Here we go! The first new music from Duran Duran since the release of Future Past in October 2021. It is the shortest break between new music since the gap between Big Thing (October 1988) and Liberty (August 1990).
On 25th August, your Cherry Lipstick panel met to consider their snap take of DANSE MACABRE:
Chris Shortell (most recent CL article Future Past: Reimagined)
Ben Rawson-Jones (author of CL’s impending article, Liberty: Reimagined)
Ruth Galvin (the Power Station album review in the CL print fanzine)
Ben Vokes (Seven and the Ragged Tiger: Reimagined)
And your host for the evening, CL’s editor, Adam Wilson
For those who don’t know, the track was leaked early and was available to download. Which is how we all heard it.
Adam: So – initial thoughts?
Ben R-J: Well, on first listen of the full track, I thought, “What the f**k have I just heard?” I didn’t know where I stood with it. It was challenging and not what I expected, but the more that I have listened to it, I hear it is fun, playful, eccentric. It feels fresh to me. Overall, it has enough groove, energy and great production to be suitably themed for Hallowe’en. I am enjoying it more and more with every listen.
Adam: Oh, I agree. Invisible was so immediately accessible for me, but this one made me go, ‘hang on a minute…’
Ben R-J: Danse Macabre doesn’t feel as forced as Invisible – and I do love that track. This feels natural and you can sense the fun, without the commercial pressures weighing on their shoulders.
Adam: I think the word ‘fun’ is a really important word for me with this track.
Ben V: I thought the 30-second clip was compressed and so this was never going to sound great. After hearing the clip, the full song took me by surprise, because I think the start is great. It has a good impact. There’s an opening horn which reminded me of a tripod from Spielberg’s War Of The World, and from Volker Bertelmann’s score for All Quiet on the Western Front, which he won the Oscar for, which we know Nick pays a lot of attention to. All this results in generating tension, which this song does. So it builds up this ominous, dark sound – and then Simon starts rapping. It really throws you and does make the song disjointed! This then reminded me of Robbie Williams’ Rock DJ, with his laddish rapping. Simon seems to be sounding more like Rappers Delight, or Fred Schneider from the B52s. In fact, Danse Macabre sounds a lot like Rock Lobster. It makes the whole track fun. I suppose White Lines is an easy one to recall back, but it really reminds me of Hallucinating Elvis. I think this song would go down well live.
Ben R-J: I like what you said about it being disjointed. It reminded me of the song All You Need Is Now. That starts with a jarring cacophony, and then goes into the beautiful chorus. It makes me happy they are doing that, rather than MOR stuff.
Adam: We have moved onto the familiar topic I was going to come to later, which is “Which Duran song does this remind you of?” What’s your answer to that?
Ruth: 911 Is A Joke!
Adam: OK! So, why?
Ruth: I tried to find out the lyrics today. I stripped it down and slowed it down. Which left the worst part of the song – Simon on his own. It’s the one thing people are complaining about. The rapping, or non rapping, or whatever it is. People don’t like it. It doesn’t sound authentic. It doesn’t resonate with people, and I am no exception. It sounds alien and unconvincing. But there are other aspects of the song that are very redemptive and pull it together. But I am completely unsold on the vocals.
Adam: It is hard to get past them, isn’t it? It’s easy to love the first 20 seconds, with the Anniversary-ish guitar, then the layers of synths after the first chorus, and Too Much Information-y extended outro. BUT -
Ruth: Yes. I played it some friends this morning, and they said they’d like to hear it as instrumental! I feel very torn, and yet completely unsurprised, because this is EXACTLY what Duran Duran do. They pull you in with this familiarity and echoes of the past, and yet there is this horror show in the middle of it.
Adam: Chris, I need to ask you the question that started this chat: What the f**k were they thinking?
Chris: They were thinking that it’s time for guitar. We don’t know if it’s Andy or Warren, but it’s certainly not Dom. I love everything about it. ALL OF IT. It’s instantly better that many other title tracks and most of the songs on Future Past. I just love it do much. It’s catchy, fun and has synths.
Adam: Is this because you agree with a view out there that this is a 90s-sounding Duran?
Chris: I agree it sounds like Hallucinating Elvis, and has the distortion of Medazzaland, but it’s got a rhythm section as Roger is there. If it’s not Warren, it’s someone who sounds like him.
Ruth: I was chatting with Ben V earlier and he suggested Virus.
Adam: When I heard Virus, I was confused as they had to the trouble of getting the gang back, and they were still making the same sort of music as they had in the 90s.
Ruth: It’s interesting that Andy has a new song out today and it sounds NOTHING like this! It’s very conventional. I expect a dirtier sound from Warren, and so I’d expect this to be him.
Ben R-J: It might be Mr Hudson.
Adam: It feels strange to promote the album as ‘Andy is back’ and then lead with a song that has Warren on it.
Ryan (Chris’s son who was in the car with him, just before being dropped off): I think Danse Macabre sounds like an Astronaut-era b-side song. Part of me thought it could have come from Seven and the Ragged Tiger.
Ben R-J: Do you know what I think when I hear Danse Macabre? Duran Duran : 2023.
Adam: I agree. It makes Future Past sounds old. That’s why I love the question, “What the F**k were they thinking?” because it forces you to go deep and ask ‘what’s going on?’.
Ben R-J: This has engaged me. Art should be provocative as opposed to trying to write hits, or write messages, which Duran have done in the past.
Adam: My answer to the question is, they don’t give a shit. Here is Simon le Bon thinking, “I fancy doing a rap. I’m f**king Simon le Bon and this is my f**king band and I fancy doing a f**king rap.”
Ben R-J: Which to me makes the band sound bold and confident. Whether you like it or not. They have not done this is some half measure, this is “We’re Duran Duran 2023, it’s Hallowe’en, let’s go for it.”
Ruth: That’s fair.
Adam: They are just sticking this out, it’s not Future Past where it was polished, and they were trying hard to present this new body of work, but this is, “Let’s have a party.”
Ben R-J: If you go back, they were not even referring to this as an album, it was called a ‘project.’
Adam: And so many took it as, “They’re doing an album with Andy.”
Ruth: I am wondering about the Hallowe’en show last year. They didn’t have to put in a lot of work to get this over the line. By throwing in a few extra songs, they knew people would go wild.
Ben R-J: I’m not sure. You look back to the Hallowe’ens show last year, and they played a standard version of Nightboat. By the time of the UK shows (May 2023), they played a new version which had had a long of work gone into the re-working, and I personally thought was very good.
Ben V: I think BMG has encouraged them to get this out as quickly as possible to keep momentum going. The Future Past album and tour have gone down well. They want to capitalise on that, like Thank You was done in relation to the Wedding Album.
Adam: Though that didn’t happen, because it stopped being a half-baked fun idea, to a bloated… mess, because it took so long. It lost the fun they generated the idea in the first place. Which brings us to those people who were expecting and hoping for a more Arcadia-ish vibe to this song. What would you say to those people, who are somewhat disappointed?
Ruth: They’ve always got Out Of My Mind, which is a classic Hallowe’en track.
Ben V: Lots of the instrumentation is spooky. It’s got a great opening which is very Hans Zimmer on The Dark Night Rises. Granted, that stops when the rapping starts.
Ben R-J: If they had put out the first 20 seconds as a teaser, instead of the 30-second clip with the chorus, can you imagine the reaction! And then the full version came out and the Cockney cheeky-chappy le Bon kicks in.
Ruth: I think the critics are going to hate it.
Ben R-J: It’s an easy target.
Ben V: I don’t think it matters to the band. They’ve outlived Q magazine and most critics. That’s what this is all about.
Chris: I remember the announcement in 2001 of the reunion and got it. They were playing bar mitzvas and needed to bring back the original line up. I bought into it. And then they made Astronaut, their worst ever album. I stuck with them because I was a fan. 10 years ago TV Mania came out and it made me sad, and I’m not joking, because it made me wish they still sounded like that. And then today, for the first time in 22 years, it scratched that itch for me. It was like, “It didn’t go away!” I don’t know if it’s Andy on guitar, but for this is the best of both worlds. It’s got an edge, like Invisible, and this is what makes me happy. I don’t mind the rap. Or the rap on New Religion, White Lines or Hallucinating Elvis. Even 911 Is A Joke! It’s fun but it’s edgy.
Ben R-J: I connected to some decent quality speakers and there’s a lot more detail in the track. There might be some backward speaking, and they’ve tried to add some scratching during the chorus.
Adam: Out of interest, due you know the story of the Danse Macabre?
[At this point, the Bens correctly knew it was the ‘Dance of Death’ and Ruth knew it came from the Black Death. See below for the full story].
Adam: I liked the phrase, “The effect is both frivolous and terrifying.”
Ben R-J: That is an interesting juxtaposition to take into this track.
Ruth: Well, the vocals are terrifying!
Chris: This is all Simon can write about. He doesn’t believe in God. So if you don’t believe in an afterlife, what else do you have to write about? He can’t write like Bono or Brandon Flowers because he does not Believe.
Ben V: This does feel a bit like a sermon. A strong video with Simon preaching in a church would be powerful.
Ben R-J: I am appreciating the song more from getting to the know the lyrics as much as possible.
Adam: It is hilarious that Duran Duran have never done a Christmas song, but have now done a Hallowe’en album. It’s never what you expect! Let’s finish with marks out of 10.
Ben R-J: This may change, but tonight I am uniting with 8.
Ben V: 6.66!
Ruth: It’s half way between awful and brilliant, so 5.
Adam: That sounds like a description of Warren.
Chris: I’ve been gushing, but have been known to over react – the Butterfly Girl Effect. I loved it on day one but now don’t listen to it. So… 8.5. I really want to say 9…. Let’s go 8.69.
Adam: I was hedging towards 6.5, but I also agree with Ruth. What’s half way between Ben V and Ruth? (5.83) OK, let’s go with that – no, that seems harsh. I love the concept and my band more than the song. I respect everything they’ve done with this – so 7.
Ben R-J: We will see what we think next Hallowe’en!
Learn Yourself The Danse Macabre!
What is it and what is its history? Cherry Lipstick checked out a couple of Wikipedia pages to bring you this (edited) potted history:
"The Danse Macabre, is also called the Dance of Death. According to legend, Death appears at midnight every year on Halloween. Death calls forth the dead from their graves to dance for him while he plays his fiddle. His skeletons dance for him until the cockerel crows at dawn, when they must return to their graves until the next year.
The effect is both frivolous and terrifying, beseeching its audience to react emotionally. It was produced to remind people of the fragility of their lives and how vain are the glories of earthly life. The earliest recorded visual scheme was a now-lost mural at Holy Innocents' Cemetery in Paris dating from 1424.
In her thesis, 'The Black Death and its Effect on 14th and 15th Century Art', Anna Louise Des Ormeaux describes the effect of the Black Death on art, mentioning the Danse Macabre as she does so:
“Some plague art contains gruesome imagery that was directly influenced by the mortality of the plague or by the medieval fascination with the macabre and awareness of death. Some plague art documents psychosocial responses to the fear that plague aroused in its victims.”
'Danse Macabre'* was written in 1874 by the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns."
*You may know it from Shrek The Third, and as the theme from the UK TV show Jonathan Creek.