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Duran Duran: The Side Projects

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If there’s a schism that exists within the ranks of Duran Duran, it was most obviously visible in their wildly differing splinter groups, The Power Station and Arcadia. Classic Pop takes a look at Duran Duran: The Side Projects… By Steve Harnell

Duran Duran The side projects

Funk rock, members of Chic, a William S Burroughs cameo and mountains of cocaine – when Duran Duran do side projects, they don’t do them by halves. Born from a band hiatus in 1984, The Power Station and Arcadia revealed two factions within the mothership, showcasing a tough rock-led approach on one hand and an art school dandyism on the other.

Both John and Andy Taylor were on board for The Power Station, in essence a neat encapsulation of the bassist’s original vision for Duran as a “Sex Pistols meets Chic outfit”.

With Nile Rodgers now making a name for himself as a super-producer hitmaker for the likes of Bowie and Madonna, his former Chic bandmates – drummer Tony Thompson and bassist and co-songwriter Bernard Edwards – were at a loose end and soon joined forces with the Taylors, intrigued by the musical cross-pollination that was floating in the wind.

Meanwhile, across the fence, Nick Rhodes, Simon Le Bon and Roger Taylor formed Arcadia (although the latter had a foot in both camps and provided percussion for The Power Station on occasion, too).

Diametrically opposed to the strident rock of their counterparts, Arcadia was a more melodic and delicate affair – Le Bon went as far as saying the band’s debut long-player was “the most pretentious album ever made”. 

While the two bands’ ambitions may have swerved in different directions, they had one thing in common – a devil-may-care extravagance where every artistic whim in the studio was fully indulged.

The Duran boys had earned the right for vanity projects, and they exploited that opportunity to the maximum.

Seven And The Ragged Tiger caused some dissent within the ranks. John Taylor in particular had a problem with the over-fussiness and detail-oriented approach of producer Alex Sadkin, so a chance to flex his funk and rock muscles couldn’t come soon enough.

Read our feature on Duran Duran’s cover art

Read our feature on Duran Duran’s 1990 album Liberty

After the success of the Nile Rodgers remix of The Reflex, he was fully in the orbit of Chic and its members, but it was only when John and Andy Taylor met Tony Thompson after a Bowie concert in France in May 1983 – Thompson was behind the drums for the Serious Moonlight Tour – that an idea for a collaboration began to percolate.

Within a year, the nucleus for what became The Power Station was in place (they convened under the working title Big Brother until it was noted that Janis Joplin’s backing band had essentially taken that name already). The trio gathered to record a backing track for a cover of T.Rex’s glam rock classic Get It On for model and singer Bebe Buell, whom John was briefly dating.

With Bernard Edwards also in tow, the signs were good – but when Taylor and Buell fell out, the sessions came to nothing. 

With the vocalist-free band all dressed up with nowhere to go, a revolving-chair position was considered for the frontman role, with various singers guesting on an ad hoc basis. Remarkably, Mick Jagger was approached, as was Richard Butler from The Psychedelic Furs and Billy Idol. The group, it was planned, would provide a rock twist on the soundsystem multiple-singer approach later adopted by the likes of Massive Attack and Soul II Soul.

But when Robert Palmer – a favourite vocalist of Duran Duran, who was still yet to enter his Eighties imperial chart crossover phase – entered the fray, all bets were off. An outstanding performance on the pre-existing Get It On backing track sealed the deal. He was their man. The Chic contingent were convinced, and the Bolan cover went on to be a standout on their debut album.

Duran Duran: Making The Wedding Album

Duran Duran: Making Seven And The Ragged Tiger

That LP cost a cool $500,000 in studio fees. An enormous cocaine intake characterised the sessions, with John Taylor in particular taking full advantage of what he described as an “unlimited” supply.

Recorded in London, Nassau and at The Power Station in New York – the studio from which they took their name – The Power Station was a cocksure collection of cavernous gated drums, slashing, almost heavy metal guitars, John Taylor’s pumping basslines, and Palmer’s commanding vocals.

Lead single Some Like It Hot was an impressive calling card and although the reviews were mixed, the chart results – particularly in the States – were positive. The album made No.6 on the Billboard chart and Some Like It Hot achieved the same position in the Stateside singles rundown.

Palmer soon capitalised on his increased public profile, releasing a new solo album, Riptide, in 1985 that included the imperious Addicted To Love. But when the singer bailed on live commitments with The Power Station, he was replaced by Michael Des Barres.

Then the fingers began to point, with Palmer being accused of using the supergroup for his own ends, both financially and professionally. Firing back, Palmer told Number One magazine: “Firstly, I didn’t need the money and secondly, the cash wasn’t exactly a long time coming. It wasn’t exactly an experience that set me up for retirement.” He later added: “I gave The Power Station [their] sound. They took it from me, not the other way around.”

Des Barres’ tenure with the band was short-lived, although he did have the honour of appearing with them at the Philadelphia leg of Live Aid, where they played Murderess and Get It On

Duran Duran: Making Rio

Read more: Duran Duran Superfan

Although the Robert Palmer collaboration had ended in acrimony, the bad blood was put aside a decade later when the original members reunited for a new album. The harmony, however, soon evaporated, and John Taylor left the sessions for what eventually became 1996’s Living In Fear amid an array of personal problems.

Bernard Edwards stepped out from behind the mixing desk to become the band’s full-time bassist, only to pass away suddenly later that year of pneumonia during a trip to Japan.

If The Power Station were renowned for their Class A indulgence, their counterparts in Arcadia were not be outdone – at least, not on an artistic level. Their debut album So Red The Rose was recorded at a cost of $1 million, making it at that point one of the most expensive efforts of all time.

With Arcadia retaining both a synth-based sound and producer Alex Sadkin, this was on the face of it less of a divergence from the Duran template than The Power Station, yet it jumped into experimental waters with both feet. Both Rhodes and Le Bon have at various times admitted to (and revelled in) its almost unrivalled pretentiousness.

This was, after all, a band that took its name from a Poussin painting of 1638, Et In Arcadia Ego (The Arcadian Shepherd), which was itself influenced by Virgil’s Ecologues and would become a future touchstone of WH Auden, Evelyn Waugh, Goethe and Nietzsche.

The lead-off single – the wonderful Election Day – boasted an epic nine-minute mini-movie directed by Alien’s art director Roger Christian and was inspired by French auteur Jean Cocteau’s La Belle Et La Bete, no less. Like many tracks on the album, it featured a high-profile collaborator, in this case Grace Jones, who added a mysterious spoken-word section.

Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and Bowie sideman Carlos Alomar provided guitar, while jazz legend Herbie Hancock weighed in with keyboards on The Promise (that’s Sting on backing vocals, by the way).

So Red The Rose, recorded in Paris,  has aged well but it only charted at No.23 in the US and No.30 in the UK, and after the success of Election Day the subsequent singles barely made a dent in the charts.

The gothic, dyed-hair look the trio adopted, along with tuxedos, bow ties and vintage suits, made more of an impression than most of the music.

Arcadia made a handful of appearances to plug So Red The Rose, but never toured. As a nod to the band and sister act The Power Station, Election Day and Some Like It Hot made it onto the setlist of the Notorious Tour… a slim legacy for two intriguing side projects that deserve further investigation. 

For more info on Duran Duran check out their official website here

Read more: Pet Shop Boys: Top 25 countdown

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Listen to “Horsey” by Alex Chapman ft Kim Petras

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For Valentines this year, Kim Petras dropped off her “Slut Pop” EP as a treat for her fans. The not so little aside project took off rapidly. It is seemingly stealing some of the thunder that began brewing with tracks “Future Starts Now” and “Coconuts” for Kim’s forthcoming debut album in partnership with Republic Records. Kim is such a tease. She also knows best what her fans want and craves of her on a music footing. When the invite came along to drop some guest vocals on “Horsey” the latest dancefloor filler from LA-based songwriter and DJ Alex Chapman. The link-up made sense.

This is not the first time Alex and Kim appeared on the same billing. Previously, he opened up to Kim on her North American and European tours. Quite possibly, this collaboration may have resulted in them being impatient to start Pride month. As Alex is DJing at this year’s NYC Pride’s Pride Island next month, we can hedge a bet the link up with Kim on “Horsey” will heavily feature.

I see no need for an explanation from me of the tongue-in-cheek anthem. They just are celebrating the joy and ecstasy of doing the deed. Nothing wrong with doing that. Delivering fun music that celebrates queerness and being who you are. Fun will be had to promote this release, no doubt. In the lead-up to Pride, there is no way to blame them for trying to fix “Horsey” in our heads. Applaud.

Listen on Apple Music

While I do not support dance anthems per se on this blog site. This one snuck in and earned my favour. It is time for the clubs and the Pride events to bounce back in a big way, this year. I know already the anthem will go down a bomb. I fully expect it to top every Pride playlist.

There’s more to come from this Alex and Kim team up as well, he is co-writing on her forthcoming debut album.

Connect with Alex Chapman
Twitter: https://twitter.com/alexchapmannn
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alexchapman/

Connect with Kim Petras
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KimPetras/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/kimpetras
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kimpetras/





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Review: xPropaganda – The Heart Is Strange

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xPropaganda - The Heart Is Strange review
xPropaganda – The Heart Is Strange review

Nearly 40 years after A Secret Wish, Propaganda’s frontwomen reunite with their producer to reclaim their rightful place among synth-pop’s finest

All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” These words taken from an Edgar Allen Poe poem opened Propaganda’s 1985 debut album, A Secret Wish, regularly considered by many among the finest German pop records ever made. And it certainly seemed a dream when Susanne Freytag and Claudia Brücken, alongside their debut’s producer, Stephen Lipson, announced they would rekindle the band’s spirit – albeit without Michael Mertens and Ralf Dörper – under the legally cautious name of xPropaganda. 

It’s not the first time that a follow-up’s been attempted. Co-founder Mertens used the name for 1990’s underwhelming 1234, though Freytag only appeared on two tracks, Ralf Dörper co-wrote just four, and Brücken was absent altogether. A 1998 reunion without Dörper proved unsuccessful, too, despite Martin Gore and Tim Simenon’s involvement, and leaked tapes confirmed they were right to quit. But now – finally – there’s a successor similarly seeped in the monochrome beauty of Fritz Lang’s films but glistening with the sleek lustre of contemporary technology. 

They stake a claim to this territory from the outset, with The Night’s roar of synths evoking ZTT’s mid-80s glory days and its stabs of synthetic strings, not to mention Terry Edwards’ muted trumpets, surely intended to recall the tense feast that was their debut’s opener. Chasing Utopia’s simmering keyboards prolong this pleasure, too, with Lipson’s guitar another nod to earlier production styles and muttered German texts underlining the band’s Teutonic roots. 

Don’t (You Mess With Me) returns us to more industrial sounds, its stern, snarled, one-note melody packing a disciplined punch, while The Wolves Are Returning asks “When history repeats must we take it in our stride?”, its windswept drama lamenting the far right’s rise in a manner more Pleasuredome than pleasure. Only Human and No Ordinary Girl, it’s true, fall short of the high bar A Secret Wish set – though it’s unfair to judge them against a record quite so old – but Beauty Is Truth’s shimmering synths, tyrannical beat and patient crescendo compensate.

The closing Ribbons Of Steel, moreover, feels like the Omega to Dream Within A Dream’s Alpha, its spoken word tale of separation a high-tech riposte to Prefab Sprout’s masterful I Trawl The Megahertz. It seemed too much to hope for, but this truly is a dream. 

Read more: Trevor Horn interview

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Rick Astley – Whenever You Need Somebody (2022 Remaster) OUT NOW

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SPONSORED POST

To mark its 35th Anniversary, @rickastley is reissuing his classic debut album Whenever You Need Somebody.

Remastered at Abbey Road, it’s out today on CD, 2CD Deluxe and Digital. Deluxe Edition includes 21 bonus tracks including b-sides, remixes, reimagined versions plus sleeve notes compiled from a new interview with Rick.

Get yours now.

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