Papers in the roadside
Tell of suffering and greed
Here today, forgot tomorrow
Ooh, here besides the news
Of holy war and holy need
Ours is just a little sorrowed talk
But I won´t cry for yesterday
There´s an ordinary world
Somehow I have to find
And as I try to make my way
To the ordinary world
I will learn to survive –“Ordinary World”
Duran Duran is celebrating their 35th anniversary this year. They’ve had a tumultuous career, starting with the new wave scene of the 80’s, and with repeated attempts to maintain relevance in the 90’s and 2000’s. This is a great time to take a look at their discography. I’ll be ranking these albums on a scale of 1 to 5 tigers.
The roster is:
- Simon LeBon–vocals
- Nick Rhodes–keyboards, vocals
- John Taylor–bass, vocals
- Roger Taylor–drums
- Andy Taylor–guitar, vocals (*)–no longer in band.
Duran Duran (1981) 3 1/2 tigers
Singles: “Girls On Film”, “Planet Earth”
This debut album is one of the best debuts I’ve heard. The Fab Five had a good handle on their sound early on, and they managed to stick around longer than some of the other New Wave acts of their time, such as Missing Persons or A Flock of Seagulls. MTV gave them a huge fanbase in the states, in fact “Girls On Film” was one the most popular videos on MTV in that year.
Best Tracks: “Girls On Film”, “Planet Earth, “Careless Memories”, “Night Boat”
Fun Fact: The video for “Girls On Film” had to be edited to be shown during the day. The more risqué version was played at night.
Rio (1982) 5 tigers–magnum opus
Singles: “Rio”, “Hungry Like the Wolf”, “Save a Prayer”
This is Duran Duran’s most definitive album, so much so that Alexandra Heller-Nichols, editor of Fiend magazine, contributed it to Robert Dimery’s 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. It’s this album that truly helped launch them into stardom. John Taylor’s bass line is great on songs like “Rio” and “The Chauffer”.
Best Tracks: “Rio”, “Hungry Like the Wolf”, “My Own Way”, “New Religion”
Seven and the Ragged Tiger (1983) 4 1/2 tigers
Singles: “The Reflex”, “New Moon on Monday”, “Union of the Snake”
This was one of the first albums I owned as a kid, and I still think it’s one of the band’s best albums. While it doesn’t have the instantly recognizable hits from Rio, it’s the non-hits that stand out the most. It also has one of the best instrumental rock songs ever, “Tiger, Tiger”
Best Tracks: “The Reflex” “New Moon on Monday”, “Tiger, Tiger”, “The Seventh Stranger”
Notorious (1986) 3 1/2 tigers
Singles: “Notorious”, “Skin Trade”
This album began Duran Duran’s more experimental phase. Nile Rogers gave them a more horn-based sound (this would be his first album with the band), as evidenced by the singles. By this time, the band had broken into two side projects, Power Station and Arcadia, indicating some tension in the band. This was also their first album with Warren Cucurullo, who would become a new member later on.
Best Tracks: “Notorious”, “Vertigo (Do the Demolition)”, “Meet El Presidente”
Big Thing (1988) 2 1/2 tigers
Singles: “I Don’t Want Your Love”, “All She Wants Is”
Big Thing was another shift for the band, as they experimented with a more “house”-based, techno sound that would stick with them for the rest of their discography. However, it took them a while to perfect it.
Best Tracks: “I Don’t Want Your Love”, “Palomino”
This album was a bit of a dip for Duran Duran, as the tide was beginning to turn away from New Wave. A new kind of alternative music was on the horizon, one defined by bands like Jane’s Addiction, Nirvana, and Green Day. Duran Duran would have a hard time adjusting to the times.
Best Tracks: “Violence of Summer (Love’s Taking Over”, “All Along the Water”
“Wedding Album” (1993) 3 tigers
Singles: “Too Much Information”, “Ordinary World”, “Come Undone”
By the time this album was recorded, Andy Taylor had left the band, with Warren Cucurullo taking over. The music scene had shifted towards a darker sound, and Duran Duran had failed to evolve, becoming more reminiscent of a time that the 90’s had become more cynical for. Of their 90’s albums, this one is actually their best. The opening track, “Too Much Information”, is a great stab at the popular media of the time. “Ordinary World” is a grim eulogy for a friend who died in a car crash.
Best Tracks: “Too Much Information”, “Ordinary World”, “Breath After Breath, “Femme Fatale”
Fun Fact: Because the band already had a self-titled album, this release is unofficially called the “Wedding Album” because of the cover art, depicting wedding pictures. “Femme Fatale” is a Lou Reed cover, making it a taste of what the next album would be.
Thank You (1995) 1 tiger
Single: “Perfect Day”
This isn’t just Duran Duran’s worst album, it’s one of the worst albums of all time. It’s Duran Duran’s cover album, featuring covers of Lou Reed (“Perfect Day”), Public Enemy (“911 is a Joke”), Elvis Costello (“Watching the Detectives”), and more. It’s just not right. This isn’t what Duran Duran should be doing, and many of the songs don’t really translate into New Wave.
Best Track: “Perfect Day”
Medazzaland (1997) 3 tigers
Single: “Electric Barbarella”
This was the first album in Duran Duran’s brief “trio phase”, with both John and Andy Taylor gone (John did record four songs for the album before leaving) It’s not bad or excellent, but I did like it better than Thank You. It just doesn’t feel right with only three members, especially since John’s bass line was an essential part of the band’s success.
Best Tracks: “Electric Barbarella”, “Silva Halo”, “Michael, You’ve Got a Lot to Answer For”
Fun Fact: “Michael, You’ve Got a Lot to Answer For” references Michael Hutchence, lead singer for INXS, who hanged himself a month after Medazzaland‘s release.
Pop Trash (1999) 2 1/2 tigers
This is Duran Duran’s worst-selling album, and the final album of the “trio phase”. It’s the worst of the two in my opinion, and really made me long for all five members coming back. It was also Warren’s last album with the band.
Best Tracks: “Someone Else Not Me”, “Mars Not Venus”
Fun Fact: “Last Day on Earth” played during the opening of Universal Studios Japan.
Astronaut (2002) 3 1/2 tigers
Singles: “Reach Up For the Sunrise”, “Nice”
They’re back! The original lineup made their triumphant return with this new album. It was as if they’d never broken up, and it really felt like the old band was the way it was supposed to be. This was their best selling album since Seven and the Ragged Tiger, going all the way to #17 that year. Even Nile Rodgers came back to produce a couple tracks.
Best Tracks: “Reach Up For the Sunrise”, “Chains”, “Point of No Return”
Red Carpet Massacre (2007) 3 tigers
Single: “Falling Down”
Sadly, the hoopla of the revival didn’t last, as Andy Taylor left for good with this album. Despite that, it’s not that bad. I think the slump of the 90’s was behind them.
Best Tracks: “Red Carpet Massacre”, “Falling Down”, “Skin Divers”
All You Need Is Now (2012) 4 tigers
Singles: “All You Need is Now”, “Girl Panic”
Produced by the great Marc Ronson, this is one of the best Duran Duran albums in a long time, even if it is their most recent without Andy Taylor. Seriously, this is easily one of their top five, and a must for any Duran Duran fan.
Best Tracks: “Blame it On Machines”, “Safe”, “The Man Who Stole a Leopard”, “Before the Rain”
Paper Gods (2015) 3 tigers
Single: “Pressure Off”
This album is meant to celebrate the band’s legacy, as indicated by the album cover. It has a more modernized sound than their more previous albums, but there’s still a feel for the sound that they established in the 80’s as well. It’s a fitting marriage of both the old and the new.
Best Tracks: “Paper Gods”, “Pressure Off”, “Change the Skyline”
Fun Fact: The icons on the cover represent different songs and albums from the band’s discography. Here’s what each icon represents:
- Lips: album cover for Rio
- sax: the saxophone riff in “Rio”
- champagne glass: “Rio”
- Chauffer’s Cap: “The Chauffer”
- Sumo wrestler: “Girls on Film”
- Eiffel Tower: “View to a Kill”
- White shoe: “Come Undone”
- Tiger: Seven and the Ragged Tiger
- Snake: “Union of the Snake”
- Female silhouette: “Skin Trade”
- Ice cream cone: “Perfect Day”
Final Ranking, from worst to best:
- 14) Thank You
- 13) Pop Trash
- 12) Liberty
- 11) Medazzaland
- 10) Big Thing
- 9) Red Carpet Massacre
- 8) Wedding Album
- 7) Notorious
- 6) Paper Gods
- 5) Astronaut
- 4) Seven and the Ragged Tiger
- 3) Duran Duran
- 2) All You Need is Now
- 1) Rio
Join me in October, when I chronicle the rock gods, Led Zeppelin