Duran Duran: Extraordinary World

Duran Duran - Extraordinary WorldSynopsis: An examination of the career of Duran Duran which features archive footage alongside videos taken from the band’s last album ‘The Wedding Album’.

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Duran Duran: Extraordinary World 6.75

eyelights: the videos.
eyesores: the vacuousness of the so-called “documentary”.

“We’re always just trying to keep a little bit ahead of what we see in the future of music for ourselves. We’re just keep trying to reach that little bit further and grasp that thing, whatever it is. But seeing as we’ve never gotten a hold of it, ya know, we keep pulling.” – Nick Rhodes.

In 1993, after years in the pop wilderness and hobbled by industry derision, Duran Duran did the most astonishing thing: they re-emerged with a couple of hugely popular hit singles and their biggest-selling album since 1983’s ‘Seven and the Ragged Tiger’ – the self-titled album otherwise known as “The Wedding Album”.

I was a long-time fan of Duran but had had a difficult time sustaining my enthusiasm for the band, who had seemed to have lost their panache. But when I heard the exquisiteness of their latest cut, “Ordinary World” (the album version, not the truncated single version), I was more than willing to give them a chance.

Now it’s clear that this wasn’t the same Duran Duran I had grown up on, but they had morphed so often throughout the years that their newest incarnation didn’t faze me one bit. I was just damned glad that it was actually pretty good, and that it was well-received by not only the public, but by the critics as well.

I ended up buying all the singles I could get my hand on, so that I could have every b-side, remix, and live cut that was out there, and even bought the album twice – the Japanese edition and the UK tour edition. Imperfect as it was (it featured a couple of duds, and it was too long), it was still an excellent platter.

One thing I never got my hands on, however, was the home video ‘Extraordinary World’. For some reason, perhaps because interest in Duran Duran was already on the wane by the time their third single came out, it wasn’t available on VHS in Canada (and yet the label released it on laserdisc, of all things).

Since I was doing a chronological assessment of Duran’s videography for TCE, it seemed time for me to finally get a copy. But I couldn’t find it on VHS tape, so I decided to get the laserdisc version. Scarce as they are, I ended up getting a Japanese one – which, amusingly enough, has subtitles burned into the programme.

The first half of the programme consists of a 45-minute retrospective of Duran’s career at the time – in the words of the band members, Simon, Nick, John and Warren. The second half of the programme consists of six music videos: the four from “The Wedding Album” and the two from its predecessor, ‘Liberty’.

I was really looking forward to the documentary part, because the videos are mostly all available elsewhere and I don’t think this programme will ever be re-released on DVD (let alone on blu-ray). I especially wanted to see Duran at this juncture in their lives, because I missed a lot at the time by not having cable.

Unfortunately, it was a massive disappointment.

Although I knew it would be brief (laserdiscs can only play a maximum of 60 minutes per side), I didn’t know it would only be 45 minutes long – the 77mins total runtime is what’s listed on the jacket and in all online references I consulted. It seems rather brief given all the highlights that they’d had in their then- 15 years together.

But, on top of the brevity of the piece, it was short on substance. Although the members discuss their history, there are lots of quick cuts to videos, promo material, live shots, and behind-the-scenes footage. As the programme progresses, there’s a heavier reliance on music videos to bridge the interview bits.

Here are a few thoughts on each band member’s contribution to ‘Extraordinary World’:

SIMON
Perhaps because he’s the frontman, Simon’s always been my favourite of the lot; as a kid, if I had to pick one of them, he’s the one I wanted to be. Here he looks worn, gaunt, poorly made-up; I couldn’t help but wonder what was up. Then he started blathering about the honesty of their music, …etc. Give me a break.

When exploring their early days, he made it sound as though the group purposely allowed themselves to be lumped in with the New Romantic movement because they felt it would help their career (fueling the impression of being opportunists), adding that they had no idea how much work it would be to promote Duran.

Speaking about the break-up, he said that, after losing Andy and Roger, “two-fifths, twenty percent” (sic) of the band, fans of the pair deserted Duran. Simon seemed bitter about it. People even wrote to bring them back, but he protested that it wasn’t their doing – they had fully expected the band to come back together.

They barely talked about ‘Liberty’ other than to say it was over-produced, but Simon still defended “Violence of Summer”. And then Simon says they couldn’t have written “Ordinary World” ten years before (um… no guff!), adding that they now see the issues of the world, so they’re more prone to saying something in their music.

Simon signs off with confidence, saying that Duran Duran is going to blow people’s minds. I’m not sure what he was referring to, because their next endeavour was the largely lackluster covers album ‘Thank You’ – which we could all have done without, thank you very much. And then they gradually faded for nearly a decade, until 2004’s ‘Astronaut’.

NICK
Nick has always been the enigmatic one. On stage he stays behind his keyboards and in some ways appears to be the brains of the outfit. But, in interviews, there’s a smugness and an inauthenticity about him that doesn’t sit well with me; he always has too much of an air of pretentiousness about him. I wish he’d just stay enigmatic.

At one point he discussed the pressure of writing ‘Rio’ so as to not become “one-album wonders”. It felt like a make-or-break moment for them. Sadly, ‘Rio’ wasn’t an instant hit in the US and they thought they’d have to try again with their third album. But then it finally broke through, thanks to MTV’s playing of “Hungry Like the Wolf”.

When discussing their 1993 album, Nick said that it is what they’d been working towards for five years. You see what I mean? It sounds like pure BS. If they’d been working towards this album for five years, how can he explain the stylistic jumps between ‘Big Thing’, ‘Liberty’ and this album? Or the fact that they’d been in a tailspin for seven years?

He also added that he would have wanted Duran Duran to be more political in the ’80s, but that they were so busy touring, doing promotional work, …etc., that it didn’t happen. Suuuuure! Explain “All She Wants Is”, then! Or the fact that 2006’s ‘Reportage’ was later scrapped for 2007’s fun but vacuous ‘Red Carpet Massacre’. C’mon, Nick, pull the other one!

JOHN
John was always the charming one, the one the girls loved the most and that you’d want to look like (I did/do). Although he looked vacant in the beginning of their career, I’ve grown fond of the guy, who seems the most grounded, the most “real”, of the lot. I’m not saying that I agree with everything he says, but he’s certainly congenial.

At one point he talks about how challenging the business is – something he discovered when Duran decided to manage themselves. He also talks about the power of video, how he didn’t want to do them at first, but then he soon realized how many more people they could reach just by making these short films. They were now right in people’s living rooms!

He talks about the band’s experience with ‘Notorious’ the most. He said that it was a scary experience for them because it was the “first album people didn’t buy” (comparatively, of course – ‘Notorious’ did move a lot of units, all told). He added that, after the tour, they were left unsure about their future. Then they shot themselves in the foot with ‘Big Thing’ (my take, not his).

WARREN
I’ve always had a hard time adjusting to Warren, who arrived after Andy and seemed like too much of a cocky peacock, as though he thought he was even bigger and better than Duran Duran itself. It was always just an impression, based on the way he poses, his music video appearances, the way he dresses, his body language, …etc.

Hearing him talk here, he totally comes off as an egotist, further cementing my impression. He started to boast that his style of playing was more what the band needs, that sort of thing. And the first thing he said about ‘Big Thing’ is that it’s an interesting record because it’s got great guitar on it. Um… okay. Now shut your pie hole.

And take your dildo with you. (NSFW)

I didn’t cry one bit when they parted ways with him.

Collectively, they also talked about how hard ‘Seven and the Ragged Tiger’ was, how they recorded it three times, in various locations – and how the massive success of “The Reflex” pushed them even further along. They briefly talked about ‘Arena’, “The Wild Boys” and “A View to a Kill” before speeding through the rest of their career.

They also discussed the incessant touring, the hysteria, the anxiety, and how things then got shaky. Duran was run by accountants and lawyers then; it wasn’t about music anymore. So they decided to do Power Station and Arcadia to make music for themselves. But Simon expressed distaste for side-projects because they show splinters in a group.

…and that’s pretty much what one gets over the course of 45 minutes!

Essentially, ‘Extraordinary World’ is a vacuous promo – the sort of thing that was designed for a one-hour television broadcast, with ads to pad the hour; there’s not much profundity or real meat to it. I wish there had been more about their 1993 self-titled album, its making, …etc., that it wasn’t just this brief overview.

The only thing that I really enjoyed was seeing footage from their 1993 tour. It’s a completely different band from the rock superstars we knew ten years prior, but they’re seasoned in a good way. And, having seen them in Toronto at the time (right before Simon lost his voice), it was just nice to get a flashback of sorts.

The Videos

(Nota bene: I subjectively rated the songs and videos separately, in the following format: song/video)

1. Ordinary World: I don’t remember which came first: hearing “Ordinary World” or picking up the CD single. Either way, I fell hard for this gorgeous ballad, one of the band’s best. The rest of the world did too: It was their most popular single since “Notorious” and their first single since “The Wild Boys” to receive a Gold certification in the U.S. I ended up buying the promo single (with the rare Acoustic version) and the UK singles. And I rushed to get the new album when it came out. Unfortunately, like Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do (I Do it For You)”, the single version of this track has a truncated ending, meaning that most people haven’t heard the delicious extended finale. A damned shame. This is reflected in my rating here.

The over-saturated video for the single version is set in a large garden. It might be taking place at a wedding party, although there are only a few men and a pretty girl dressed in white with a large bow on the front. In any case, the girl is walking around the garden, carrying a multi-coloured bouquet, and crosses paths with the band members (Simon is just leaning against something, Nick is taking pictures of people, and John walks by in slo-mo. As for Warren, I didn’t notice.). The band is sort of secondary here, more like bystanders. For that scene they’re all dressed in black suits with white shirts, like best men, but for the inserts of them performing they look dressed in a nouveau lounge style – except for Warren, who dressed like a glitter rock star. It’s a classy-looking video, even if there’s not much to it. 8.0/7.75

2. Come Undone: This was another stand-out from Duran’s 1993 album, and it was also a big hit for them (albeit not at all to the extent of “Ordinary World”). To think that it was a last-minute addition to the album, as it was actually never supposed to be a Duran song – it’s actually some noodling that Warren was doing on guitar and some work that Nick was doing on the side that came together. Simon liked what he heard so much that they turned it into a Duran song in just a few days. Brilliant! By then, I was on the bandwagon enough so that I got all the CD singles I could find so that I could have all the remixes. Ahem… I may have overplayed it some. But I still like that psychedelic guitar lick, which sounds like its submerged under water.

Fittingly, the centrepiece of its video is a pretty, long-haired girl trapped underwater, wrapped up and chained (to me, it was reminiscent of a Houdini trick, although I suppose it could be more sinister than that). The girl also sings to the background vocals under water, as she struggles to get out of her chains. The band are in an aquarium, performing next to the passing fish, including sharks. They’re mostly dressed in a ’60s-inspired style, with ruffled shirts. There are also insert shots of couples of varying ages (in a bed, on a flooded park bench, …etc.), of a boxer, of someone crushing a doll, of a woman making herself a power shake with vodka, and of a businessman coming home, stripping down to his women’s lingerie. The video really shows its age; it feels soft now. 7.5/7.5

3. Too Much Information: This is the opening track to the album and I was fond enough of it that I was terribly pleased when it was released as the third single. Unfortunately, it stalled on the charts, halting Duran’s comeback for the time being. I like that it’s based on a guitar lick (even if it’s acoustic) and I love the theme. I also bought as many of the CD singles as I could, but was disappointed with the remixes which basically stripped the track of its charms.

The video consists mostly of concert footage w. flashes of TV clips and images being projected on a rubber screen being stretched by someone “trapped” underneath. It’s all super quick cuts, which is arguably well-suited to the theme, but it feels cheap, done on the fly. The only remarkable part is that, at one point, Simon is sitting on a chair and is attached to a contraption with wires from his head and fingers, suggesting ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Otherwise the only thing of note is the band’s fashion sense, with Nick’s purple hair, John’s orange hair and Simon’s close-cropped style. In close-ups, Simon looks orange, like he got a bad fake tan. Anyway, it’s an excellent song marred by a crappy video. 7.75/6.0

4. Breath After Breath: I was never really that interested in this song, which is a collaboration with Brazilian singer-songwriter Milton Nascimento; the Brazilian music flourishes just didn’t seem to gel as Duran Duran in my mind and I found Simon’s vocal uninspired. In any case, it was released as a single in Brazil – but, unsurprisingly, nowhere else (in most markets, there was no fourth single).

The video consists of footage of Duran and everyday people in Brazil (the band mostly hangs around a fall and some greenery, whereas the people are on the streets). Nick is also seen at a typewriter, set up in a park and there are inserts of Milton Nascimento singing dispassionately. There are also inserts of crowds cheering – the sound for which bleeds through the song. Anyway, the video looks like a home video in some ways; it’s bland. 7.0/6.5

5. Violence of Summer (Love’s Taking Over): By 1990, many old Duran Duran fans (including myself) had left them behind: they really were a shadow of their former selves. But I saw a promo for their upcoming new album, ‘Liberty’, which featured the clip for their first single “Violence of Summer (Love’s Taking Over)”. And I LOVED it. I was particularly pulled in by the keyboard hook at the beginning. Mixed with the catchy chorus and the underlying rock vibe. I immediately bought the 12″ for it (and later bought the CD single). I was alone: the single flopped monumentally, as did the album.

The video begins with the growl of motorcycles, along with blurred shots of motorbikes coming out of a garage intercut with Simon walking up to a mic stand confidently. Then the song starts, with its keyboard hook. Aside for the band performing in a garage/hangar, there are shots of girls in bleach blonde bobs walking about, trying to be sexy, drawing attention. There’s also a couple making out in bed, as well as street thugs chasing each other through the woods and fighting. I kind of like the gritty, sporty look Simon’s got here – but not so much the bland look of the others. Warren’s shirtless again (he seems to be shirtless a lot). Finally, they introduce each girl at the end to the sound of bikes. “Violence” looks like a b-list video, but I like it. 8.0/7.25

6. Serious: “Serious” is the second single from ‘Liberty’ and it totally tanked. It’s considered by some fans as the great lost Duran Duran single, and it’s one of two songs that Simon thought were quite good on the album. Personally, I think that it’s very middle-of-the-road, soft and forgettable. It should be filler, not single material. But, considering their output at the time, I guess it’s a stand-out – comparatively-speaking.

The video is equally forgettable. It’s a black and white affair that sees the band performing the song in a circus setting. Aside for Duran, there’s footage of a blonde and some circus performers (trapeze artists, stilt walker, firebreather, …etc.). Some fans like the video for its relaxed atmosphere, but I decry the loss of Duran’s edge: for all the (b+w!) fire and faux-bravado they’ve actually got no brass ones at all here. 6.75/7.0

Duran Duran’s 1993 self-titled album may have been a departure from the music that their fans of old were used to, but it was a welcome return: they got their highest-charting album in ten years and it remains their fourth-most popular of their whole career. Granted, it didn’t bring them back to their former glory, but it was a rebirth of sorts.

I played that album to death at the time, and although I doubt I will revisit it as often as I do some of their other albums (it’s too all over the map for me), I will always be fond of “Ordinary World”,

It wouldn’t be only their first comeback: there would be another ten years later, with the release of ‘Astronaut’ (arguably a more cohesive and stronger effort than their 1993 one) – which saw the original line-up reform for the album and a world tour. Their fortunes would wane again, as they seem destined to, with their next two albums disappearing from sight.

But it’s been ten years since. I think that it’s high-time time for yet another come-back.

Dates of viewings: Jan 5+17, 2015

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