Judge Dave Ryan is on the hunt. He's after you.
Out on the tar plains, the glides are moving…
The year was 1982. EMI/Capitol was attempting to "break" a young Birmingham band called Duran Duran (named after the villain from Roger Vadim's Barbarella) in the United States. Although the "New Romantic" movement—a stylish, dance-oriented offshoot of New Wave—was popular in the UK thanks to bands like Spandau Ballet, Haircut 100, and the granddaddy of them all, Roxy Music, it had yet to really take off in the States. A novel new strategy to promote Duran Duran's sophomore album Rio would not only achieve that goal and make them one of the most popular bands in the world, it would change the face of the music industry forever.
EMI/Capitol's strategy involved a raw, new musical medium: the music video. The format was not new, but most videos at that point were amateurish, unsubtle "metaphorical" performances (like, say, Olivia Newton-John's "Physical") or perfunctory live performances recorded to tape. For Rio, EMI/Capitol sent Duran Duran off to Antigua and Sri Lanka with a real live director (future Highlander director Russell Mulcahey) and the freedom (if not exactly the budget) to make little cinematic stories. The resulting videos—"Hungry Like The Wolf," "Save A Prayer," and the title track—were sent to the newly-created MTV, which, being new, was suffering from an acute lack of video supply at the time. Unsurprisingly, the extremely high-quality Duran Duran videos went into heavy rotation on the channel. The marriage was symbiotic—as MTV gained in popularity and viewership, its iconic video artists—specifically Duran Duran and Michael Jackson—sold more and more records. And as they gained more fans, more people tuned into MTV. Video was well on its way to killing the radio star.
For that history alone, Rio is rightfully considered an important moment in pop history. But does it deserve classic album status? Absolutely. Admittedly, I am an unapologetic Duran Duran fan and have been since '82. So perhaps this should all be taken with a grain of salt, and I'm just a raving fanboy. As Exhibit #1 for the defense, however, allow me to submit Classic Albums: Rio.
This is the third Eagle Rock music-related disc that I've reviewed, and it's the third "A" grade I've handed out. Eagle Rock does absolutely superb work with its musical offerings. This disc is no different. Nominally an hour-long (or so) documentary, this is actually more like a 130-minute extravaganza. The main documentary is a well-structured history of the band before and during the Rio recording process, placing the album—and its associated music videos—in their proper creative context. The best thing, though, are the multiple times when a band member (primarily Nick Rhodes, but all four of the participating original Durans take their turn) sits at the mixing board and, using the original unmixed master tracks, illustrates how the songs were built up from their component instrument tracks. It's a truly fascinating look at how the album was produced. Too often documentaries like this are satisfied to leave you with a generic "I wrote this song about an ex-girlfriend" sort of analysis. This disc, though, shows you how the whole process worked, from inspiration to recording to video. And that's what sets it apart from the majority of music documentaries.
Beyond the main documentary, the disc also has about 35 additional minutes of "deleted" interview footage. This material, for the most part, goes into deeper detail on some of the issues covered in the main documentary. It's easy to see why this material was "deleted"—had it been included it the main feature, it would have disrupted its pacing, making it linger for too long on those particular issues at the cost of the feature's overall flow. As an extra feature, though, it's great. There's a lot of additional information included, including a good deal more about how producer David Kershenbaum was brought in by Capitol in the US to remix the entire album to give it a more "US" sound. The US version of the album was very different than the original UK release—something that was not disclosed on the album credits. It's details like these that make this disc indispensable for a Duran Duran fan.
Finally, there are five live-in-studio performances by the recently reformed Duran Duran (sans original member Andy Taylor, the only original member who is not present and accounted for on the disc), recorded at WGBH in Boston. (The specific tracklist: "Rio," "Save A Prayer," "New Religion," "Hungry Like The Wolf," and "The Chauffeur." Even though twenty-five years have passed, the Double Ds are still pretty damn good…
Picture quality is extremely good here, which is another unexpected bonus. All of the video, with the exception of archival footage from the early Eighties, is presented in anamorphic widescreen. The only criticism I have of the disc—and it's a minor criticism at worst—is that the audio track is only presented in Dolby stereo. It's a good stereo track, with good reproduction and all…but a Dolby surround track (especially for the in-studio performances) would have made this offering perfect.
As it is, this is yet another astoundingly great value of a package from Eagle Rock. Obviously, it will primarily appeal to Duran Duran fans—but those fans will be more than pleased by this disc. Even if you're not a huge fan, but just like the singles from the album, you'll probably be fascinated by the stories behind them. (Parents should note, however, that there are some boobies on display here, and some light fetish costumes in some of the videos.)
And if you hate Duran Duran and think this disc should be thrown into a furnace somewhere…well, then, we just have nothing left to talk about, do we?
Not guilty! (Albeit notorious…)
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
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