Thank You

Duran Duran

Capitol Records, 1995

http://www.duranduran.com

REVIEW BY: Mark Feldman

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/22/2001

First off, let me tell those of you out there who aren't in the know all about "Yankee Swaps." They're a great way to save money during the holiday season. They keep you from continually expanding you're Christmas list to include every single one of your friends and friends of friends, and allow you to get rid of unwanted household items in the process. What you do is this: you grab one of said unwanted household items, or even an unwanted gift if either the swap occurs after Christmas, or if you happen to be Jewish. And so does everyone else in the swap. You then all bring your "gifts" to someone's house, draw numbers out of a hat, and then take turns picking presents and opening them, each person having the option to trade their gift for any other of the ones that have been opened previously. It's loads of fun, and usually a barrel of laughs, depending on how creative (read: bad) the presents are.

It is at one of these yankee swaps this past December that I happened upon Duran Duran's now-infamous (at least among those who participated) Thank You album. Now being the music geek that I am, I had to admit that I in fact had heard of this album before I opened up the innocent looking green bag that held it. I knew full well that in 1995, riding on the heels of their recent comeback, the lads from good old Double D looked at their rather precarious position upon the charts once again, and here's what they faced: having been unable to write any new material of their own since that illustrious comeback (well, that's not totally accurate, but we'll get to that soon enough) they decided to release… (drumroll please) an entire album of covers! Evidently they reasoned that the world loved them again, so it didn't really matter what they did next.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I actually like early Duran Duran, "early" meaning their spotty-but-promising 1981 debut, their 1982 new wave romantic classic Rio, and the down-to-earth, hit-laden Seven And The Ragged Tiger from 1983. No, they were no Beatles, but as post-punk '80s romantic Brit-pop with bad hair and lyrics that made no apparent sense, they held their own. But by 1995, comeback or no comeback, the novelty had long since worn off. Other than the overrated (but still admittedly OK) comeback hits "Come Undone" and "Ordinary World," they really hadn't had any ideas worth recording since 1983 (and yes, that includes "Notorious").

And why hadn't they? Because they tried to get serious. Duran Duran is not supposed to be taken seriously. And that's just fine and good when they sing stuff like "The union of the snake is on the climb," "You're about as easy as a nuclear war," and "there's a fine line drawing my senses together and I think it's about to break," it's all par for the course. But when a group that thrives on meaninglessness tries to get meaningful, that's just a recipe for disaster. So in 1995, when I first heard that Duran Duran were doing a cover album to pay tribute to all their heroes who influenced them, and covering mostly serious songs to boot, well… I ran away. And stayed away for five years, until this most amusing of yankee swaps allowed this monstrosity to catch up with me.

With great trepidation, I popped the cassette into my Saturn's stereo on the way home, and I was greeted with a completely soul-less cover of Grandmaster Flash's anti-drug rap classic "White Lines (Don't Do It)." Huh? How, in any way, is this song connected to Duran Duran? It may, perhaps, be connected to the late '80s mistakes otherwise known as Big Thingmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 and Liberty that this band recorded under the ever-so-slightly-altered name "Duranduran," attempting to grasp onto a musical scene that was slipping away from new wave and into hip-hop, but who in their right mind (Duran Duran included) would want to relive that?

Simon LeBon sounds thoroughly unconvincing, and thoroughly white (OK, so he can't control that part, but somehow the phrases "Simon LeBon" and "urban rage" just don't mix, catch my drift?), on both this and the second track, a rehash of Sly and the Family Stone's "I Want To Take You Higher." The latter is almost comical when it degenerates into a supposedly-sexy British woman's voice asking "Where do you guys want to take me?" and a reply of "HIGHER!" (gee, and I was in suspense) from the five DD lads who suddenly sound like repressed 17-year-olds. Sly's original version was all about subtlety. Well, pooh on bloody subtlety, say Simon, Nick and company, we're Duran Duran.

The real funny thing is that not only do they get this wrong, but they also mangle Elvis Costello's "Watching The Detectives" in just the opposite way, turning a jagged-edged angry reggae-ska rant into a majestic electronica ballad. If you're scared now, you ought to be. But wait, Bob Dylan's "Lay, Lady Lay" comes next and once again there is no connection to the spirit of the original. The Durannies have mistaken the low-key approach Dylan took on his "Nashville Skyline" as distance and disinterest. Or perhaps they're not even interested themselves.

In fact, on their extreme botching of the Temptations' "Ball Of Confusion," they are disinterested to the point of singing "That's what you're world is today" instead of "That's what the world is today." Or perhaps they didn't bother to check the original lyric sheet. Or perhaps it's appropriate. After all, the world the Temptations originally sang about was far, far removed from '90s Duran Duran's world, where humanity is sucked up into a vacuum of uninspired singing, machine-like drumming, and lackluster electronic noises that summarize perfectly the negative side of the decade recently past, musically speaking.

OK, so you think this is being overly cruel? Well, I will say that the Doors' "Crystal Ship" is the one song on this album that in fact does make sense for Duran Duran to cover. Jim Morrison, as we all know, was occasionally prone to disposable but irresistible pop filled with irrelevant preaching masquerading as romanticism, much like Duran Duran in their heyday, and this track from the Doors' first album is one that wouldn't sound out of place on Seven And The Ragged Tiger.

But that's about all the praise I can muster up today. We haven't even yet touched upon the absolute low point of this album. Yes, folks, "Drive By," the one quasi-original tune (but wait, wasn't this supposed to be an album of covers? Leave it to Duran Duran to lose interest even in their own uninteresting experiment) of Thank You comes second to last, and is straight out of a new wave "Spinal Tap." An atmospheric (read: boring) wash of synthesizers introduces us to the following poetic mumbo jumbo:

"It was the hottest day in July / and all along the Santa Monica Boulevard, the cars were stood still / and a gleaming metal tube that stretched all the way from high land back to La Brea / shimmered under the Los Angeles sunshine / The young man was sitting at the wheel on his way to make a pickup / Turned off the AC, rolled down the window and began to sweat / All over the Hollywood hills, he saw the clouds building like great dark towers of rain / ready to come tumbling down any day now / not a day too soon / and as the music drifted in from other cars / his eyes started to slip / this is the story of his dream."

So now there's supposed to be a story, right? Well, what happens is this: The wash of synthesizers then segues into a lame reprise of the "Sing blue silver" chorus of "The Chauffeur," the most indulgent attempt at musical respect from their early days (It's almost as if Duran Duran realize that this is the only pre-1984 song of theirs that has any connection to their current incarnation). And that's it. That's the story of his dream. "Where's the actual story?" you might ask. Who knows?

All I know is after this, and after the eagerly-awaited conclusion to this album, a second attempt at "I Want To Take You Higher" - that's right, they were so hard up for songs to cover that they had to cover themselves and then cover the same song twice - I played my Rio disc ASAP and breathed a sigh of relief. And that, my friends, should speak for itself.

The album cover is cool at least. It's a silver-tinged scrapbook of the musical heroes of Duran Duran, the original performers of these songs, who are now turning in their beds (or graves). Oh, and you may notice I didn't give Duran Duran the satisfaction of bringing even negative attention to their version of Led Zeppelin's "Thank You," from which the name of this poor excuse for an album hails. Some things are just plain sacred. Enough already.

This disc is saved from the dreaded "F" only because of "Crystal Ship."

Rating: D-

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© 2001 Mark Feldman and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.