Pop poseurs combine disposability with intelligence
Duran Duran were always at the more shallow end of the Pop gene pool, and yet they were a band who always wore their shallowness on their sleeves, and proudly so it might be added. After the pretentiousness of prog-rock, and the scorched earth policy of punk, few at the time could have imagined that by the early ‘80s, it was the New Romantics who would ultimately inherit the charts.
That such a movement arose out of England should come as no surprise, since the country itself has a rich history in painters, poets, and well-dressed dandies, pretty much all the required elements necessary to form a modern day English pop group.
With a lead singer who looked as though he’d just walked off the set of Brideshead Revisited (sans teddy bear), Simon Le Bon not only had the face, but a voice to match those Oxfordian good looks. In fact every member of Duran Duran seemed almost equally as perfect, as if each of them had come out of a test tube, probably all at the same time.
By 1981, pop music had become a delicately embellished affair, where words were just as important as the wardrobe. And when they weren’t busy trying to blow a hole in the ozone layer via industrial amounts of hairspray, many pop stars of the day were often attempting to outdo each other in the frilly shirt and baggy silk jacket department, whose shoulder pads were long enough on which to land a 747, with room for a helicopter to spare.
Duran Duran’s debut raises still to this day vital questions: is style more imperative than substance? Should the two coexist in a world where intellectualism finds itself increasingly marginalised amongst the consumer masses? It’s a question which Le Bon and Co. never had any intention of answering, much less asking.
Surely it’s no coincidence that while Duran were recording demos at AIR Studios in 1980, seminal New Wave outfit Japan was recording Gentlemen Take Polaroids a few doors down. One wouldn’t be surprised if the boys who took their name from Barbarella weren’t taking note.
“Girls On Film” is the first cut, and it packs a pretty shallow punch. Yet as far as pop tunes go, it ticks all the boxes, boasting sharp, jerky beats, a catchy chorus, not to mention the in-one-ear-out-the-other lyrics, “Girls” is the equivalent of fast food for radio. “Planet Earth” is another finely crafted ditty, synthetically treated to the extent that it’s hard to tell one instrument from another. At least Le Bon’s Shakespearean-like vocals are real, like Hamlet making his soliloquy while walking along a London catwalk.
“Anyone Out There” and “To The Shore” are little more than plastic filler, tasteful though disposable in construct and execution. “Careless Memories” was another popular number, guaranteed to get the eye-liner brigade on the dancefloor the very moment it came on.
Though in spite of their artificial posturing, songs such as “Night Boat” and “Sound Of Thunder” reveal a collective of minds deliberating over a serious neon future. Unlike David Sylvian however, Le Bon lacks the poetical gravitas necessary to truly pull it off, regardless of how sombre the subject matter might be. “Friends Of Mine” could well be a Bowie outtake circa Scary Monsters, with its Frippian sound affects and robotically marching pulses, while closing track “Tel Aviv” is like watching a digital cloud drift off into a digital horizon.
All in all Duran Duran is an extremely self-conscious product that is at once entertaining though ultimately empty. Art is one thing, artifice is another.