The debut album review series continues with Duran Duran’s first release, the self-titled album from 1981.
Duran Duran didn’t exactly explode on the music scene, at least in the United States, after releasing their debut album in 1981 but within two years, after their sophomore album Rio, the band’s first album Duran Duran would finally hit the US charts.
But by then Duran Duran was a household name. I was also told by two classmates (back then) the Fab Five would replace the Fab 3 of Rush while teen and tween girls everywhere eventually competed on who would marry who in the band (according to my wife).
Nonetheless, the eponymous Duran Duran album did well in the band’s homeland reaching #3 in the United Kingdom and eventually hitting platinum status. The re-release of Duran Duran’s first album in 1983 for American audiences propelled it to the Top 10 cementing several hits and cult favorites.
Eventually though the fame and fortune wore thin and the classic line-up of singer Simon Le Bon, keyboardist and co-founder Nick Rhodes, bassist and co-founder John Taylor, drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Andy Taylor would dissolve in just a short five years. Big surprise. But an even bigger surprise is Duran Duran never broke up as Le Bon, Rhodes and John Taylor carried on through the thin years of the 1990s (Taylor eventually left in 1997) before the gang got back together in 2001 and today four of the five (Andy Taylor left in 2006) remain and arguably nearly as popular as ever.
Duran Duran First Album Review
Right away, you know a new decade in music has begun. “Girls on Film” opens with the hallmark camera shudder opening and closing before the skipping drum beat and finally the bass starts rolling and the guitar chimes in. Things get even better with the galactic sounding “Planet Earth” a well-crafted song with a stellar bass line and Rhodes keyboard work in full display.
A heavier use of the guitar highlights “Anyone Out There” along with a quirky, near danceable beat. The bass and guitar feed in lock-step working as one. “To the Shore” takes a vastly different approach than the first three tracks. Slowed way down and cutting edge this one sounds like Depeche Mode at times, heavy on the synths with this sinister billowing effect, and Le Bon’s British accent breaking free, just a bit, makes this one a lost gem. “Careless Memories” closes the first half of the album by bringing back the quicker pace of the opening songs but with a bit more edge and a rock feel.
Fun Fact: The 1983 re-release in the United States replaced “To the Shore” with the stand-alone single “Is There Something I Should Know?” while renaming “Anyone Out There” to “Is There Anyone Out There” and “Night Boat” to “(Waiting for the) Night Boat.”
The second half of Duran Duran’s first album starts of like a low budget horror film with “Night Boat” as Rhodes clearly enjoys implementing a variety of unearthly keyboard sounds. The “Waiting for the Night Boat” chorus repeats a bit much, but a lot going on instrumentally. Unfortunately Andy Taylor’s guitar work sounds compulsory and if not for the current embrace of 80s culture this one would seem somewhat dated.
“Sound of Thunder” doesn’t have a lot going for it. A decent song but the low-mark of the album despite some interesting synth work and a better focus on the melody at the midway point. “Friends of Mine” brings a return to the whimsical in what has become a favorite among the Duran Duran faithful in the longest song off their debut album. Upbeat and palatable, everyone seems to have their chance to shine even if Andy Taylor doesn’t make much of an entrance until the final bars. “Tel Aviv” kind of sums up the album with just a few sounds already heard with violins built in (I assume a la Rhodes’ handiwork) in this Duran Duran instrumental, yes instrumental, that gives Taylor some room to stretch on the fretboard but this one, totally out of the blue, has Rhodes putting his stamp on his creation.
Duran Duran’s first album already sounds like a veteran band with multiple releases in their discography. Though the “kids” of the day probably had no comprehension of this, Duran Duran not only nails it on their first release but manage to prevent the proverbial flash in a pan that so many others have flamed out on.
Debut Album Grade: A-
Overall Grade: B+
Duran Duran Debut Album Track List:
- Girls on Film
- Planet Earth
- Anyone Out There
- To The Shore
- Careless Memories
- Night Boat
- Sound of Thunder
- Friends of Mine
- Tel Aviv
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