Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Rio" revisited

It was 1982. MTV began beaming into select homes across the US and millions of teenagers found solace and excitement in a colorful, new medium. The visual side of music had previously been relegated to late night television, afternoon chat shows and "American Bandstand". MTV would obliterate all before it with its promise of a steady diet of music videos 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Programming was thin. So they relied on untested sights and sounds from the UK where the music video had become a promotional tool for bands and singers who couldn't be in several, European countries simultaneously when promotional duties required them to make appearances outside Mother Britannia.

With peroxide and eyeliner in hand, Duran Duran instantly became the pin up boys for the burgeoning, MTV generation. Their second album, "Rio", was released in the UK in May 1982. With its videos shot in exotic locations and its sonic blueprint of Chic inspired basslines, Moroder-esque keyboard sequences and rock guitar married with Simon Le Bon's obtuse prose, the Fab Five from Birmingham shot like the proverbial bullet from a gun and threw convention in the face of the UK recessionista. This was art, escapism and deft musicality all dressed up in one, uniquely designed, smartly tailored (or is that "Taylored") package.

Now, 27 years after its original release, EMI have reissued and remastered the album with a much deserved, double CD, deluxe edition complete with b-sides, demos, alternate mixes and their era defining, dance reconstructions known as "night versions". Among fans, this is the definitive representation of "Rio".

I've been wanting to write about the new reissue for weeks. Truthfully, I got lost in it several times and completely forgot to jot down my thoughts. Thankfully, this, the second swipe at reissuing "Rio", was one which fans were holding their collective breath in anticipation of owning a proper, historic view of the album complete with the appropriate bonus tracks from the sessions surrounding its original release.

The first attempt in 2001 resulted in a direct reissue and remastering of the CD that was already in existence. While it sported vastly superior sound quality, it did not feature any additional tracks. It was a tremendous disappointment for fans who knew there were numerous versions of several of the album's tracks. It took the painstaking and laborious work of dedicated producers and Nick Rhodes' attention to detail which resulted in the newly released, definitive, 2 CD edition being issued.

The first disc is the complete album in its original UK running order. Five tracks at the end of the CD have been included as an addendum for this edition. The songs were remixed specifically for the US version of "Rio", when it was issued on the Capitol label in November 1982 and appear here, together, for the first time since the original, American, vinyl release.

I remember being mesmerized by the Patrick Nagel image on the album sleeve. I recall describing the magenta used on the cover as "juicy". It was designed by Malcolm Garrett at Assorted Images, one of my favorite design firms next to Stylorouge, Farrow and Me Company which were all UK based. Natch! The entire look, lovingly adapted for the deluxification of this landmark longplayer, was aimed at the heart of the aesthetic ethic. And in one gelled, felled swoop, a million hair salons were born.

Much has been made of the style. But what of the substance? Firstly, this was a band in top form at the height of their powers with deep talent on tap. They had all the bases covered from the soundscapes to the styling. The aural and visual were married into one discussion. Each was an extension of the other. The music spoke volumes while the image pushed boundaries.

While the overprocessed and hypersynthesized efforts of many of their contemporaries have dated quite considerably, "Rio" has aged gracefully. It's simultaneously timeless and of a particular moment in time. A rare feat in any era.

After the urgency of their debut, "Rio" was a little more polished yet still urgent. The album could easily have spawned six or seven singles. Amazing to think that the first single pulled from it was "My Own Way" which was rerecorded for its inclusion on "Rio" in a style quite different from the glitterball gallop of the single version which is a thrilling combination of Chic and latter period Roxy Music.

Thankfully, the original 7"single and night version of "My Own Way" have been restored to their rightful place on "Rio" as part of the second disc in the collection.

The sensual and muscular "Hungry Like The Wolf" was the song that set Duran Duran sailing into the stratosphere. The percolating, Jupiter 8 synth sequences, female moans, slap bass, Simmons drums, and Andy Taylor's chunky guitar riffs occupying the space between disco funk and rock power chords was a heady mix and an instant hit. It rocketed to #5 on the UK singles chart. It followed suit in the US where it peaked at #3.

What stands out most to me now, as it did back then, is that "Hungry Like Wolf", as well as its entire attendant album, sounds authentic and original. Stripped of its teen appeal of the time, it's an art rock album which stands head and shoulders high with some of the best work of the artists that inspired them like David Bowie, Japan and Roxy Music.

In fact, two of my favorite tracks (which is a tough decision regarding an album without any identifiable filler) are the dark, funky stance of "New Religion" and the stark, icy electronics of "The Chauffeur". The former sounds like a cross between the detached, plastic elegance of "Stay" from Bowie's "Station To Station" and "Siren" era Roxy Music jams like "Love Is The Drug" or "Both Ends Burning". The latter marries the chilly stillness of "Ghosts" by Japan with the eeriness of Roxy Music's "In Every Dream Home A Heartache".

My favorite inside story on the production of this incredible album closer is the time I found out that the crunchy, clinky sound that occurs at 2.38 is the sound of ice cubes dropped in a glass. Take a listen.

At one point, it was impossible to listen to "The Chauffeur" without recalling its brilliant video which was the height of Helmut Newton inspired, 80s, romantic, art house chic.

"Save A Prayer", Duran Duran's ethereal anthem, strangely was not issued as a single in the US until it was lifted from the live album, "Arena". It was skipped over in favor of the album's title track which rounded out the campaign for "Rio". I'd love to know the story behind not releasing "Save A Prayer" in the US. It was all over MTV. Radio played the bejeezus out of it. Essentially, the US got only two singles off "Rio" which is a little odd considering the album having been an omnipresent force on radio and television for the better part of two years.

As previously mentioned, the US album mixes, which were handled by David Kershenbaum, have never appeared on CD. Those mixes, the concept of which was to garner more significant radio airplay across America, featured Simon's vocals pushed more prominently to the front, punched up drum sounds, very few overdubs, and and a sonic sheen that smoothed out the slightly raw edges of the original UK masters.

The US mixes are tastefully done. They aren't glaringly obvious remixes. In fact, the most obvious change is at the end of the song, "Rio". At around the 3.45 mark their are background vocals which don't appear at all on any of the UK mixes and the saxophone solo has nearly disappeared from the end.

A deluxe edition of "Rio" wouldn't be complete without the extended, night versions which were at the forefront of dance culture in the 80s and ushered in the era of requisite club mixes for rock acts, thus creating blurred lines between two camps which radio pitted against each other only five, short years earlier. The night versions close out the second disc of rarities.

The b-sides are essential, particularly "Like An Angel", which was the original flip of "My Own Way", and the early, acoustic guitar version of "The Chauffeur". The demos, recorded at the old Manchester Square studios at EMI in London, give insight into just how fully formed the songs were before Colin Thurston, producer of the album, got his hands on them. Interestingly, the demos were recorded barely eight months before the album was released and only a couple of months after their debut hit the shops.

If you are one of the downloadably inclined masses, then you can pick up the deluxe edition of "Rio" on iTunes with two bonus tracks, an instrumental version of "My Own Way" and an alternate remix of "Hold Back The Rain".

The only black mark on the entire collection is the omission of the original, UK 7" single of "Rio" which clocks in at around 4.40. It has only ever been available on a Japanese promo CD released in 1988. The elusive, UK single version of "Rio" has never been released on any greatest hits collection or as part of the box set, "The Singles 81-85".

It has taken a very long time to get properly reissued albums from Duran Duran. Better late than never, I suppose. Thankfully, Nick Rhodes is now overseeing deluxified editions of their debut, self-titled longplayer, "Seven And The Ragged Tiger", "Notorious" and the woefully overlooked masterpiece that is "So Red The Rose" by the Le Bon/Rhodes/Taylor spin off project, Arcadia.

Along with their forthcoming 13th album (14th if one counts "Arena"), produced by man of the moment, Mark Ronson, the next round of reissues should see the light of day within the next twelve months. If they're as lovingly put together as the current "Rio" reissue, then I shall start saving my shekels now. Hey Nick, add "Big Thing" to that list while you're at it.


  1. Great review! Definitely I need to buy this CD re-issue because so far I don't have an original album. Hope that in the future they would release similar re-issue of "Liberty", one of my favourite Duran Duran albums.

  2. So excited about these sets, and you are right...this Rio deluxe edition is the motherlode, and was a fantastic release. You are very right to note that after 27 years of teen hype, the music actually stands up quite well on its own with other music from similar artists. Bring on the others!

  3. I've been in a Japan mood lately, and as much as I love these guys (warts and all) I don't know if I could put them on the same shelf as their influences. Their debut is a fun, if blatant attempt to make Quiet Life II: The Sequel. But I have to give credit where it's due; this album succeeds and fails to wilt over time because of their talent, good taste and the songwriting nails the excitement of their coming of age. This album sounds like boys transitioning into men with the world at their fingertips. It is an honest piece of art that captures what was obviously a real and powerful moment in their lives.

    I've also been listening to DD lately and while Notorious and most of Big Thing and The Wedding Album stand as artistic equals to Rio, none of them have that raw excitement on view here. Good god, when Ragged Tiger came out I was appalled. I blew off Duran Duran not because they got popular, (I want my favorite bands to get popular) but because I thought they lowered their standards. Ragged Tiger was a quintessential coke album that did nothing but offend me. It was not until a friend (who was older and a musician, besides) said I needed to hear Notorious that I got back into their fold. Then I learned that it's a rough road being a Duran Duran fan. They'll bookend a classic (Wedding Album) with dogs and it seems like they don't have the slightest of clues at times. But I have to admit, they maintain my casual, at least, interest.