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Sunday, October 12, 1997

Duran Duran are back in the loop

Medazzaland reviewed

By RICHARD JOHN -- Jam! Showbiz

Duran Duran
(Capitol 8 33876 2)

Duran Duran are back. Some say they never left, but nonetheless, it's been almost five years since their top-five hit Ordinary World made it cool to like them again. In that time, they released a cover album that was quickly forgotten (thank you, very much), lost a band member, moved labels (outside of North America they're now on Virgin) and found time to record a stunning new album called Medazzaland.
Critics will always try to write them off, but as one of the only surviving super-bands from the 80s (U2 may be the only other), Duran Duran continue to amaze with their ability to adapt to their surroundings - "styles change, style doesn't" is the unofficial subtitle for Medazzaland.
Long touted by the band as "Trance Punk", Medazzaland incorporates elements of top 40 pop, electronica (disco for the '90s) as well as heavily processed guitar and vocals (check out singer Simon LeBon's vocal on Midnight Sun).
The days of seminal albums like Rio and Seven and the Ragged Tiger may be 15 years ago, but the general buzz surrounding Medazzaland indicates a success to rival those heady days.
Buoyed by current disco-ish hit single, Electric Barbarella - the title is taken from the 1968 movie Barbarella, the campy Jane Fonda vehicle where the band got their name from - there is an abundance of material here that is quite good.
It's not the 'bubblegum', disco pop that made the band famous in the early '80s, but this isn't the '80s anymore, and the band is collectively pushing forty, not twenty-five. The sound is a more mature, logical extension of their '80s sound. The lyrics aren't as oblique as they used to be either (who can forget "Aphids swarm up in the distant haze"?).
LeBon's and Rhodes' Medazzaland lyrics are somewhat more straightforward veering toward the subjects of death, space, sex and the fact that in the late '90s, Duran stands virtually peerless in the music scene ("Now all our heroes are gone?" - Big Bang Generation).
Tracks like Big Bang Generation and Be My Icon, with their heavy groove, just scream single, while ballads Who Do You Think You Are? and Michael (You've got a lot to answer for) could reclaim the ground gained by previous mega-ballads Save a Prayer and Ordinary World.
There's a lot to like here and not a lot to dislike. Some material has the feel of filler (like Buried in the Sand or Midnight Sun), but there's enough quality material here to please even the passing fan.
This is a very new album for the band in a number of ways. Bassist John Taylor walked out just prior to the album's completion and his parts had to be re-recorded. Also, keyboardist Nick Rhodes gets to wax his vocal chords on record for the first time on the album's spoken word title track.
As an interesting aside, Canadian fans may be disappointed to find out that P.L.You, the song the band wrote here in the Great White North during 1995's Thank You promotional work, didn't make the final cut on the album. The track, part of the set list for the '95 promo tour, may surface later as a b-side.
It will be interesting to see this very "studio-friendly", effects laden album translated into the live arena when the band tours in the Spring. In the meantime, watch out for more band activity with Simon LeBon doing backup vocals on Save a Prayer as performed by Tony Hadley - ex-vocalist of Duran Duran's one time rival Spandau Ballet.
Guitarist Warren Cucurullo and keyboardist Nick Rhodes have teamed up as TV Mania, and are set to release original material in the near future (they've also written a song for the new Blondie best of album). Ex-bassist John Taylor is busy with his B5 Record label.
From bubblegum to trance punk and beyond, styles indeed do change.

 Track Listing
 Big Bang Generation
 Electric Barbarella
 Out Of My Mind
 Who Do You Think You Are
 Silva Halo
 Be My Icon
 Buried In The Sand
 Midnight Sun
 So Long Suicide
 Undergoing Treatment