|duran2.net : reviews|
by Katie Walker,
Not so long ago, I had a friend who commented that every single new Duran album that she ever bought she had hated the first time that she had listened to it. Her comments reminded me of when "The Wedding Album" had first come out. I had been living in Nottingham at the time and us lucky ones in the UK had the album weeks before everyone I knew in the US. At that time, I was a member of a very early incarnation of the infamous Duran Duran mailing list, Tiger-list. The few of us who had the album were torturing everyone else with the fact that we had TWA and how great it was. But what I recall was one woman on the list who lived in London. She had gotten the new album and absolutely despised it. She said that it was the worst thing that she had ever heard and that tomorrow she was going to take it back to the store and get the New Kids on the Block video her nephew wanted.
I was horrified! New Kids! What was the world coming to when someone was willing to exchange Duran for such junk? After a bit I convinced her to give TWA another listen. I myself hadn't been too crazy about the album on the first listen, but on a second listen I was hooked and was sure that she would be too. As it turned out, I was right. The next day, I got a note telling me that she loved the album and was so glad that I had talked her out of the exchange. It was with this thought that I faced Medazzaland.
I have to admit that I hated Medazz on the first listen. If I would have had a CD copy, I would have tossed it into the microwave and probably would have enjoyed the light show more than I had enjoyed an of the music on it. BUT I recalled the lesson of TWA and decided to give Medazz another shot...
Medazz is very different from any Duran album I've heard before. But then what else is new? Duran has never been a band who has been afraid to try new musical stylings. That has been one of the things that has kept me with the band for so long. Each new album has kept up with the times while maintaining that special Duran quality which attracted me all those years ago.
The best song on the album is the first single, Electric Barbarella (EB). This upbeat track has one hell of a hook; after just one listen, I found myself humming the tune. It is definitely a song that catches the sound of the first Duran album, sort of a cross between "Anyone Out There" and "Sound of Thunder." Unlike, the first album, EB avoids sounding "dated" by adding the interesting mix of the sampling and layering styles which have begun to dominate the current music scene.
Out Of My Mind (OOMM) also ranks up there as one of my favorites. It is a truly haunting song of loss, torment and honesty. Unfortunately, I don't think that the album mix of the song has quite the strength of sound which permeated the version on "The Saint" soundtrack. Despite this, I think that it is a huge misfortune for the music industry and radio listeners that OOMM wasn't given the airplay and recognition that other songs on the Saint received. What a loss.
One of the other songs which stands out for me is the track 'Michael'. Like OOMM, it beguiles the mind with its beauty, but hits the nerves with the depth of pain found in the words. This song is completely different from the sound found on most of the rest of the album. Sure EB, OOMM, and Michael are beautiful but Michael holds something else in it. I can't describe extactly what that quality is, but I think that it might be the "raw" quality of track. It has been as layered or mixed as the rest. The closest Duran has come to it previously is actually on a cover version of the song 'The Needle And The Damage Done', which was written by Neil Young. While I don't care for the Neil Young song, I have to say that Michael takes the simplicity of Young's sound and creates a wonderful tribute to an era of music which didn't attempt to dazzle the senses, but instead impressed one by its sheer austerity.
Now I am sure that the BIG question on many of your minds is: What about John? When John first left the band rumors abounded that he was going to be erased from Medazz and that the last chance Duran fans would have to hear Duran as the quartet, we have known for so many years, would be gone. Fear not. If you are looking for John's influence, you will find it. And if you want to find the one song on the album which screams John and is surrounded by neon signs which say, 'John this way', I suggest you check out 'Be My Icon'. Then check out the song 'Scared' off Power Station's 'Living In Fear' album. The tempos are a bit different. The lyrics have changed. The guitar parts vary a bit. But the two are almost identical musically otherwise. About the only thing that 'Be My Icon' has over 'Scared' is that I don't have to wonder if a cow was giving birth in the studio during the session. And I am sure that John appreciates that he wasn't there when Robert Palmer recorded the vocals on Scared so he wouldn't have to share PS's educational experience in animal husbandry.
Unfortunately, after these few highlights the rest of Medazzaland ceased to impress me. There was nothing dreadful, with the exception of 'Silva Halo', that I found harrowing to sit through. The rest of the album 'just is'. I found that the songs just ran together without much distinction from each other. Part of this is due to the excessive fascination that Duran seems to have developed with layering and processing the songs. There seems to be not an element of the album which hasn't been run through a synthesizer at one point or another and then layered into the songs. Much to my dismay, not even Simon's voice escaped unscathed. I commented to one friend, that on some of the songs, Duran must have rented the chunnel between England and France, put Simon in the center and recorded him singing on either end. There are points in time when Simon has been so processed and layered that you can barely hear him over the rest of the instrumentation.
One thing of interest to note is that the last 3 songs or so on the album are heavily influenced by the Beatles. Although I am not an expert on the Beatles, I would say that stylings are mostly coming from three albums from the late 70's: 'The White Album', 'Abbey Road', and 'Let It Be'. I wonder who has decided to 'Get Back' to some musical roots and let 'Their Guitar Softly Weep'.
medazzaland rating: 5 dancing ferrets - I guess I would say that for me Medazz is not a Duran album that would be my first choice to put into the CD player when I was in the mood to jam. It is more of an album that I could put in for a nice ambient atmosphere. It does have some great moments, but those don't overcome the ambivalent, mechanical qualities which dominate as a whole.
end note - just in case some of you find that the wait for Medazz is going to be a long one, I thought that I might suggest something to fill the time. One Duran album which has seemed to have "fallen through the cracks" so to speak, is 'Liberty'. Personally, I think that this is the best Duran album to date. The keyboard parts are phenomenal; Nick did a wonderful job. 'Serious', 'All Along The Water' and 'First Impression' all have wonderful lyrical hooks which will stay in your head for days. A while back, I read an interview in which Warren talked about how Duran had been considering re-releasing Liberty because the band felt that Liberty was a good album which had been the victim of bad timing. Too bad the re-release never came to pass.
liberty rating: 10 dancing ferrets - my ferrets definitely put this one in the CD player when they want to get down and have some fun. It also isn't all that bad if you find yourself needing a fix of Simon's soulful sound.