“Fans always want what they can’t have.”
Simon le Bon, 1995
It is a staple of our fandom – and indeed Cherry Lipstick – to question, wonder and moan about how Duran Duran have got things wrong and should do things differently. Lively discussion and controversy follows: tour here not there, write new songs quicker, this b-side should have been on the album, that covers album was a bad idea (OK, we all agree on that).
Each album attracts attention in a certain way, and for Astronaut it was all about those unreleased tracks. The reunion was announced in 2001, live shows commenced in 2003 and various demos and bootlegs emerged as time went on until the release of the album in September 2004.
The live shows produced various songs that were tried out and then not released on the album, and other demos became available. Once Astronaut was finally released, everyone had their own version from a rotating selection on 20 songs. No one agreed with each other except for one thing – Duran Duran chose the wrong ones to go on the album.
Two songs stood out as the Great Lost Tracks – Salt In The Rainbow and Beautiful Colours. Salt In The Rainbow was never played live but a pretty full version entered circulation. It’s a pretty piece with interesting lyrics, and stands up as a potential b-side in the vein of I Believe (All I Need To Know).
Beautiful Colours was played live an astonishing 40 times (more than Serious, Lonely In Your Nightmare, Make Me Smile, To The Shore and I Take The Dice). Its last outing was on 19th August 2004, just weeks before the release of the album. Bedroom Toys, Astronaut, Chains, Finest Hour and Nice were all played for the first time from October 2004, suggesting that Beautiful Colours was bumped from the album at the very last minute.
So - what happened? Did the band drop an enormous boob, or was something else going on? And was that something else something like Beautiful Colours is NOT VERY GOOD?
Beautiful Colours starts with the standard Duran funk which suggests it’s heading in the sort of direction that Nice achieves more successfully. It also doesn't fit with the later 'soaring stadium ballad' ethos. Strike 1 to the official track selection.
Simon joins in with the first verse which sounds like a first draft that he’s assured the boys will definitely be re-written later. “Going to who knows where and who knows when / Not knowing where you’re rolling - it’s the learning of this journey.” Wow. This sets the tone for much of the rest of the bubble gum sentiments.
The second verse heads downhill fast. Simon “feels” and “believes” meaning he’s not about to head down any road that will provide careful thought or difficult answers. He ends the verse with a clumsy line that doesn’t scan and a “promise to carry on from each moment to the next one.” What? Strike 2 to the official track selection.
And so to the chorus, which is the bit that people will like. It’s not hard to see why. It has a soaring Coldplay quality in which vacuous universal sentiment is able to be drawn down into the personal. It’s a neat trick, but is let down by the clodhopping phrase, “we’re made of the same stuff.” ‘Stuff’ is not a word to engender an uplifting feeling. Again, it sounds more like a holding word, waiting to be filled by something more substantial. (That said, What Happens Tomorrow’s trite truism “it’ll be alright in the end” made it through the editing process.)
Better are the words ‘beautiful’, ‘colours’, ‘beauty’, ‘patterns’, ‘breathing’ and ‘unbearable’. These work well in conjuring up images and feelings of positivity, while Simon’s voice and intonation combine very effectively. (See, this isn’t a total hatchet job).
The final verse is another let down of jumbled multi-syllabled words and inane phrases. “Life is a standard issue to customise” sounds like an advertiser’s pitch to an insurance company.
Finally, Beautiful Colours was considered suitable by the band to donate to FIFA, the corrupt, corporate conglomerate that runs football behind a fake façade of happy-clappy fans. The song was suitable for this audience. Strike 3 to the official Astronaut selection.
The moral of this story – sometimes the band knows best.
Or, as Simon also said in that amazing interview:
"One day we won't play what everyone expects us to play. And afterwards we'll get people saying, 'you should have played that', all these really irate people, and we'll go, 'oh, fuck off, don't be so stupid, it's up to us what we play, and you damn well like it!'"