The Cherry Lipstick Album Reviews: The Wedding Album
Too Much Information ****
Ordinary World *****
Love Voodoo ***
Drowning Man **
Come Undone *****
Breath After Breath *****
None Of The Above ***
Femme Fatale *
To Whom It May Concern *
Sin Of The City ***
Destroyed by MTV
Where is my friend when I need you most? Gone away
Now I know the wicked truth
Cheeks sunk deep, eyes popping wide
We'll try to stay blind to the hope and fear outside
Alone we live and die
I am I myself alone, realise I never need to use no one
I’ve had enough... but anger's not enough
Some might say that Simon Le Bon was not a happy-chappy when he wrote the songs for The Wedding Album.
The years since Liberty had been eventful. Out in the big, bad world we had been introduced to war-as-entertainment when the first Gulf War played out on the new rolling 24-hour news channels. The seemingly impregnable USSR had simply disintegrated with Eastern Europe opened up for the first time in the modern age. The home computer revolution was picking up steam. Musically, the mainstream had splintered into various factions. REM jumped from the indie scene to have two worldwide hit albums. U2 had made the leap away from their 80s personas. The charts had fragmented into dance, techno, grunge as well as the standard pop of Whitney, Michael Jackson and the new upstarts, Take That, all of whom had big hits at the time Ordinary World charted. What was happening to it all?
Meanwhile, Duran Duran were on their third band line up in a row. They were absorbing the changes around them and had retreated as far away from the likes of studios in Monserrat as possible to Warren's house to lick their wounds and plan their album. Liberty had been recorded quickly off the back of the Big Thing tour. This time they took their time. Then again, they had to - it was ready in early 1992 but it took a year to convince the record company to release it.
Before going any further, lets consider the two stars of the piece.
Ordinary World has been blunted for us by its ubiquity. To hear it clearly, as if for the first time, is very hard. What strikes me is its vulnerability. Duran Duran had previously been introspective and melancholy, but never ordinary. Now they proved their pop genius by compressing their years of history and hurt into the perfect 4 minute pop single. Its maturity was introduced by Warren's haunting lament, which starts on a high note, but then tumbles us down into Simon's mournful opening, “Came in from a rainy Thursday...” Whereas Hold Back The Rain had been a raucous party, now there was the drizzle and murk of a mundane weekday from which he enters a dark house alone. And that's just the first 40 seconds. Thereafter, the song never lets up with the perfect blend of pathos, yearning and hope. The single version works best, benefiting from the loss of the second guitar break to allow the rousing finale to offer its full redemption. The video re-introduces the band with their world-weary sighs and wistful (reproachful?) glimpses to camera. They had come a long way from Sri Lanka. They have not been this essential since.
Come Undone repeats the 4-minute pop single trick of enveloping you in a world of wonder, pricking your senses with poetical phrases (“mine immaculate dream”), longing (“you're taking my heart to pieces”) and (again) vulnerability (“can't ever keep from falling apart at the seams”). This beautiful song's back-and-forth vocals offer balm to its predecessors' storm. It was an unstoppable commercial one-two rocket to the world.
So what else does this multi-million selling album have to offer? The band's introspection and thinking shows throughout the album, successfully in the obvious places and less so in others. It gives us an uneven album (musically and lyrically) that has been skewed in our minds by the hugeness of those two but still holds up in unexpected places.
Too Much Information kicks us off with a rousing guitar lick and enthusiasm from Simon that manages to successfully re-do the contrived opening of Violence Of Summer. That the first word of the album after this exuberant opening is “destroyed” lets us know what mood the band is in. In fact, this is the most successful of the 'hang 'em all' tracks and at least is honest with the “bite the hand that feeds me” line. The extended coda that covers the second half of the track is unconventional given this was understandably ear-marked as a single. Unfortunately TMI also sets the tone for songs outstaying their welcome. 4:56 is simply too long for a track as simple as this. This was the first Duran album fully in the CD age. In 1990, vinyl was not quite king but still had a seat at the top table. The opportunities provided by a CD to run an album beyond the restricted 22 minutes per side was too much for many artists. 4-minute tracks now ran for 5 minutes; 10-track albums became 12. The Wedding Album clocks in at over 63 minutes with 8 of its 13 tracks running over 4:50.
Love Voodoo (4:58) meanders away pleasingly with Duran getting playful after the seriousness of Ordinary World. Drowning Man starts with a kicker of a beat that echoes Notorious and then lets itself down with its juvenile lyrics. We've already heard about the Cola manufacturer who's sponsoring the war, so the need for the ham-fisted diatribe jars even more. It's not as if the band were boycotting the USA (where they decided to not play the song - or anywhere else). Shotgun is a refreshing breather before the emotional storm of Come Undone.
'Side 2' (as it would be referred to for the last time) is an uneven affair. It opens with UMF rehashing Love Voodoo to lesser effect. None of the Above is enjoyable but then forgets to fade out. Shelter raises the game as it sucker-punches us with its harshness. The menace of “just come softly to me,” counterpoints the sad hopelessness of “say goodbye” in Runway Runaway to equally strong effect. Sin of the City gets the benefit of the doubt thanks to most of what has gone before. But squatting unpleasantly in between this lot are the misjudgements of Femme Fatale and To Whom It May Concern. These make the album hard going and makes one wonder whether the band ever thought back and realised there were only 9 songs on each of the first 3 albums, and no one was complaining about that.
Oh, but there's one more, isn't there? Possibly THE Lost Treasure in the Duran back catalogue. If Sting, according to John, was envious of Ordinary World, one suspects he'd have felt the same about Breath After Breath. It takes the tricks of Ordinary World and flips them under a joyous beat and a special guest vocalist. Simon's voice lays the foundations for Milton Nascimento's lilting, soaring vocals. The lyrics have Simon on fine form with his imagery: “Circles in the sand are washed out in to the sea, as we slip on through to eternity.” It is unlike anything else in Duran's canon and one wonders whether they just couldn't resist the obvious draw to Too Much Information after two slower-paced singles. It deserved a wider audience and greater acknowledgement from us fans.
The Wedding Album, then, wants to have its cake and eat it. This is where Duran decided to go on the attack. Perhaps they felt they had no alternative. Having retreated to a home recording studio, they came out fighting. Inevitably, along with the deep-dug inspiration, this also produced a degree of incoherent, uncoordinated anger and musical mess. Duran rage against the music business (Mr Bones), music stations (MTV), America (Uncle Sam), horrible people (Sin Of The City), and religion (None of the Above). Anger, as Mr Lydon once said, is an energy, but also tends to score badly for eloquence. The trouble with these songs is that Duran's disillusionment is a hit and miss affair. To Whom It May Concern whines that “I've had enough”. Drowning Man (over one of their better back beats) sings unpleasantly about infection, rabid dogs, biting and skulls. Sin Of The City focuses its scorn on a negligent night club owner rather than the arsonist responsible. Contrast this with how Ordinary World looks out then back in, with the empowering sentiment of awareness at the futility of it all and ultimate personal survival. Come Undone looks to a lover to overcome “falling apart”.
These lyrical mis-steps are overcome in large part by the thoughtful packaging of the band's work. The ghosts of Ordinary World are echoed in the band's last great album cover. These gorgeous photos rightly gave the album its popular name and perfectly captured the album's mood and the times. Nostalgia never came this poignant. This was then doubled-down with the clever photo-booth pictures. The image of the perfect pop stars was simply yet effectively replaced with some down and dirty passport snaps with added humour. Yet again, Duran '93 hit the moment running with a perfect blend of image, music and uneasy nostalgia. [Compare this with the blunt thud of Pavlovian call-and-respond on Paper Gods]
The Wedding Album is gloriously flawed (an apt description of the band themselves?). People look back fondly thanks to the strength of the opening 6 tracks. Beyond that and the second half has a noticeably more variable quality. Duran then chose to end the album with the sound of a fire which, we have been amply assured, had just caused the deaths of 89 (actually 87) people. The band themselves have backed away - only Too Much Information (in 1999 and post-2015) and Love Voodoo (again on the Paper Gods tour) have been played live since 1994.
Nick, in 2013, said “Duran Duran may not have survived had we not got through that record.” I feel more certain – the band would have been finished. And for how this was avoided we end by offering our thanks to Warren. The two hits are led by him, the record was recorded in his house and he drove the band on to not give up. His commitment to the band assured their future and therefore ours as well, with the band still sound-tracking our lives 25 years on.
28 April 1991, Royal Albert Hall, London
This was Duran Duran's only live performance show between August 1989 and December 1992. They performed three songs, starting with this, Ordinary World. It is virtually the same song that was released 20 months later.