Once they left the eighties behind, Duran Duran‘s grip on commercial success loosened dramatically. 1990’s glossy Liberty was a poor start to the new decade, with second single Serious failing to penetrate the UK top 40 (a career first). This wake up call prompted a back-to-basics approach with the band decamping to a home studio in Battersea, London (know as ‘Privacy’) with producer John Jones. The triumphant transatlantic top 10 single Ordinary World and the similarly successful ‘The Wedding Album‘ was the result of their efforts. The band then lost momentum and credibility by messing around with the Thank You covers project, which eventually saw a 1995 release. John Taylor left, and by 1997 EMI in the UK refused to release Medazzaland their ninth studio album and later parted company with the band.
A forgettable few years followed, with the audience-eroding Pop Trash (2000) suffering the ignominy of failing to produce any hit singles. Warren Cuccurullo, who had been a full time member for over 10 years, was asked to fall on his sword, so that Duran Duran could reform with the original line-up, sparking much excitement and interest in press and public alike. 2004’s Astronaut was a success with (Reach Up For The) Sunrise the band’s first top ten hit in 10 years.
Incredibly, history repeated itself, and the success and momentum of a hit album was lost once again, when the follow-up they’d been working on – provisionally titled Reportage – was scrapped for reasons that have never been made clear. This event coincided with a falling out with Andy Taylor, and after just one album as part of the famous five, the guitarist left, the nostalgia flag was lowered to half-mast and session man Dom Brown was brought in on guitar.
Then, in what appeared to be a misplaced effort to be ‘relevant’, the band sought the services of ‘super-producer’ Timbaland for 2007’s Red Carpet Massacre. Duran Duran were reduced to a bemused appearance on UK’s primetime X-factor, where they performed the slinky album track Nite-Runner rather than the actually-rather-good single Falling Down. This attempt to generate sales and interest did not work. The record failed commercially and was almost ignored critically. The band seemed to have lost their way once more.
Cue Mark Ronson, who would revive their spirits by reminding Duran Duran ‘who they were’ and why people loved them in the first place. His enthusiasm rubbed off on the band and the Ronson-produced All You Need Is Now had a sound heavily influenced by Duran Duran’s early albums (Duran Duran and Rio, in particular). After a digital-only version was issued in late 2010, the album was given an expanded physical release in spring last year.
Although somewhat over-hyped as a massive return to form, All You Need Is Now at least sounded like a band enjoying their music, and in Being Followed, Leave A Light On, Safe (In The Heat Of The Moment), Girl Panic!, Mediterranea and Before The Rain, there was at least half a dozen decent songs on the record.
The big problem for Duran Duran, was that while they were strutting around echoing the glory days by making expensive videos with supermodels (Girl Panic!) and talking about how pleased they were with the new album – the public were not buying it. It says something about the sorry state of affairs when All You Need Is Now became the band’s biggest UK hit single for five years by peaking at a lowly number 38. The album fared much better than its predecessor by reaching number 11 in the UK, but dropped like a stone thereafter.
The pop Gods seem to have decreed that Duran Duran would never have another big hit album, almost regardless of the quality of the material. Which went some way to explaining why the band did the old fashioned thing of working the record. They undertook a very lengthy world tour to promote All You Need Is Now. If people were not going to buy the album and listen to it, then the band would go to them. The promise of Rio, Girls On Film and Ordinary World would always lure the crowds and provide Duran Duran with an opportunity to show those outside the hardcore fanbase just how good the new material is.
All this brings us to A Diamond In The Mind – a live Blu-ray and DVD filmed at the MEN Arena in Manchester last December on the All You Need Is Now tour.
The band have created a really fantastic live show, that clearly engages the audience despite the fact that many of them must not be all that familiar with the All You Need Is Now material. They appear to have succeeded in getting their fans excited about the new material in a live setting. That is, in part, thanks to the rather retro sound of the new songs. Opener, Before The Rain has a lot of The Chauffeur in it, so althought the crowd might not know the song they are listening to, it sounds like classic Duran Duran. This is true of many of the new tracks, Girl Panic! being the really obvious one.
A hirsute Le Bon in spangly trousers sings extraordinarily well – he is undoubtedly the star performer and gives credence to his claim that he has come back stronger after being blighted by throat problems last summer.
After Planet Earth and the sample-heavy A View To A Kill, the band return to All You Need Is Now by playing the title track. The discordant synth lines at the beginning of this song are horrible, and rather spoil what should have been a great track. It’s a relief when the excellent chorus comes in. Nick Rhodes spends almost the entire concert frowning behind his keyboard, a study of concentration, as if someone has to take this pop concert malarkey seriously, while the rest of the band move around having fun (although he does smile once or twice during Notorious).
The production values are very high and the whole thing has a gloss and sheen which can leave you somewhat disconnected from the live performance. Obviously the band are playing live, but such is the quality of the post production – audio and video – that it sometimes lacks the ‘sweat’ of a gritty gig. Not a major criticism, because Duran Duran have always been about big impressive visuals, and they have certainly invested time and money into the whole presentation, with its animations projected onto big screens during some of the performances.
Safe (In The Heat Of The Moment) and Girl Panic! both go down well, but why, oh why, oh why, do Duran Duran still persist with White Lines? I saw them do it at Wembley around 1995 and it was bad then. Simon is like your dad at a disco with his cries of “say rock! c’mon y’all!” The whole thing is embarrassing, and it’s worth pointing out that their only single to go into the UK charts at number one – Is There Something I Should Know – is reduced to a ‘bonus feature’ status on this DVD/Blu-ray and is not in the actual gig proper! So too is the sublime Come Undone. Meanwhile we have to endure White Lines!
The 5.1 surround mix is fantastic, particularly on DTS-HD on the Blu-ray, and the set-list has all the crowd-pleasers you would expect with a good run of Careless Memories, Ordinary World, Notorious, Hungry Like The Wolf and (Reach Up For The) Sunrise as we approach the climax. Talking of Sunrise, the band always perform the Jason Nevins Remix version – the one that starts with a chant of ‘the music’s between us’. Curious. It would be have been nice to hear the hit single version live in this setting.
The bonus features include the tracks mentioned above and a documentary called Duran Duran 2011, largely interviews and behind the scenes snippets around Simon Le Bon’s throat problems last year, and the concern that caused. Underwhelming. Why not include the promo videos from the All You Need Is Now album as well?
As a fan, I want to see Duran Duran have bit hit albums and singles. Unfortunately that appears to be a vain hope these days. The next best thing is to see the band produce good music and basically put on a great show. Enjoy themselves. On A Diamond In The Mind they do both. Recommended.