave. Sure, Michael Jackson and Prince held down the R&B side of things, but essentially pop music fans were split into two groups – those that liked Motley Crew (and everything close to it) and those that liked Duran Duran (and everything close to it). Leather pants wearing heavy metal dudes were the bad boys of music, much like 50 Cent might be today, while fashionable, more artistically driven pretty boys were more like the Kanye West’s of their era. They were “the first metrosexuals”, as said by the cast of Queer Eye For The Straight Guy.
Duran Duran had it all in the 1980′s. The group had tons of chart topping hits, with strange European videos that featured things like wild jungle girls, soaking wet models, and one half-naked, presumably gay Black man dressed like a bucking bronco. All of this, while they looked cool, decked out in pastel colored suits, clean shaven, with wavy hair cuts, good looks, and British accents. But as time went on, the 90′s eventually came about, with it’s dirty, grunge rock scene eclipsing the styles and sounds of the flashy 80′s. After the group went through a series of break-ups and reshuffles, they struggled to remain relevant, but still caught a few hits with a cover of Grandmaster Flash’s “White Lines”, as well as “Ordinary World”, a bleak song that fit right in with the sound of the time. More recently, the group reunited with all of it’s original members for the release of 2004′s Astronaut, but ultimately failed to recapture the fame they were once so accustomed to.
This time around, while still reunited (but with the departure of Andy Taylor), Duran Duran got smart, and went to some producers that they knew would help them create a record with a sound that would not only be relevant to today’s audience, but also to their longtime fan-base. Enter Timbaland and Nate “Danja” Hills. After producing two of last year’s biggest pop albums – Justin Timberlake’s Futuresex/Lovesounds and Nelly Furtado’s Loose – the group finally found the sound that they were looking for on their newest album, Duran Duran’s Red Carpet Massacre.
The concept behind this record is how the media have more or less become the judge, jury, and executioner of celebrities. Cameras are sniper rifles, and the wrong photo is the assassin’s fatal bullet. Paparazzi have helped destroy careers (Britney), relationships (Bennifer), and even lives (Princess Diana) through their relentless photo-ops, making this a very relevant topic in today’s world of pop culture. The title track, “Red Carpet Massacre”, is an up-tempo song – and probably the most abrasive thing on here – fashioned more after today’s indie-rock drum patterns, but with Danja’s sticky-synth meshing with Duran’s live instrumentation. Here, Simon LeBon draws the album’s brilliant parallel between guns and cameras, with bittersweet lyrics like “apply your lipstick / for dying in public.”
While this shows a good mesh of the two styles, its much more prevalent elsewhere on the record. Tim and Danja manage to keep the sound of Duran Duran within it’s 80′s synth origins, all while updating it to fit within a current club deejay’s playlist. The album opener, “The Valley” is a perfect example of this, bringing back memories of songs like “Planet Earth” with it’s dark, spaced out feel, yet danceable groove. The Timbaland/Timberlake assisted “Nite Runner” might have the longtime Duranny’s crying afoul however, as it treads a little too close to “Sexy Back”; but after a few listens they’ll be singing right along. Again on “Tempted”, we find that perfect synergy of sounds old and new, as LeBon cries, “devil girl now tempts you”, while Danja’s ridiculous, almost House inspired production reinvents the sound of Duran Duran.
They also dip a bit back into their 90′s alternative phase, but still with the aid of Tim, Nate, and Justin. “Falling Down” further expands on the theme of Red Carpet Massacre, dealing with celebrity breakdowns, rehab, etc. Here, funky guitar licks are meshed with whispered beat-boxing and a thundering hip-hop drum beat, provided by Justin Timberlake (who is obviously working with Timbaland’s equipment). The album’s most minimalist track, “Box Full O’ Honey” finds a lovestruck LeBon trying to figure out what is going on in the mind of a woman, over melancholy pianos keys and acoustic guitars, with minimal input from Danja. Perhaps the crown jewel of the album (it’s hard to pick just one) is “Dirty Great Monster”, a song that deals with the subject of a dysfunctional family, in which they all pretend like everything is fine, when they all know that there’s a problem. This is the quintessential, classic Duran song on the album, complete with multi-layered vocal hook and a sax solo (!).
While hardcore fans of the group might not be down with Duran Duran’s choice to update their sound, they are still the same at the core on Red Carpet Massacre. The only real foul ball on the album is “Skin Divers”, which features a lame hook from Timbaland, that sticks out like a sore thumb next to LeBon’s cockney crooning. But otherwise, the input from this team of producers works very well. It’s not quite as solid – nor as soulful – as Justin Timberlake’s Futuresex/Lovesounds, and thankfully not as bubblegum poppy as Nelly Furtado’s Loose. But that is because it’s not trying to be either of these things – but instead simply Duran Duran. – Pizzo
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