DURAN DURAN – All You Need Is Now

Duran Duran provide all your needs…

With Duran Duran’s last output Red Carpet Massacre, received less favourably by critics and fans alike, this current venture could easily have been a last chance on the stairway for them as far as credibility goes. Such is not the case.

Deemed one of the original stylistic and electronic bands – and among the first to work on their own remixes – historically they pushed upon the boundaries of the arty synthesizer, weaving it all into mainstream pop culture with an upbeat funky presence. All You Need is Now manages to do just that and more; bringing forth an expressive aesthetic, which emphasises the adventurous, the dreamy, the romantic and the daring. But let’s not stop there: All You Need Is Now marks a significant milestone, well placed along the mapped out route that would presently define Duran Duran’s three-decade journey between pop stardom, commercial highs and burnout lows. What is important about this particular landmark is that, unlike most of their ultimate highs, this one is current – we’re not harking back to early output in search of that age-old quintessential synth-driven danceability.

Produced by Mark Ronson, whose credits include Lily Allen (Alright, Still), Amy Winehouse (Back To Black) and Kaiser Chiefs (Off With Their Heads), he meets his objective in presenting a record that is almost a modern-day reflection of their smash hit Rio. It would seem Duran Duran have been gracefully accepting of the discipline imposed upon them; the music implies that any such challenges have been met admirably.

No Duran Duran album would be complete without the exotic romanticism that is ‘Mediterranea’, the passionate ‘Leave A Light On’, or the intimate reflections of ‘Before The Rain’; not to mention the sheer hyped up thrills of ‘Girl Panic’ and ‘Being Followed’.

The guitar-driven introduction of ‘Mediterranea’ is emotionally expressive, while finer synth layers add a touch of mysticism; an inexplicable love of the ultimate escape, sharing its suburban daydream, as the lyric would imply of course. There’s a deep penetrating bass that resonates closely alongside ‘Save A Prayer’, while hints of slide guitar lift the track, leaving it to float upon its own calm waters.

In a similar vein and taking a step towards a more sensitive incarnation is ‘Leave A Light On’; a tender electro ambience, led exclusively with Le Bon’s blissful vocals. Its gentle acoustic guitar sits predominately in a background that is laden with thin veils of organic synth colours. Subtly sophisticated, momentarily it stages a slight Celtic feel as a result of specific guitar elements, coming briefly to the fore later in the track. ‘Before The Rain’ is a wistful creation weaved with gentle strings and passive beats, before germinating into fuller instrumentation; exquisitely blended, swirling eerily around a map of poignant blue notes. Add to that a brief percussive moment giving yet more personality.

‘Girl Panic’ is perhaps the closest representation to that zesty uplifting sense of fun so closely aligned with the classic Duran Duran that most have come to know and love. This addictive soundtrack and younger cousin of ‘Rio’, sees a funk driven bass anchored to a syncopated Latino rhythm and groove. Its big chorus and engaging bridge is lifted to greater heights midway, only by a heroic and metallic outburst of energetic synth infusions, which simply speak volumes. This is not the first time that a Latin feel is explored, however. ‘Being Followed’, in its quest towards electro disco and more funky drive, also achieves a vintage synth, Latin-coloured melody; complemented appropriately with the closing vocal.

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Still weighted towards the more classic sound, and a close relative to ‘The Chauffer’ is ‘The Man Who Stole A Leopard’. A well crafted slice of retro, with strings that enhance the track’s polished sheen, it features a mock news broadcast that unfortunately is just mildly distracting towards the end.

The album of course is not without its modern undercurrent. ‘All You Need Is Now’ is the plush opener, containing a contemporary electronic template, featuring crashes of modernistic beat work at key points. The catchy twangs of guitar that shimmer throughout add to the hook, alongside those animated steps just moments before the chorus, with vocal harmonies creating yet more depth. The distorted electronic buzz of ‘Networker Nation’ is another up-to-the-minute cut, demonstrating both a robotic and computerized hard edge; working in its best possible sense alongside an extrovert bass synth. The topical ‘Other People’s Lives’ is a busy and true to life reflection featuring sharp overtones, as vibrant as a games arcade in full swing. Yet, to be truly diverse, the ‘Youth Kills’ mix of ‘All You Need Is Now’ even delivers a sizeable club anthem.

Two concise orchestral arrangements – ‘A Diamond In The Mind’ and ‘Return To Now’ tie everything together and go some way to create a mini concept album. The themes are strong, with both breaks dancing around the melody from the title track ‘All You Need Is Now’. Interlinking nicely at their respective places within the track listing, they produce a continuous flow and essence to the album.

Clearly, the integration of today’s production is seamless – this is an album blended so carefully that it affords the weighting of modern construction without losing sight of the band’s foundations; resulting in a versatile record that gives today’s pop culture some notable songcrafting to digest. Perhaps more importantly, it’s also a work that will give many that new-found respect for the songwriting of Duran Duran, leaving no doubts with regards to their credible place and relevance in popular music.


All You Need is Now is out now.

http://duranduran.com/


A-HA – The Last Hurrah

It’s hard to conceive it all comes to an end


In October 2009, A-Ha announced they were to split following a final world tour. Here The Electricity Club looks back at the career of the Scandinavian phenomenon, and reports from the Brighton Centre, the scene of one of their final UK shows.

It has already been an incredible year for fans of the Norwegian trio, one that has seen the release of remastered editions of Hunting High and Low and Scoundrel Days, an updated version of Jan Omdah’s insightful book The Swing of Things, a final single ‘Butterfly, Butterfly’<, a perfectly sequenced compilation album 25 and, finally, a medium where Morten Harket, Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen have become increasingly more comfortable with over the years: the live arena. The band officially retired following four nights at the Oslo Spektrum on 4th December 2010.

It’s the first night of the UK leg of A-Ha’s 70-date Farewell Tour, subtitled Ending on a High Note. And the popular Norwegian trio are doing just that, rounding off a memorable career with a tour and setlist that encompasses every facet of their illustrious 25-year journey. “Let’s make it a celebratory thing,” announces keyboardist Furuholmen a few songs into the set.

The build-up to the finale in Norway’s capital is ten dates in the UK; and the British market has certainly served the trio well since ‘Take On Me’ made its global stranglehold on the charts 25 years ago. Of course it was Jennifer Rush’s corny ballad ‘The Power of Love’ that prevented this iconic single from hitting the top of the charts in the UK in 1985, and the history books show ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’ as their only number one hit in this territory. It’s this powerful synth-rock epic that they open with tonight. Somewhat surprisingly, it is one of only three songs from their debut album that they will play tonight, and it’s a disappointment not to hear the likes of ‘Train Of Thought’ and ‘Living A Boy’s Adventure Tale’. Those fortunate enough to see them at the Royal Albert Hall in October will have delighted in the fact that they played their first two albums in their entirety.

Scoundrel Days (arguably their best album), is well represented tonight though, and accounts for almost a quarter of the 21-track set. Its brilliant bloodstained title track is given another well-deserved airing, with its bleak, tension-filled verses and a soaring chorus that has become something of a trademark. The south coast crowd are also treated to a rather raw version of the epic ‘Manhattan Skyline’, which is punctuated with some beautiful harpsichord playing by Furuholmen and some unsettling bursts of megaphone singing from reluctant frontman Harket. ‘I’ve Been Losing You’s opening bars still send shivers down the spine after all these years, while ‘We’re Looking For The Whales’ gets a surprise inclusion in the set at the expense of ‘The Swing Of Things’. ‘Cry Wolf’ gets an extended workout with some pounding drums from drummer Karl-Oluf Wennerberg, and Furuholmen even manages to subtly incorporate hints of The Doors’ ‘Riders On The Storm’.

Of course, it was the legendary Californian quartet who were to prove influential on recordings such as the East Of The Sun West Of The Moon album; and on earlier tracks such as ‘Here I Stand And Face The Rain’, you can certainly hear their influence. A-Ha have also been influenced by other 60s luminaries over the years such as The Beatles and The Everly Brothers. Tonight the latter’s ‘Crying In The Rain’ is performed during a momentum-halting mid-show campfire spot alongside swansong ‘Butterfly, Butterfly’ and ‘(Seemingly) Nonstop July’ where the band are reduced to playing a baby grand piano and acoustic guitar.

A-Ha’s 60s influences were certainly more prevalent in the early 90s as the band gradually moved away from the electronics that had permeated their earlier recordings. By 1993’s Memorial Beach album, A-Ha had finally shrugged off their poster-boy image as they adopted a fuller, rockier sound for the American market. From that album they play ‘Move To Memphis’ during a first half of the set that is dominated by hit singles.

Following the Memorial Beach album, A-Ha were placed on hiatus while Harket commenced a solo career, and Waaktaar-Savoy formed the sadly overlooked indie-pop band Savoy with his wife Lauren. Meanwhile, Furuholmen dabbled in soundtrack work whilst continuing to pursue his interests in the art world. Fast forward to the new millennium and the end of A-HA’s so-called ‘seven-year-itch’, and the newly-focused trio were a slightly more democratic affair; less reliant on the tension-fuelled creativity of Messrs Waaktaar-Savoy and Furuholmen, and employing more of Harket’s lighter material. With chief songwriter Waaktaar-Savoy effectively writing for 2 bands, Furuholmen was able to build on his reputation as an excellent songwriter with beautiful compositions such as ‘Lifelines’ and ‘Birthright’. By 2005’s Analogue album, they were once again flirting with a rockier sound. At the Brighton Centre they perform the title track of that album, with its simplistic piano riff and huge chorus, and the laconic Waaktaar-Savoy is given another chance to rock-out. From 2002’s Lifelines opus we get the Harket-penned ‘Forever Not Yours’ and from Minor Earth Major Sky we get the powerful title track and ‘Summer Moved On’, the vocal ‘tour-de-force’ that announced their reunion in 1998. Incredibly, even at the age of 51, Harket can still hit those notes and you soon forget how ropey the sound in the auditorium is.

By 2009, A-Ha were revisiting their electronic roots. Foot Of The Mountain, which easily sits alongside some of their best work, was a solid 10-track album that proved it was possible to be both contemporary and retro. It played to the band’s strengths, with all the material being penned by Waaktaar-Savoy and Furuholmen. Synth Britannia influences such as Depeche Mode can be heard on tracks such as ‘What There Is’. Indeed, in recent years the band have covered ‘A Question Of Lust’, and also Soft Cell’s ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’. Elsewhere on the album, the beautiful epic closer ‘Start The Simulator’ recalls vintage OMD, when the Liverpudlian duo were writing intelligent pop songs about oil refineries and the atomic bomb.

And let’s not also forget that ‘Take On Me’s main synth riff was composed in 1981.

Debut album Hunting High and Low also has another key Synth Britannia connection – the bulk of it was produced by Tony Mansfield who had previously fronted the synthpop act New Musik. Mansfield would later produce the likes of Naked Eyes, whose debut album Burning Bridges is notable for being one of the first albums to significantly feature the Fairlight CMI, an instrument that was to feature heavily on A-Ha’s debut. Mansfield also produced the original version of ‘Take On Me’ that was released in 1984 selling just 300 copies, before Alan Tarney was recruited to produce the timeless version that we all know and love. It’s funny to think that A-Ha’s two biggest hits were helmed by a man synonymous with writing and recording for Cliff Richard, but Tarney’s pop sensibilities were to prove crucial while the band were developing their sound, and his services were retained until 1990.

Unsurprisingly, it is *that* single which is played in a finale that includes a rather overblown version of ‘The Living Daylights’, the James Bond theme from 1987 that indicated just how far this Norwegian export had come in the space of just a few years. At this point in the show, the people in the balconies finally wake up and rise to their feet, but it all feels like an anti-climax as emotion quickly turns to cynicism. Is this supposed farewell tour a shameless marketing opportunity, or will this pop phenomenon reunite again in the future? It’s perhaps too early to speculate at this stage as Harket is expected to resume his solo career, and prolific songwriter Waaktaar-Savoy will be turning his attentions to Savoy in the New Year. They have already released six albums since 1996, including a career-rounding retrospective. Furuholmen, who revealed this year that he has been suffering from a heart condition, has announced his intent to work with members of Muse and Coldplay. As for A-Ha their place in the pantheon of intelligent pop music is already assured, and they leave a legacy of nine albums and some wonderful, melancholic pop songs.


Photos by Lori Tarchala

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