Over the past few weeks I attempted to run through some of my less listened to CDs by picking a day in which I only listened to albums with a green cover or animals on the cover or vehicles on the cover, etc. When work allowed I had a pretty good run and enjoyed hearing some great stuff that I’d not thought to take out for a spin in some time. One of the albums on purple day that came out and stayed out was Duran Duran’s 1982 classic, Rio.
In a world where the sophomore slump is accepted with a pat on the back and a nudge towards number three, the DD boys took that notion and kicked it in the arse, as for all intents and purposes this is their undisputed masterpiece. (I’m sorry debut, you lost out by just a fraction of a smidge.) This is the album that took the underground hip of the New Romantic movement they helped start and launched it into the mainstream as New Wave, paving the way for the likes of Tears for Fears, Flock of Seagulls and Culture Club, defining the entire first half plus of the 80s and setting a blueprint that retro bands of today still follow to the letter.
Slick? Glossy? Radio friendly? Yes, indeed, but that’s what it was all about back in those days. And while many albums suffer from such heavy-handed production, Rio stands as strong as ever because of it even today. Retro radio staples such as Rio and Hungry Like the Wolf not only put Duran Duran on the map in '82, but convinced an entire generation of teeny bopper girls that boys who were prettier than they were was the greatest thing since the ’64 mop top. But more than just being another pop sensation, these guys could write and could play. John Taylor’s bass is often intricate and funky (in a good way), Roger Taylor’s drums are tight and emphatic, Andy Taylor’s guitar, though often understated, is clever and innovative, Nick Rhodes’ (the true heartbeat of the band) synth stylings are everything from exciting to eerie and Simon Le Bon’s vocals are at once spirited, whimsical, intelligent and, often as not, flat out bizarre.
If I haven’t properly made my case for their skills both individually and as a collective, you can’t deny the infectious, sing-a-long thrillability of these nine songs, flowing seamlessly, almost story-like from the opening neo-orchestrated build of the title track to the fluttering electro noise that closes out The Chauffer. I guess I could argue that the proof is that this album was a huge smash for Duran Duran, with the two aforementioned songs (plus, to a lesser extent, Save a Prayer and a much altered version of My Own Way) plastering their faces all over MTV, magazine covers, bedroom walls and international billboards. But this isn’t a case of catchy singles and throwaway album tracks, every song on Rio is top notch and worth the cost of purchase. If side one contains the hits, side two (I’m speaking from a cassette viewpoint here) is where the creative magic really comes down, from the schitzo-paranoia of New Religion (complete with alternating, dueling vocal tracks), to the island flavored beats of a love affair gone wrong in Last Chance on the Stairway, to the timelessly heartbreaking ode to a one night stand on Save a Prayer, to The Chauffer, one of the most beautifully bizarre five minutes of music ever composed, and a fitting end to a set of songs that takes the listener truly all over the world – from rivers to jungles – and all over the emotional spectrum – from longing to lust to love to loss.
For those of you skeptics who think Duran Duran was (is) a tacky singles band, you’re right; but they were simultaneously much more than that, with a heart and a passion for the creation of art within music, which was never again so elegantly performed or packaged as on Rio.