This latest entry has been prompted by the discovery that a production office in the Docklands has decided to put my list of also-ran albums on Spotify and go through them one-by-one, no doubt gleefully critiquing my musical taste in the process. Quite an unnerving thought. Anyway - Duran Duran's Rio.
This is very possibly one of the most perfect and perfectly-timed pop albums ever. Even now I know every lyric, note, production flange and sequencer squiggle on every single song on this record. There was a time when I could probably take you, shot by shot, through every single video made for this album, had you but asked.
Yes I know Simon Le Bon is a terrible lyricist. A really terrible lyricist. Who can't sing. But whilst George Michael was writing boooooring stuff about gurls and relationships and love, Simon Le Bon was spouting monumental bollocks in a way that sounded perfectly adequate to a nine year old boy. Which, funnily enough, is exactly how old I was when I first heard this record.
It has many faults.
It is not fashionable to like it (if, nowadays, anyone has actually heard of it).
I thought re-visiting Rio, track-by-track, after a ten year break, would be disappointing.
It was not.
My main criticism is that Rio, as a strictly musical endeavour, does not bear too much scrutiny. This subsequently makes it hard to explain in any detail why I like it. Everything that made it huge - the band's videos, image and status is etched on the memory of anyone who lived through the early eighties.
Everything has faded now. All we are left with is the music. And that stunning cover.
Yet the record holds up. Rio is still special. It's partly down to the production and engineering, but is also, undeniably, down to the band, who happened to have written, assembled and learned how to perform nine strikingly good songs.
Uniquely with Duran Duran, and particularly on this album, the guitar and synth parts remain on an equal footing throughout. This is put to great effect on Hungry Like the Wolf where the guitar's metallic edge is mixed down into the guts of the song, adding energy and bounce to the poppy, bubbly, melody-driven rythmic synth sequence which jerks and jiggers all over the place. The opening bars are the distilled essence of pop excitement. A girl laughs, an overdriven guitar runs down the fretboard and we're off.
I'm listening to that synth line again on Spotify now. It's just as exciting and just as fresh as it was 32 years ago. Try it for yourself - but close your eyes - the video hasn't aged well:
It's the same for the rest of the album. Compared to most pop songs of the time each guitar riff, bass part and synth sequence on Rio sounds like it was crafted meticulously, line-by-line, section-by-section - and then played without a care in the world by the people who wrote it. The constituent parts are as creative as they can be without detracting from the coherency of each song. It's a very difficult trick to pull off.
I've never thought of Duran Duran as musicians. They were a band, a brand, an image and five individual media personalities within a pop cultural phenomenon. Their songs were the stepping off point for what a generation of people wanted to project back onto them (and this is where the vacuity of the lyrics actually helped).
For a couple of years in the eighties, Duran Duran held up a mirror to every screaming teenager, music fan, journalist, fashionista and factory worker in the country. The tabloid-reading, Smash Hits-devouring, television-watching public saw something of themselves in them, wanted a piece of them or defined themselves against them. The music was almost incidental.
But on Rio, if you shut out all the blether, there is a sense of a creative unit still young, feted, successful and pigheaded enough to believe in their own ability. The result is an extraordinary record which is limited by but achieves greatness through its authors' unique sensibilities.
The whole of Lonely in your Nightmare
The sequencer on Hungry Like the Wolf
The opening synth riff to and chorus of Save a Prayer
The bass playing on New Religion
The chilling, oddball sound to The Chauffeur, perfectly placed at the end of the album
The unbelievable good looks of John Taylor
The lyrics, particularly the goddawful second verse to Hold Back the Rain which was never in the original vinyl version of the album, but was on the version of the b-side to Save a Prayer and has subsequently found its way into every bloody version of the main album since. Le Bon is obviously proud of it because he still sings it live. It's terrible.
But the album is good. Go on. Have a listen.
Original top ten albums post
First top ten album - This is the Sea (these are being added in no particular order)