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Fall Album Roundup : Duran On The Nile

November 23, 1986|CHRIS WILLMAN

"NOTORIOUS." Duran Duran. Capitol.

It would take nothing short of a miracle to make Duran Duran truly funky. The producer of the band's first studio album in three years, Nile Rodgers, is no miracle worker--he doesn't leave a stamp on his production efforts with meager artists so much as the veneer of an airbrush--but his studio prowess is punchy enough to make the usual ponderous material a tad easier to swallow.

Considering that Duran Duran was purportedly founded with Rodgers' old group Chic as a guiding light, it's doubly too bad that the group's first full-length collaboration with him doesn't come close to living up to that funked-up ideal. But he's helped them come up with their least objectionable, most listenable batch of songs.

"Notorious," the lead cut, is a fine enough dance track to be distinctly misleading about where the album is headed. It's easily Duran Duran's best--and least pretentious--single, with Rodgers playing a slinky guitar riff against the almost-total absence of the band's usual wall of keyboard sludge.

The album is never half that fun or that streamlined again, and the horns and female vocals that Rodgers occasionally piles on to other tracks don't disguise the inherent bothersome Duran-ness of the material. When the guitar does reappear (played by Rodgers, the recently departed Andy Taylor or new sideman Warren Cuccurullo), it's never mixed half as loud as Simon Le Bon's vocals. On the plus side, though, Nick Rhodes' omnipresent layers of synthesizers have more character and variety this time around.

Surprise! There are even a few songs here that seem to be about something--which, if you've followed Duran Duran's dubiously enigmatic lyrical canon, is quite an accomplishment. "Vertigo," for example, seems an honest if inept attempt to deal with some of the sexual politics suggested by the film of the same name. (Certainly any album whose sides both start with songs named after Hitchcock classics can't be all bad.)

And though the ballad "A Matter of Feeling" doesn't explore any untrod ground thematically--it's lonely at the top, Simon says, and a succession of lovers only makes it worse--it's confessional enough to mark the first time you might suspect human beings are responsible for some of this stuff instead of new-age pretty-boy marketing ciphers. The song isn't funky by a long shot, but it does show evidence of soul, and that's even more of a step in the right direction than the horn charts.

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