Duran Duran: Rio

Duran Duran: Rio (2008)
Eagle Rock Entertainment
Extras: Concert Footage, Uncensored Music Videos

One thing that can historically be said about rock 'n roll: the United States and the UK are practically co-dependent of one another to keep their music scenes alive. The British Invasion of the 1960's is the most commonly referred-to cultural exchange between the motherland and her bratty, strapping offspring. Still, before there was The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, there was Leadbelly, Robert Johnson and Buddy Holly. Over the course of rock history, America and England have swapped their strongest components between each other, be it a Big Brother and the Holding Company for The Who or Boston for a Deep Purple, Megadeth for an Iron Maiden or a Sex Pistols for a Ramones.

During the early eighties, new forms of rock music were branching at will between the two artistic countries. While the world was taking any remedy it could from a post-disco hangover in the form of punk rock, new wave, soul, funk, prog, alternative and heavy metal, an overall feeling-good session (despite an ubiquitous cold war lurking beneath the decade of sanguinity) gave dawn to MTV and a brand new way with which to break bands and push existing limits of music. Between New York, Los Angeles, London and Manchester, some of the modern age's most recognizable names came up the corporate ladder into the living rooms of preteen Generation X.

Following on the heels of groundbreaking electronic-based artists such as Kraftwerk, Devo, Ultravox and a then-evolving Depeche Mode, Duran Duran launched onto the scene (after much pushing and plying through resistant American A&R reps without a clue of what they were passing on) on the strength of innovation. It might shock you to hear this, but keyboardist Nick Rhodes might very well be the precursor to Trent Reznor, Alien Jourgensen, En Esch and one-time Skinny Puppy keyboardist William Schroeder.

Though the parallels between industrial music and Duran Duran are very slight, Nick Rhodes showed the way towards merging active electronic sequencing, sampling and splicing in Duran Duran's posh rock that would make them veritable superstars of the eighties. All the proof you need is Rhodes' complicated synth arrangements on "The Chauffer" from Duran Duran's claim-to-fame "Rio" album. Never mind the black-and-white T&A dotted in the song's video ("Girls On Film" was far sleazier but oh-so-titillating), "The Chauffer" proved once and for all that synths and keys could play a prominent role inside a rock context, and we're not talking the thundering organs of Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

"The Chauffer" was a sign of the times for eighties music, and Duran Duran deserve credit (and to some listeners' ears, blame) as pioneers for all the electro-rock pop that defined the first half of the decade. Without Duran Duran, Roxy Music, The Human League and A Flock of Seagulls, bands such as The Fixx , OMD and Simple Minds would hardly have been given the opportunity to break out.

Though "Rio" is best-known for more upbeat and adventure-laden party songs such as "Hungry Like the Wolf" and the title track, the album moves like a pop culture beast on other songs such as "New Religion," "Hold Back the Rain" and "Last Chance On the Stairway." Overall, "Rio" was an in-the-moment kind of album, one of those rare recordings where the universe seemed to have conspired in its favor. The album hardly misses its mark and unlike a hefty portion of eighties music that has driven itself into where-are-they-now-oh-who-cares obscurity, "Rio" stands the test of time.

This is naturally why we have "VH1 Classic Albums: Rio" as a cross-examination of one of pop music's truly iconic albums. Let's face the facts; the last great threshold for pop runs from 1970 to 1986, after which the drop off stems from corporate greed churning corporate crap, which remains hopelessly in effect today. "Rio" may have struck corporate gold, but it is hardly a corporate album, considering its lack of conventionalism and its emphasis on crashed music variables such as punk, jazz, funk, rock, pop, electronica and even rumba.

"Rio" was an entirely risky venture, which is discussed at-length between the main feature of "VH1 Classic Albums: Rio" and in its bonus feature segments where Duran Duran recounts all that went into making this modern rock gem, much less the heartache of finding receptive ears to market it. Naturally all of the street peddling paid off as the members of Duran Duran coiffed their hair and donned fashionable casual suits that set the tone of the decade's tragically hip couture for men, be it the "Miami Vice" look or square-cut neckties made popular by Joe Preppie America.

Part of the allure to this shift from polyester to screaming cut silk had to do with the visual presence Duran Duran brought to the table, chiefly in their larger-than-life videos from the "Rio" album. Simon Le Bon became the poster character Indiana Jones Rock God in the "Hungry Life the Wolf" video, as he did a sexual conquistador in "Rio" and then a disaffected loner in "Save a Prayer," all of which made him a "Tiger Beat" megastar while his supporting cast each had their own contingency of ladies-in-waiting. Had they just a few hairs more of the prowess that made the Beatles supreme songwriters for all of rock history, Duran Duran might've been the eighties' equivalent of The Fab Four. Maybe.

"Rio" was a monster album and a marketing blockbuster. Only Wham and Frankie Goes to Hollywood sold more merch than Duran Duran, which could've been the underlying statement made in "VH1 Classic Albums: Rio" if it had unraveled that path. Duran Duran wrote a slew of hits beyond "Rio" and they even got to pen their own James Bond theme—and one of the best of the entire lot, to boot—with "A View to a Kill," much less their slinky spy jam "Out of My Mind" from "The Saint," For their time spent delivering the most prime money shots of their era with future hot-sellers like "Seven and the Ragged Tiger," "Arena," "Notorious" and later in the nineties, "Duran Duran (The Wedding Album)," the band's crown jewel is nonetheless "Rio."

As with other entries in VH1's "Classic Album" series, one of the largest draws is watching the musicians and producers isolate instrument and vocal parts from the finished recordings so you get a better following and appreciation of each component. In Duran Duran's case, the revelation (if you really want to call it that) of John Taylor's superb bass lines is really worth an individual study. Taylor admits in the documentary that Chic's Bernard Edwards was his main influence, and as you watch a later-year Taylor pluck and slide his personable melody from "Rio," you can hear a funk-driven sequence more so alone than within the actual tune, considering Taylor's bass is the grounding force to Duran Duran's potent rhythm section. Want more proof? Jet over to "Please Please Tell Me Now" and get yourself some; John Taylor owns that track, despite the multiple layers of Nick Rhodes' keys and the dreamy guitar plucks from Andy Taylor.

Despite the fact all three Taylor brothers eventually bolted from Duran Duran at different times, they eventually came back for the group's most recent albums "Astronaut" and "Red Carpet Massacre." Though Duran Duran played almost in peculiar stasis without the Taylors, the energy is there now yet again. By all means can the band replicate the old waverunner vibe from the early eighties, as shown courtesy of recently filmed live bits of "Rio" tunes on the DVD's extras, particularly "Hungry Like the Wolf," "New Religion" and "Rio." The band still sounds tight and Simon LeBon may not be the teenage heartthrob he was in 1982 and '83, but now he's a mature frontman with calm and largely accurate delivery (only at times does he let too much exuberance show).

Also in the bonus features are uncensored clips from Duran Duran's infamous "Girls On Film" and "The Chauffer" videos. Is it any wonder guys dug Duran Duran as much as the chicks? It's not just because everyone from high school football and wrestling teams to headbangers with closet affinities for non-metal pop rock considered "Wild Boys" their anthem…