Monday, February 11, 2008

Is There Something I Should Know?

Duran Duran on A&E’s “Private Sessions”

I’ll admit it. I’m old enough to have been a teenager when “Girls On Film” was all the rage in the 80s. And truth be told, I was a hardcore anti-Duranie. Which is why I was interested in seeing the episode of A&E’s new music and film show “Private Sessions” featuring the band. What was it about the quintet of Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and the three Taylors (Roger, John and Andy) that had inspired all that teen angst?

A&E’s format for “Private Sessions” is fairly standard – something off the new album, followed by a brief chat with the band, followed by an old hit, etc. The camerawork is what you’d expect it to be – lots of close-ups of guitar chords, pull back to lead vocalist Le Bon shaking a tambourine, cut to Nick Rhodes on keyboards, back to John on bass, to Roger on drums, to the gospel-like backup singers, to the notable absence of Andy Taylor who quit. Duran Duran as a whole look and sound their (middle) age, though to their credit seem comfortable wearing those elder statesmen shoes (platforms?). The problem lies in the intimate studio setting that “Private Sessions” affords. Duran Duran were true masters at hiding behind catchy flashiness. Being up close and personal only serves to reveal the band’s lack of substance.

And the overly made up host Lynn Hoffman seems uncomfortable under all those lashes and curls, far too intelligent to be pitching easy, softball questions like “What’s so special about this album?” She looks like she’d rather be working on Anderson Cooper’s show. She flatters rather than investigates. “You guys are always reinventing yourselves.” Say what? Madonna reinvents herself. U2 reinvent themselves. But Duran Duran? The new synthesizer-heavy album “Red Carpet Massacre” sounds straight from ’86 – with lyrics that are just as shallow.

I guess that’s the key to my anti-Duranie-ism. Duran Duran always were the poster boys for superficiality. It showed in their music. One of my favorite 80s bands Erasure, bubblegum pop to the nth degree, had lyrics you could drown your teenage sorrows in. Dead or Alive were fronted by a fabulously subversive, tongue in cheek transvestite. Duran Duran lack irony, are a bunch of pretty straight boys playing it straight. “Girls On Film” and “Notorious,” which they perform on the show, are about as deep as the lead singer himself, who tells of how he came up with the title “Red Carpet Massacre” – then immediately googled it to be sure no one had already used those words. Of course, Le Bon was originally chosen for his look, by a band formed before anyone could play any instruments. “Music is like fashion,” drummer Roger Taylor enthuses. “Duran Duran is a brand,” bassist John Taylor explains, then continues with a comparison to Andy Warhol, to “Tom Ford coming into Gucci.” Unlike Erasure and their ilk, Duran Duran is all about conception, not emotion. Perhaps “Private Sessions” was insightful after all. Maybe Lynn Hoffman was doing the best she could with what she had to work with. She couldn’t exactly ask Nick Rhodes about his views on Islamic radicalism, now could she?

Yet still I longed for an interrogator like Henry Rollins to really tear things apart. When Le Bon states that he wants the new album to be mainstream, not indie, for it to get to as many people as possible, I thought, “Good luck, Simon. The songs sound like they were resurrected from the “A View to a Kill” era.” And the background information about the band’s formation seemed quite unnecessary. Duranies – who are going to make up 90% of the audience after all – already know all this from having downloaded everything Duran Duran off the Internet. Where’s the unique insight that we can’t get from Wikipedia? Why not ask the band members to analyze their influences? Hell, why not do a Bill Maher and ask them questions completely unrelated to their profession? How does John Taylor feel about Prime Minister Gordon Brown as opposed to Margaret Thatcher, who ruled Britain when Duran Duran ruled the airwaves? That would be fascinating, a real inside look.

Or just give us more Ricky Gervais, whose earlier taped question for the band is terrific. “How long do you think you’ve spent on your hair in the last thirty years?” he deadpans before going on to do a great bit on their names, Le Bon, Rhodes “and you just named the rest Taylor?” More of this, please. If Gervais had conducted the interview, complete with the bizarre “bidding for autographed guitars for charity on ebay” break, A&E’s “Private Sessions” would land squarely at the top of the charts.

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