Purchased : October 1981
Tracks : Girls On Film / Planet Earth / Anyone Out There / To The Shore / Careless Memories / Night Boat / Sound Of Thunder / Friends Of Mine / Tel Aviv
I suppose this was a predictable follow-on from the last post. This time it was a joint purchase by Helen and myself from my friend Francis, a rock fan who purported to hate NR which of course prompts the question - what was he doing with it in the first place ? It was bought at a bad time of my life - my best friend was about to give up on me - so there's a tendency to invest it with more melancholy than is actually there in the grooves.
When Duran Duran first appeared on TOTP I'd never heard of them. Obviously neither had Tony Blackburn who introduced them as Durren Durren on the Top 40 show the following week. At this point I concurred with the general view that they were Spandau's poor relations although they were soon to get their noses ahead commercially.
The album starts off with the clicking of cameras and we're straight into "Girls On Film" their first Top 5 hit. The subject matter of course had been covered by Kraftwerk on "The Model" but here Simon Le Bon is excited photographer rather than detatched observer. The oft-cited Chic influence is immediately apparent with Roger Taylor's punchy drumming taking its cue from Tony Thompson and John Taylor getting close to Bernard Edwards's fluidity on bass. Andy Taylor throws in some clipped rhythm guitar then Nick Rhodes comes in on the chorus with his synth chords. It's a heady mix and betrays the source of Duran's eventual triumph over Spandau, all five members contributing to the sound. Like many songs from 1981 (think also "Tears Are Not Enough" and "Favourite Shirts" the middle eight is mainly a percussion break. On the third verse Rhodes introduces an eerie synth line suggesting an unease behind this celebration of glamour and the final line "take me up till I'm shooting a star " has a sinister double meaning less than six months after Mark Chapman.
Their debut single "Planet Earth" follows, a near-perfect pop song. Emerging from a synth chord very similar to "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" a Moroder synth pulse and nimble bass figure lead us to Andy Taylor's melodic guitar riff then Le Bon launches into his tale of alien encounters, the only overtly futurist song on the album with a rather unwise mention of "some New Romantic" in the first verse. The ba-ba-ba backing vocals remind us that the band took their name from a kitsch late 1960s film.
"Anyone Out There" could also have been a single. Based around Andy Taylor's clipped rhythm guitar it's the plainest lyric on the album; a deserted lover begins to succumb to loneliness. Le Bon's vocals are sincere and unaffected as they are throughout this LP with none of the histrionic that marred later work .I'm not sure John Taylor's suddenly steely bass in the coda really belongs though.
The artier side of the band (Le Bon and Rhodes) have their moment with "To The Shore" which initially features just the two of them, Le Bon singing over Rhodes's phased synths and electronic percussion. Le Bon extols the sea's potential for re-birth although he gives way to poetic excess - only he knows what "gorging your sanhedralite" means. That line is the cue for the rest of the band to come in. Le Bon finishes with the word "Breathe" followed by a long orgasmic breath and then Andy Taylor is allowed a Santana-lite guitar solo perhaps as a trade-off.
Then we have "Careless Memories" which flopped badly as the second single. This may have been down merely to the album coming out at the same time but perhaps their audience wasn't ready for such a dark and angry song without an obvious hookline. I can't think of any other DD song with such aggressive lyrics. Le Bon's ferocious attack on an ex-lover approaches Joy Division's "Novelty" in its sustained energy though this relies on a synth pulse rather than Hook's bass line for its force. The climax of "Look out look out" over a guitar and synth crescendo is fraught with menace.
Side Two starts with "Night Boat" a brooding song. It starts with a lenghty instrumental passage and two layers of synth working against each other before the rest of the band come in one by one until Le Bon starts singing. There are hints of "Apocalypse Now" with the reference to a yellow river, cricket noises and tribal percussion and more than a hint of foreboding in the chorus of "waiting for the night boat".
The next track also concerns waiting but here we have a man in stasis anticipating the "Sound of Thunder". This is a close cousin to "Planet Earth" but with its disappointingly bland chorus it doesn't make the same impression.
"Friends Of Mine" invents Inxs with its funk rock strut. It's either very personal or completely meaningless as Le Bon introduces the controversial released convict George Davies and the completely fictional Rocky Picture in a surprisingly warm chorus after brooding on false friends in the verses. Andy Taylor is allowed to take it out in Dave Gilmour fashion but is faded out after a few bars.
The album ends on a curveball with "Tel Aviv" a near-instrumental (bar some Hebraic chanting) presumably inspired by Le Bon's sojourn on a kibbutz in the 70s. It's actually dominated by the string arrangement of outsider Richard Myhill (of "It Takes Two to Tango" one hit wonder fame) and is a very strange way to close your debut album.
It's a hard one for me to assess. It's clearly a work in progress - Le Bon hadn't been in the band that long - but there are some songs on the first side that to my mind they never surpassed. Duran Duran will feature again here but I'm still inclined to nominate this one as their best.