CD Review of Red Carpet Massacre by Duran Duran
Recommended if you like
Timbaland, Gwen Stefani, Kenna
Label
Epic
Duran Duran:
Red Carpet Massacre

Reviewed by David Medsker

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S
ay what you will about Duran Duran’s material during the post-Wedding Album lean years: their albums, regardless of the countless lineup changes and varying levels of quality – this writer still maintains that the band’s 1997 album Medazzaland is much better than history has chosen to remember it – had a singular vision in terms of songwriting and sonic approach. Red Carpet Massacre, the band’s twelfth studio album, marks the first time where the band sounds like they’ve been hijacked. A few of the album’s songs actually were hijacked – hello, Timbaland and Justin Timberlake, goodbye guitarist Andy Taylor, again – but the others sound like a band scratching and clawing for a hit at any cost. Was their position really so dire? After all, their 2004 reunion album, Astronaut, sold two and a half million copies worldwide. Isn’t that enough to keep the bean-counting demons away?

It’s not just the songwriting that has been hijacked, either; the production, largely by Timbaland protégé Nate “Danja” Hills, sounds like the work of a high-school junior armed only with a trial version of GarageBand. (It’s worth noting that Danja is the same age as the band’s Rio album.) In several songs, Roger Taylor’s drumming is reduced to filler between clumsy drum machine tracks, and John Taylor’s bass only occasionally rises above the din of Danja’s machines and Nick Rhodes’ layer upon layer of keyboard riffs. Timberlake deserves some blame as well, because, as producer for the Duran-standard mid-tempo ballad “Falling Down,” he clearly had no idea how to direct guitarist Dominic Brown, who drops one of the worst solos on the song’s outro that you will ever hear. John Taylor told me a couple years ago that he didn’t think the band needed a producer anymore. If only he had listened to himself.

However, the production is only half of the problem; the tunes aren’t that good, either. They may score a hit with either “Falling Down” or “Nite-Runner,” the Timbaland-produced jam that is essentially a modern-day update of “Notorious” (do John and Roger even play on this track?), but neither song is worthy of inclusion on a list of the band’s best work. Leadoff track “The Valley” is bursting with potential, featuring some trademark John Taylor slap bass and a nifty, surging melody, but the band is positively manhandled by Danja’s production. It’s as if he refuses to let them actually play like a band, and instead forces them to be an “act.” It’s maddening to listen to.

Occasionally, though, the band escapes the clutches of their evil captor and unleashes something worthy of their legacy. “Box Full o’ Honey” is going to be an instant fan favorite, with its vaguely Latin flourishes, and “Zoom In” feels like the band’s tribute to the New New Wave bands that routinely pay tribute to Duran Duran. They even unveiled their first instrumental in nearly two decades (“Tricked Out”), and while that would be cause for celebration, the track itself, well, sounds like the theme music for “The New Scooby Doo Review,” or something along those lines.

The most frustrating thing about Red Carpet Massacre is how far they seem to have strayed from just a few years ago. With Astronaut, the band sounded like they had a real sense of purpose and direction that had been lacking in their work for years. They had enjoyed the best reviews of their career, and truly seemed to be on their way toward a fruitful second life. Then, when they had nearly finished recording the follow-up to Astronaut, someone in the band (or the label) gets the bright idea to team up with Timbaland and Timberlake, to which Andy Taylor says, “Screw you guys, I’m going home.” So the band scraps the entire record they had nearly completed and writes a new one from scratch, throwing themselves completely at the mercy of a group of pups who don’t know the first thing about how to make a Duran Duran album. Reinvention is one thing – after all, U2 has reinvented itself half a dozen times or more – but the key to successful reinvention is making sure the soul of the band remains at the core. Red Carpet Massacre has their name, and Simon’s voice, but one can’t shake the feeling that the band has sold its soul for what will ultimately be a meaningless, forgotten hit.

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