Friday, 1 May 2009

1984 Duran Duran: The Reflex

In two short years, Duran Duran had become what it took the Rolling Stones some fifteen years to achieve - that is, to become a bloated, self aware and self indulgent excess of gaudy pretension. Perhaps after seeing 'Is There Something I Should Know' get to number one, Duran Duran genuinely believed they could get away with any venture into musical areas and concepts that previously they might have thought twice about, safe in the knowledge that any cracks could be polyfillered with a new hairdo and a fancy video.

And in 1984, maybe they could. For in truth, 'The Reflex' shares a lot with that previous number one - to whit, a song with a dual verse structure that peters away until the chorus kicks in. But if 'Is There Something' was a shambles, 'The Reflex' revisits the format and actually corrects a lot of the mistakes by delivering a song with a far more precise structure that's confident it knows where it's going.

The pieces actually dovetail this time; the song flows from A to B without any jarring splinters and there is a genuine sense of anticipation in those few seconds of looped, disjointed beats before the change of key to the chorus elevates the song. A more muscled re-run of 'Rio' it might be, but it's far preferable to the weak anticlimax in the 'Is There Something'? effort.

Not that Duran Duran should take all the plaudits for the improvement mind; whilst the album version of the track was fair enough by itself, the shortened single version benefited hugely from an extensive Nile Rogers remix. In fact, Rogers seems to do the impossible here by making Duran Duran sound like Chic. Strip away the eighties gimmicks of the staccato stutter vocal effects and Nick Rhode's now tired Jupiter 8 sound and the heart of 'The Reflex' beats with a slick and polished funk groove where Andy Taylor's choppy, abrasive guitar lines bounce off John Taylor's walking bassline like sparks off a hammered anvil. Add to this a restrained yet prominent gospel-like backing whoops and sha la la's on the chorus and you have one of Duran Duran's most exciting and human sounding recordings to date.

Of course, despite the guiding hand of Rodgers, the band try their best to sabotage all the good work with Le Bon providing one of his flattest, tuneless, goose on the loose vocals, honking a set of half baked lyrics that aspire to the enigmatic and mysterious but instead come across as the work of a miserable and 'misunderstood' sixth form poet bored with rhyming 'rain' with 'pain':

"The reflex is an only child he's waiting in the park
The reflex is in charge of finding treasure in the dark
And watching over lucky clover isn't that bizarre?
Every little thing the reflex does leaves you answered with a question mark"

But this was typical of those crazy New Romantics - frilly shirts, big hair and too much make up needed a corresponding soundtrack, and so a colourful dog's dinner image needed colourful dog's dinner lyrics to match. And on that score, Duran Duran rarely let them down.

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