by Sander Wolf
It's been twenty years since Duran Duran leaped out like a ragged tiger with its eponemously titled debut album. Successive albums dominated 80's radio and created the soundtrack for Generation X's youth. And while the band has faded a bit in the last few years, it's been continuously busy in its quest to reclaim the pop throne it once had. Pop Trash, the band's new homage to the glory and vanity of music and culture, may help it do just that.
To be fair, there's a pretty good argument for saying that Duran Duran has never lost its presence. With more than a dozen major albums to its credit (that's not even including the Power Station/Arcadia schism of '85) the band has been consistently putting out quality material. In fact, the band been rewarded with album sales greater than sixty million and has charted with over a dozen singles. In 1993 the trifecta of "Ordinary World," "Come Undone," and "Too Much Information" from the album now referred to as The Wedding Album revived the band and proved that there was life for the band beyond '80's "flashback radio."
With its collection of moody ballads and strong radio charmers Pop Trash is poised to have as much success. While drawing from a deep reservoir of pop history it also effuses new sounds and ideas. The combination provides the perfect transition into the next phase of Duran Duran's career.
Nick Rhodes, who in addition to his usual keyboard duties has also taken on production and songwriting tasks for Pop Trash, doesn't completely agree. "I think the first single, 'Someone Else Not Me' isn't really going to make it at pop radio stations to be honest," he laments, "we'll try something more upbeat like 'Playing with Uranium' for the second one."
Frontman and full-time rock star Simon LeBon deadpans, "Yeah, 'Someone Else Not Me' is kind of a slow song -- and it's slow at radio as well."
Still, the band has pinned a lot of hope to the ballad even including a version in spanish on albums released in the US and a version in french on Canadian albums. The reason for the multilingism may have been more for fun than fame according to Rhodes who remarks, "We just kind of did it because we've talked about recording in other languages for a long time. This time we finally got 'round to it."
As the lead track to Pop Trash the song fittingly sums up exactly what makes Duran Duran a great pop band. Clean hooks are sung by LeBon in a voice that makes it hard to decide if he's about to cry or score with your girlfriend. Warren Cuccurullo's guitar washes gently under the vocal while the sound is softly reinforced with Rhodes' vintage keyboard strings.
The theme of pop culture continues throughout the album even as the droning verses of "Playing With Uranium" are contrasted with its sweet chorus which ironically describes destroying the world to "reinvent the human race." More fun is "Hallucinating Elvis" and its kitschy treatment of wordplay like, "What you see ain't what you get/I'm shooting movies and the TV set."
This lyrical amusement is indicative of the band's subtle stylistic shift on Pop Trash which is an unexpected result of a change in the band's songwriting methodology.
"I'd say I've written 95, no, 98 percent of the lyrics in the past," boasts LeBon, "but when we were writing this album I was getting a bit slow and so Nick started writing some of the lyrics on his own. Luckily, they were very good."
"Mars Meets Venus," is the best example of the album's theme and its most energetic song. Taking a phrase that's sold more paperbacks than Leo Buscaglia ever will and merging it with lines from random singles' ads creates a slyly cynical comment on modern culture that is exactly the point of Pop Trash. The tune's sparkling rhythm track and gurgling bass keyboard is splattered with just the right amount of vocal harmony every time the title is mentioned allowing the music to precisely illustrate the desperate lyrics.
"I wrote the majority of the lyrics on this album thinking about the deep irony of Duran Duran being around for twenty years," explains Rhodes. "Putting Liberace's car on the front of the album, adding the Beatles references, and nicking the Warhol line for 'Pop Trash Movie' was just commenting on all that junk that we all love that we're all spoon-fed everyday."
With Duran Duran continuing to creatively grow, refine, and celebrate itself, its pop future is assured. As LeBon puts it, "We're old rock dogs and we've seen a few things and now we just want to make sure we keep moving forward in the right direction."