The Cherry Lipstick album review: Pop Trash from 2000
This superb album review was originally published in Cherry Lipstick Volume 2 Issue 18 in October 2000
Someone Else Not Me: “How to begin?” asks Simon later on in this album. Not by releasing this as a single or by opening an album with it, bellow Duran Duran’s twelve remaining fans. A sanguine, fluid track with Ordinary World’s chords, Come Undone’s guitars, it seems like a calculated attempt to recapture the glory of those tracks and the fans who bought them back in 1993. It fails because it’s too damn obvious. As a song, it’s pretty, but ordinary. In fact, it’s pretty ordinary. It would be about my last choice of a single from this album. It’s too bloody slow and doesn’t hook you in, and if Duran Duran had looked at the charts for just a minute, they would have realised what a misguided decision it was. The choice of this as first single may have damaged this project as much a Hollywood’s lack of investment. 6/10
Lava Lamp: Lacklustre production and the instrumentation is a bit busy, but it’s definitely a grower. As with much of this album, Nick’s little synth interjections can seem rather unnecessary, as if they’re only there to give him something to do. But after my initial disappointment with this one, it’s become a rather dishy little cut, well positioned on the album and hopefully no one’ll think it would make a good single. 7/10
Playing With Uranium: Definitely the Big Bang Generation of this album, from the way it launches into rather alarming instrumentation at the beginning to the big very Duran Duran-ish chorus. Extremely likeable and hummable even after just one listen. Lyrically, though, what can you say? A bit silly, no? Time Out’s reviewer professed an urge to tell Duran Duran “to fucking grow up” when he listened to his album, and one can assume such sentiments entered his thoughts whilst listening to this song. Nonetheless, it’s fodder for us converts. Gotta love that chorus. 8/10
Hallucinating Elvis: Tricky, this one: is it genius - or utter crap? Is this the Drowning Man of this album? The fake American accent is awful, but you’ve got to admit, it has a groove. Especially that keyboard break while Simon drawls, “FBI been tapping the King’s phone.” Nick speaking at the end is a little absurd, although I’ve got used to it. Definitely the only song here that attempts to sound contemporary, and nearly succeeds. There’s a close-but-no-cigar-ness to this track: like The Reflex and I Don’t Want Your Love before it, what’s really needed is an outside producer to edit it, spice it up and then put it out as a single. Imagine what Norman Cook could do to this track which Duran haven’t quite managed. Did I say put it out as a single? Yes, fuck it, why not? Got nothing to lose. The Evening Standard said of Pop Trash, “preposterous, but that was always their charm.” That’s this song in a nutshell. I’m inclined to give Duran the benefit of the doubt here and admit that Hallucinating Elvis is a guilty pleasure. 7/10
Starting To Remember: One of my favourites and useful for restoring sanity after Hallucinating Elvis. One of the few occasions where I listen to a B-side more than the A-side of a single. A dreamlike wander through a misty English morning, and just the right length. Sublime. 10/10
Pop Trash Movie: Stands out so far as a the best ‘single’ candidate, a far better choice than SENM, although I’d go for an uptempo one now. Lush, lush, classic singalong Duran Duran chorus and refrain. Ice cream for the ear-holes, as Blur once said. Only one minor complaint: is the percussionist a schoolgirl or something? 9/10
Mars Meets Venus: Of all the ‘crap’ titles, I rather like this one. That sharp, slick entry after the interlude initially repelled me because it sounded a bit, well, 1987, and the first time I heard the chorus (especially the female vocals) I nearly had a heart attack. No need to take ‘pop’ and ‘trash’ so literally, I thought. But Mars Meets Venus is a devious shit of a song. It doesn’t take long to seduce you. As one of the faster numbers and one of the least ‘rock’ uptempo ones, it stands out. That guitar during the verse is a rather delicious and very much in the classic Duran tradition. Simon’s lyrics are amusingly astute. Taking a series of personal ads and putting them to song is rather a good idea and in the execution one is reminded not a little of the Happy Mondays. Some have said it’s too short, but I think it ends well. I say, release the damn thing as a single. Noooo, I hear you howl back. But consider the logic. A good single is a frequently made by a good intro that immediately grabs your attention and keeps you there for the rest of the track. Mars Meets Venue succeeds for me, but it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. 7/10
Lady Xanax: Oh, hello again, strange titles: back so soon. File under verse-better-than-chorus. In fact, the verse is so superb, so delicate and affecting that it’s a shame the relatively mediocre chorus plods in and spoils the proceedings, but I suppose that effect is deliberate and, in hindsight, a good one. Unfortunately, the song dissolves into an unwelcome, Be My Icon-esque soup of overcooked noise towards the end, but It remains a strong track. 8/10
The Sun Doesn’t Shine Forever: Speaking of personal ads, how about this one: ‘Missing: stray Bryan Adams song. Reward offered, perhaps a tube of Smarties or something.’ Ah, just when you thought you were getting a near-perfect album, a song of unparalleled blandness has to be thrown in for good measure. Bryan Adams? It could Shania Twain or Rod Stewart. It’s a shrine to mediocrity, and not a little vomit-inducing. Why? First, the opening lyric: “At the end of the rainbow.” I’m sorry, are we twelve years old? Then: the percussion, cliched, naff and predictable. Then: Nick’s strange harpsichord sound. Eww. This is why we need an outside producer to say, ‘sorry guys, this is rather below par’. Where was the bullshit filter? A dislikeable song that’ll find itself skipped through more often than most. 4/10
Last Day On Earth: Continues the rock line started by First Impression, Who Do You Think You Are and Sinner Or Saint, but this time Duran succeed where previously they failed. First Impression is one of the most embarrassing songs they’ve ever written. Who Do You Think You Are is out of place on Medazzaland, and Sinner Or Saint is tolerable as a B-side. But – and this is somewhat improbable – this song is fast emerging as my favourite on Pop Trash. Improbable as I’ve never been all that happy when Duran go ‘rock’ on us. So why is this different? I’m not sure. It’s certainly new and refreshing for Duran Duran to close an album in this way and the chorus is fan-fucking-tastic, as well as the refrain, frenzied to the dying seconds, when only then you get your breath back. The preceding interlude sets the number up nicely and then it’s off like a torpedo which doesn’t stop. Very rock. Very Warren. And very good. It’s Duran Duran’s most energetic song for many years and the temptation to play it bloody loud is too much to resist. The question is: is it too ‘rock’ to be considered a Duran Duran classic? The answer is probably ‘yes’. It’s not a song on which a consensus will be found, but I love it. That crunchy wall of sound takes my breath away. 10/10
It’s a goody: Pop Trash entered the Billboard chart at no. 135 and flopped miserably in the UK. Even Liberty entered the charts at no. 8. What we would give for such figures now. The thing is, Pop Trash is definitely a keeper. After a week of non-stop listening, I’m happy with this one. It’s a damn good album, flaws notwithstanding. It’s clearly less experimental than Medazzaland and that’s welcome, although I loved Medazzaland, especially the first four songs. With Medazzaland, as with Big Thing, Duran put all the pop hits at the beginning of the album, leaving the rest to get all moody and introspective on us. Pop Trash intersperses the ballads and uptempo tracks quite effectively. In fact, the song order is better than for most Duran Duran albums I could name. Although part of me doesn’t like starting with Someone Else Not Me, I can see the sense of it: putting that track elsewhere might make the album seem a little ballad-heavy.
Show some imagination: I think the production is a glaringly weak point on many of the songs, and they could have used an outside influence. With the exception of the funky sprightliness of Notorious, and the delicate fragility of Big Thing, leaden over-production (think Seven and the Ragged Tiger, Liberty, Hold Back The Rain, Too Much Information etc) is a perennial fault of Duran’s, and so it proves here. Worse is the drumming and percussion, which is rather heavy and uninspired. This is one area where Duran Duran could really improve. There are so many good beats out there, and they’re all for the taking; after all, they managed it on Big Bang Generation and Midnight Sun. Enthusiasts of John Taylor’s bass will feel its absence here, and should check out his excellent eponymous album from last year, to see a really polished album characterised by flecks of innovation somewhat missing from Pop Trash. Nick’s work on Pop Trash is also rather disappointing. He was more on-form with Medazzaland, I feel. But that’s because this is Warren’s album: he’s stamped his authority all over it.
We thank and salute you, Warren: He's progressed from being ‘the new boy’ to being ‘the other one’ with the British media (which must be gratifying after 14 years in the band), and is the engine behind Pop Trash. Anyone who doesn’t like the heavier, more guitar-led direction would do well to remind themselves that it’s because of Warren that we have a new album at all. It may be their last.
They’ve got you where they want you: How long are Duran going to happy with making albums that no-one buys? It must be rather thankless to have a 20-year career boiled down to one video, Rio. When a band are as synonymous with a decade as Duran were the ‘80s, it’s nigh-on impossible to change that, especially when people’s main references to the band are some of the most memorable videos ever made. It’s too convenient for people to resist. The imagery of that era and the way Duran imbued the pop history of the time has ultimately damaged their careers in the long-term. I’m fairly sure that one of the reasons for John’s departures was his realisation that the ‘80s straightjacket would never by fully removed and that the fruits of Duran’s collective labour, however good, were destined to be crushed by the weight of their legend. The perpetual indifference / hostility of the media are largely to blame: how dare Duran have the audacity to think they can exceed their allotted time slot? We’ve got Rio, that’s all we need from you lot, thank you. Anyone who saw the recent Channel 4 Top Ten recently will remember Nick imitating the critics as the ‘80s turned to the ‘90s: “Right, that’s the end of the decade, lock the door – oh, and make sure Duran Duran are in there, will you?” Unfortunately, due to the best efforts of the media, who are as inconsistent, egotistical and devoid of principle as it is possible to be, that’s exactly what has happened.
Show Me The Money: The only way out of this frustrating trap is for Hollywood to spend the fucking money. Market and advertise the shit out of the new album. Pay the shops to put it in their windows – they don’t do it for free. Put ads in newspapers, on buses, wherever. Just do it, because that’s what it takes. Otherwise, what was the point of signing the group, only to act as a catalyst for their failure? There are plenty of ‘floating voters’, as I call them, who, given the right amount of hype, would be more than willing to re-dip their toes in the Duran Duran water if only they were aware it was there for them to do the dipping. And, finally, Duran must take some blame. Hollywood gave them the liberty to choose the single, and they chose wrong.
Enough ballads already: Critics hoping for Duran Duran’s last day on earth may still find their ever-lengthening wait prolonged still further. This is a good album that leaves Duran with a shred of dignity, but little more. Duran are contracted to do two more albums; they should take heart and fulfil their obligations, but call it a day after that. And the next album should be ballad-free. I’ve had enough of Duran ballads, they’ve completely exhausted the genre and their insistence on reworking them is making them sound tired and irrelevant. They need to find an affordable William Orbit to produce an uptempo album that sounds completely different to Pop Trash and Medazzaland, because the same trick is getting boring. Some have said that the general sound of Pop Trash is a little five-years-ago, while others admit to cringing with embarrassment when ever Duran try anything contemporary. I thought that with Medazzaland they pulled it off, even if the actual songs weren’t quite as melodically strong as on Pop Trash. Hopefully Duran Duran can now find the happy medium that implant them more firmly in the modern age.