My history with listening to new Duran material is kinda
weird. Like with, say, a-ha, I can immediately tell which
songs I’ll love and which I’ll hate. But Duran
is different. The songs I think I hate grow on me, the ones
I love immediately sometimes fall out of favor, and I have
to give it numerous listens before I can really get a bead
on things. So that means I’ve already listened to Astronaut
a bunch of times, darn it all, before even beginning the review
process (you know, in the name of diligence). And, no disrespect
meant to Warren or Sterling or “Hallucinating Elvis”
or any of the other incarnations of Duran, this album, with
all five original Durans, is something magical.
I’m not deluded enough to think it’s perfect,
mind. I can always find room for improvement (and stuff to
make fun of) with our Durans. In this case, I’m disappointed
in the pretty lame lyrics contributed by the man who I declared
a Poetic Demi-God ™ lo these many years ago. Another
thing is that almost every song starts off sounding totally
different than what I think it’s going to sound like.
So for the first 8 bars, I’m not sure if it’s
gonna suck, and then, wham!, it goes someplace else entirely,
and gawd DAMN, okay!
Ready? I know I sure am!
Track 1: (Reach Up for the) Sunrise. This
is the new single, and, amazingly, has been number one on
request lines at Star 98.7. This was also one of the new songs
they played live over the last couple years. And while I loved
it live, I REALLY love the studio version. It’s fuller,
with more complex synth stuff, and an even harder guitar and
bass, and GO ROGER! But I miss Johnny’s backing vocals,
because he and Simon just looked like they were having so
much fun onstage together! They lyrics kinda blow, especially
the chorus. “Reach up for the sunrise/put your hands
in to the big sky/You can touch the sunrise/Feel the new day
enter your life.” THAT was the best you could do, Nomis
El Nob? Or… wait, did John
Track 2: Want You More! Oh, listen to the synth! Listen to the bass and drums! Ohmigawd! It’s our Duran! John and Roger together are fucking amazing. I wasn’t sure about this song, though, at first, but then the chorus kicked in, and fuck YEAH, I’m on board! This is one of my faves. Simon whines and growls and shrieks and yodels and yelps, and even though the lyrics could be a Pink song, there’s so much awesome stuff going on musically, that I barely notice. “Why do I want you more?” I don’t know, Simey, but I do, I do! Damnation, this rocks! I- Oh- I think I just came.
Track 3: What Happens Tomorrow. They also did this one a bunch of times live, and at first I thought it sounded kinda thin, but it grew on me. The studio version, may I add, is ten times better, and sounds so good. Rumor has it that My Boyfriend wrote this song for one of his daughters after the attacks on September 11, and… I admit, thinking of My dumb Boyfriend as a reassuring daddy gives even my Grinchy heart a few warm fuzzies. But most important? LISTEN TO THE BASS! Any other band might make this song sound too power-ballady, but not the Durans. It’s reflective, yet strong, rhythmic, and dynamic, and, if the song really is about what happened on September 11, the music provides an awesome, forward-driving answer to those fears about “what happens tomorrow.” Was that too schmaltzy-sounding? Really, it’s still me here. I can prove it: I LOVE YOU SIMON! I LOVE YOU SO MUCH! GAAAAAAH!” Convinced?
Track 4: Astronaut. I didn’t know if I liked this at first. It goes one way, then another, but then- BAM! Synth and bass! And even though I disparaged “Astronaut” as a “Major Tom” rip-off when I first heard Toolie Von Toolness babbling about it in interviews, I gotta admit, I’m really grooving on it now. This may, though, be an example of some of Simon’s stupidest lyrics ever. “Saturn’s holy rings” and “space is hot and deep”…? *whap* It’s almost enough to make me wish he was doing the same drugs as back when he wrote Seven and the Ragged Tiger. But I also get a cheesy-good-fun feeling from this song, a Barbarella, Duran-doesn’t-take-themselves-too-seriously vibe. This really sounds like Duran Duran.
Track 5: Bedroom Toys. Duran has a song called…
BEDROOM TOYS?! Oh, this’ll be spectacular, won’t
it? Well. No, actually... it... won’t. There’re smokey,
slutty backing singers, there’s funky bass. But. It
sounds like Simon’s been listening to too much Justin
Timberlake. And all I can echo is, “Ohmygawd, what’s
this?” Yeah, this is the stupidest song ever, but…
wait. Hmmm. Much like “Hothead” or “UMF”
or the aforementioned “Astronaut” I think it’s…
amusing me. *grooving* Okay. I give. This is good shit. Stupid,
but fun. And Nomis? I’ve GOT your bedroom toys…
IN MY PANTS! Woo! Yeah! Yeehaw! Uh-huh! What WHAAAAT! *blink*
Sorry. It’s the estrogen.
Track 6: Nice. This was the bass-heavy clip that was on the website for a while, and I couldn’t wait to hear it! And it’s nothing like you’d expect from a song pathetically titled “Nice.” Or even what you’d expect from the clip. It’s all bass-spanky, early-Duran sounding kick-ass shit. But, lordy, Stupid Wanker’s lyrics blow: “There is. Nothing. Better than. Me with you. And it’s feelin’. So nice.” Please, God, can’t we blame Johnny for this batch, too? (P.S. I love the way My Boyfriend whines!)
Track 7: Taste the Summer. This is the only song I don’t have yet. But I admit, I’m scared. Last time we had a Duran song with “Summer” in the title, it was, um, “Violence of Summer.” And that kinda blew. I’ll letcha know ‘bout this one when I finally hear it. [ETA: I heard it. It's worse. It actually disrupts the whole flow of the album for me, so I re-copied the studio version of the album without "Taste the Summer." It sucks that bad.]
Track 8: Finest Hour. On every album, there’s a Song About Fame, and, while I’m not 100% sure, this seems to be the one on Astronaut. I suppose it could also be about the September 11 events and war and all that, too. Which means that terrorist attacks is Nomis El Nob’s latest bandwagon. (“*thud!* Hear that? It’s Simon jumping on yet ANOTHER bandwagon!” –Dwanollah at one of the Durannie Chix Gatherings, 1997.) But I digress. This song? RULES! I fucking love it. Banal lyrics, natch, but wow… the rest is awesome, there's a slightly Prufrock-esque flavor to the chorus, and I love the way Dorkwad sings it. Mellower, reflective. Love the chorus.
Track 9: Chains. Ooooh, this one is all hypnotic-groovy-ass, too! And the lyrics don’t appear to have been written by 12-year-olds, either. Maybe 15-year-olds. This song has an almost Beatles-ish flavor to it in places, augmented by a pulsating John bassline that keeps it from sounding like Duran’s merely copying something else (see: the new Tears for Fears album). Somewhat mediocre, I guess, compared to some of the other tracks, but I love listening to My Boyfriend whine!
Track 10: One of Those Days. This song starts off retarded. Initially, I don’t like it. But about 30 seconds into it, Johnny’s bass redeems it, and I’m willing to listen more. And it’s not entirely bad. Not great, mind. Simon sings lots of twaddle, like “Nothing’s gonna bring me down” and “I’m not the only one feelin’ this way” and predictable crap like that that I’d expect from teen poo, not the man who wrote “Palomino”! But the middle part, the synthy bridge, is okay. Lots of interesting stuff going on musically, in general. (Which, actually, can be said for the whole album.) Yeah!
Track 11: Point of No Return. I think when Doofus said there was a “Kraftwerk meet the Mamas and the Papas” sound, this was the song he meant. I like it right away. There’s a line about “as we watch the tower falling down,” so I think he’s still waving from the back of the 9/11 Bandwagon. The music, again, is good, and Simon’s voice sounds smooth in parts, and strong overall. Lots of those atmospheric synthwashes that I love so much. But Andy? Sweetie? No melody-heavy solos, hon. Really. Especially not after the way you keep fucking up ‘Ordinary World’ live. You’re such a hack. Good at rhythm guitar, but a hack at melody. You sound totally puerile. I wish Duran could’ve managed a Tour With Two Guitarists, Andy for rhythm stuff and Warren for melody stuff, but alas….
Track 12: Still Breathing. Holy Mary Mother of God. This is what I was waiting for. I have chills. They played this live before, and it was breathtaking then, but this…? I’m gobsmacked. This could be John and Roger’s most introspective and sensitive work since “Save a Prayer,” and my GOD, Simon sounds brilliant. And the lyrics? “I’m walkin’ out of this town/I’m never going back there, never going back there/I’ll burn the place to the ground/I’m never going back there, never going back there again” are simple in places, but unexpectedly twisting in others. What a juxtaposition of imges! Evocative, meditative, pensive, intense. SIMON LE BON IS A POETIC DEMI-GOD! This, too, could be another Simon’s 9/11 Bandwagon song, but it’s distinctive and genuine. Just… wow. This is IT. The ending is slow, with a throbbing bass that subtly evokes the rhythm of a heartbeat without actually overtly making “lub lub” sounds, and lots of interweaving rising and falling synth bits. Fucking A. I can die happy now. Wow. It’s- Oh. I just came again.
The thing that’s struck me most on these first few
listens is the overall flow of the songs. Unlike most of the
Duran albums since, oh, Big Thing, there’s
nothing I’d skip over on Astronaut.* The only
thing missing for me is an overabundance of Poetic Demi-God-ness (other that "Still Breathing"!),
but then again, I don’t have any copies of the lyrics,
so there’s stuff I’m missing on these initial
listening bonanzas. Especially, Astronaut highlights
the strengths of the band: funk-disco bass, driving rhythms
and percussion, atmospheric synthwashes, strong rhythm guitar,
all combined into one distinct sound. The five sound like
a full, rich, complex, cohesive team, no matter what personality
problems there might’ve been. Astronaut sounds
contemporary, new, but still quintessentially Duran at the
Guys?! That’s our new Duran album! And it’s GOOD!
I could weep, dammit. Our Duran is back!
Astronaut is due out October 10, 2004.
*Well, until I heard the crap that is "Taste the Summer."