The Reflex ***
New Moon On Monday ***
(I’m Looking For) Cracks In The Pavement **
I Take The Dice ****
Of Crime And Passion *****
Union of the Snake ****
Shadows on Your Side ***
Tiger Tiger ***
Seventh Stranger *****
It was deep into 1984 and I was just properly discovering Duran Duran. I’d been taping songs off the radio. I’d even bought some second hand singles. But The Reflex captivated me and I started to learn about the albums.
I got lucky – a friend got his sister* to tape all three albums for me and I got stuck in to some serious catching up.
The first album was bewildering and fascinating – all teenage angst and strange noises, with off-putting (but enticing) lyrics. Rio flew out the speakers, all fun and welcoming. I couldn’t wait to hear the next song – and each track seemed to be better than the one before.
So when Seven and the Ragged Tiger started with the unfamiliar start to The Reflex, I remember mentally switching off. There had already been too many new songs to take in and this album just sort of drifted by and ended weirdly. [The level of my lack of attention is shown by the amount of time it took me to realise that there was not a song called “I Take The Dice Of Crime And Passion”].
Arena, like me, ignored Seven and the Ragged Tiger and I found no need to go back to the tape. The Reflex was obviously already better, while The Wild Boys and Some Like It Hot had moved the sound of Duran from whatever I’d already turned my back on.
Seven and the Ragged Tiger, therefore, slid out of view for me. I knew it was part of the Holy Trinity, but what was there to love? Duran themselves largely shunned it: The Reflex had been remade; New Moon On Monday was ignored both live and on Decade; and the album tracks also never re-appeared. Even Union of the Snake got lost down the back of that 80s sofa Nick kept telling us about.
I returned for this review to find the band on the cover all dressed up as the play boys they had become. The surrounding artwork is messily enigmatic and suggests a road map to somewhere, anywhere, not here. The Rio cover had welcomed the world in with a big joyous smile, the title being a by-word for pleasure and parties. By late ’83 the smiles have gone and a gloom has descended. Why so serious?
1983 would find Duran dazzled by the fame they had courted and created. Seven and the Ragged Tiger is Duran’s ‘dark album’ both figuratively and literally. Simon endlessly tells us he’s not happy with various references to light/shade and escape/danger:
“I’m on a ride and want to get off.”
“I’m standing in the light but I’m making for the shadows.”
“Kill that light it’s so bright and you’re shining it in my eyes.”
“Trading in my shelter for danger.”
“There’s a fine line drawing my senses together and I think it’s about to break.”
“Shackled and raised for the shining crowd… everybody to say that you’re having the time of your life when your life is on the slide.”
“Maybe I could catch a ride – I really couldn’t put it much plainer.”
Given this set up, how does the music fare?
The Reflex takes an age to get going and then never shakes off the fact it is not the 5-star single mix. The band (and Simon) are to be congratulated for the innovative ‘why-yi-yi’ vocals, but the track is sprawling and unfinished. It is thanks to Nile Rogers that the potential was unleashed.
Presumably New Moon On Monday was intended to be a single in the vein of Hungry Like The Wolf, but it is a dull, surprisingly lifeless re-run, largely because Andy is not given much to do. The under-whelming fireworks that splutter near the end may have had one eye on the eventual video scene. This reviewer wonders if it’s in our favour these days thanks to the band not having hammered it into submission by endless live plays over the past 35 years, It’s general unfamiliarity is a blessing in its favour – but also a warning that the band may have dropped it for good reason.
We are then embraced in the barbed wire arms of Cracks In The Pavement. No one seems to be having a good time, with bleak days ahead. A party, that doesn’t sound like it is being held in room 7609, is “about to begin.” However, Simon chants “I don’t want to be in public,” and sternly warns us “I don’t like it.” It ends with a pun on being driven insane. It could have been a b-side from 1981, but that was a time when they felt comfortable singing a sing about Fame. It is partly redeemed by a solo from Andy that the track does not deserve.
My confusion over the title of the next two tracks might be forgiven as they go together hand in glove. They are beautifully accessible due to being so reminiscent of the first two albums. I Take The Dice is almost interchangeable with Last Chance On The Stairway, whilst Of Crime And Passion would happily fit alongside Sound Of Thunder. Both have a burst of energy that makes us sit upright and long for the chorus again. On I Take The Dice, Simon (presumably) adds a rather fun sing-along with the instrumentation as it build towards the final chorus (at 2:27) which mirrors what we do as fans at a concert. It has a zing which New Moon On Monday lacks. The keyboard chord opening of Passion collides into Andy skiing downhill into Simon’s deep voice accusing his lover of deceit. This builds to him finding a primal yell of “Liar!” by only the 35-second mark. Fabulous stuff and splendidly anti-pop. The band chuck in a double chorus that builds excitingly, while Simon’s vocal is deeply New Romantic and the whole band collide thrillingly. Andy is at his most effective here.
Union Of The Snake was the lead single and thus garnered huge attention and a large video budget at the time. This proved too great a weight for the song to carry, but we can appreciate it at a greater distance. Firstly, we it compares hugely favourably with its 1983 counter-parts. Spandau Ballet’s glob of goo, True, had been the big summer hit, while Culture Club presented the happily twee, Karma Chameleon. Next to these bland pop hits, Union Of The Snake is a snarling, uncomfortable sound coming through on your transistor radio. But it makes it a lot more interesting to listen to in 2018. It certainly emphasises a change of direction from Duran’s last public offering, Is There Something I Should Know, which had held on to the last vestiges of joy from 1982. Union of the Snake, in contrast, was a far more introverted offering and certainly introduced the coming album effectively.
Shadows On Your Side is a solid album track which has a swagger, though that’s as far it goes. It races through itself in a way that suggests the band know it won’t stand too much scrutiny. The mid 8 and fade-out plod on for too long and there is no bridge to the chorus which makes for an uneven listen. (Shadows, along with I Take The Dice, was one of only two tracks not played live in 83-84 and was only eventually brought out a few times in 2011).
The album is a mere 29 minutes old when Duran start to wind things down. For the second album out of three, there’s an instrumental to contend with. Tiger Tiger is interesting enough, and pleasurable for engendering a Proustian rush back to the Sing Blue Silver tour and your teenage bedroom (for those of a certain age). This all lovely but you wonder whether this album requires something more substantial.
We end with the masterful Seventh Stranger. It is a fitting end to the first iteration of Duran Duran. It channels the mystery of their New Romantic days and The Chauffeur, with ghostly bass-breaks from John, while Andy undercuts the spectre with effortless ease and an understated solo at 3:15. Simon’s slowed down vocals over the ambient backdrop also betray that this is Duran’s song most influenced by cannabis. The world-weariness in the lyrics and vocals, are captured most effectively in the line “a year of Sundays seems to have drifted right by.” This both ups the ante on the more traditional lament of “a month of Sundays,” and captures the wasted, drifting hours of the drug. Simon brings a sensitivity to his vocal that is lost in the croakiness on the Arena version. Nick, needless to say, swathes the whole thing in beauty and maintains the interest throughout. It has a majesty that belies their videos of yachts and tub-thumping anthems. Its wistfulness is a counter to all that they’d built. Roger drives it to its climax, joining Nick in the closing refrain, into which Simon’s lyrics have a shimmering sadness: “I’m changing my name… walking away like a stranger.”
I now know why I left the album behind, and even my teenage ears rejected it subconsciously. This album lays bare the document of the original Duran Duran’s end. It is feels beset by pain and reveals its tortured gestation. The band heaved themselves to the deadline, and smothered the first two singles in expensive videos. No wonder I and the band fell in love with the new version of The Reflex – it leaps out in Technicolor joy compared to the whole of the album!
The album’s name continues to taunt Duran down the years. The ‘seven’ referred to the five band members plus the Berrows, with the ‘ragged tiger’ being the mad success. 5 months after Seven and the Ragged Tiger was released, the band splintered apart. By the time of the next 'Duran Duran' album, the 7 would be down to 3, and the hysteria was fading fast.
The album’s legacy became a remix and live video (named after a song on the previous album). It is now an indelibly poignant marker of the end of our Fab Five. That is something to appreciate, and there are gems to enjoy. And we also know that it was far from the end of the story.
* thanks Julian, thanks Nic!