It’s being called words like ‘miraculous’, and the convenient quote by its producer that it’s the “imaginary follow-up to Rio that never was” has been utilised in just about every lazy review of the item in question.
All You Need Is Now is a lazy reviewer’s dream album, because all that is required is a very cursory once-over to confirm the “truth” that all the hype is indicative of a greater reality; that this is indeed the group’s best album since Rio.
You may well ask, “But was Rio so shit-hot in the first place?” The ultimate question also goes begging: “Weren’t Duran Duran always pretty poor purveyors of putrid pop?”
But for now, let’s side-step those larger concerns, and concentrate on our dissection of the matter at hand.
What created the incubation conditions for this “comeback” from an ‘80s-era band that never really went away? After the grand “reunion” (of original members) based around a worldwide concert tour that was strictly nostalgia, folks, Duran Duran set about creating another chapter with an album, Astronaut (2004) that cluttered up bargain bins for years afterwards. Then, in 2007 came the horrid Red Carpet Massacre, which ushered (once again) original member Andy Taylor out of the group, and brought in hip-hop producer Timbaland. It sold about nine copies worldwide.
That should, by rights, have been the last rites for a band that most of its less hardcore fans had only really wanted around long enough for a reunion tour, so they could bathe in those ‘80s memories. But no, they had to go and do it again. This time, they enlisted dance producer Mark Ronson to jizz up their sound, and he arranged for cameos by the likes of Kelis.
Ronson, who has worked with the likes of Amy Winehouse, Adele and Lily Allen, seems to turn everything he touches to gold, and it’s clear that those in the commercial zone think of him as some kind of latter-day production guru. In fact, he’s a DJ of dubious taste who somehow has conned his way to the A-list, despite an aesthetic that’s about as appealing as an album of Smiths tunes covered by Rebecca Black.
Without Ronson, maybe All You Need Is Now wouldn’t have happened. Maybe he was the catalyst, the enabler, for this “imaginary follow-up to Rio that never was.” [If I repeat that line enough, will you buy it?] But you can’t turn back time, not really, and Duran Duran, try as they might to focus on what might have been après-Rio, really don’t do any better than writing a bunch of utterly clichéd Duran-style choruses to convince the faithful.
You heard it here first, folks: All You Need Is Now is a failure on a massive scale. It would be easy to waste thousands of words on why it’s so bad, but we’ll try to compress our distaste of this factory farmed atrocity to bite-sized chunks of spew.
All the songs here find the members of Duran Duran co-writing with Mark Ronson or other hired guns. Given the fact that the choruses are such bland approximations of what a Duran Duran chorus should sound like, and that the verses often sound totally disassociated from them, it soon becomes clear that this was more of a rescue job than a true collaboration. I guess one good aspect of this is that it gave some people a job; within a decade computers will be able to piece together hodge-podges like this, and call them songs. (Oh, they already do?)
Take the title tune. It’s promising, for all of 20 seconds, with its swaggering bravado and semi-industrial sampled sounds. Sadly, the inevitable chorus soon crashes in, sounding rather out of place. The title of ‘Blame The Machines’ sounds defensive from the get-go, and so it needs to be, as any song behind this electro-dance groove barely shows its face. ‘Being Followed’ boasts a sound that has ‘80s signifiers, but unlike Duran in its original time and place, the machines are again doing all the work for them. Add to that an idiotic chord structure and obvious melodic “progression” and we’re in the realm of utter cliché. ‘Leave A Light On’ is the kind of boy-band ballad that may have worked for the group in the ‘80s, but really, a grizzled 50-something sensitively intoning lyrics about how, if she leaves a light on for him, he’ll come back… Maybe he’s worried that he might trip over something in the dark? It’s weak. ‘Safe’ is a disco rap number, and it’s brain dead. ‘Girl Panic!’ is another embarrassing old-man ode to young flesh with horribly brassy keyboard-stabs and a game attempt to recapture that inhibited ‘80s funk sound. ‘The Man Who Stole A Leopard’ has epic pretentions, but its attempt at amateur dramatics just doesn’t work. ‘Other People’s Lives’ seems to be a commentary on celebrity media, and it’s a horrid synth racket that never finds a song, or anything of interest, to say about the subject. ‘Mediterranea’ desperately wants to be a genuine ‘Save A Prayer’ sequel, while ‘Before The Rain’ is a by-the-numbers disco pop dirge that’s horribly straitjacketed by its sequencing. ‘Before The Rain’ is the inevitable big ballad and it’s probably marginally better than the other songs, but by this stage the record has had such a toxic effect on the reviewer that it’s hard to stay focused. So back to ‘Runway Runaway’, which is the worst song, by far. I mean, ‘Girls On Film’ was sort of acceptable back in the ‘80s, but why are these old dudes still concocting lyrics celebrating the dark glamour of the modeling industry?
I can understand some of Duran Duran’s more longstanding and tragically infatuated fans desperately wanting to believe that All You Need Is Now is a great return to form. What I find hard to stomach is the acclaim it’s getting from reviewers who should know better. It only takes a careful once-over to see that whatever earthquakes have left their mark on Duran Duran Corp in the past twenty-something years have widened into nasty cracks with nameless toxic weeds sprouting forth. Superficially (ironic, really, given that Duran are one of the great superficial bands) everything is in place and correct on All You Need Is Now, but only if you don’t look behind the mirror.
And now the paragraph that all the Witchdoctor readers have been waiting for. The sound on All You Need Is Now is effing horrible. No dispensation has been given to those who don’t listen to their music on tinny earbuds or equally tinny computer speakers. Played on a full frequency hi-fi system, the tops are harsh as Dante’s inferno, and there’s no bass at the bottom. Everything is in the middle band, and it’s fatiguing. GARY STEEL
Sound = 1.5/5
Music = 2/5