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Pop Trash: Reimagined

If Rio is a summer romance novel, and Liberty was written by a 13 year old boy, then Pop Trash is a Kafka-esque decent into madness. Our three protagonists are separately lost in the woods, surrounded by enemies and doubt, haunted by past relationships. They hallucinate lost icons from their childhood and reflect on their own vanished glory. They end up questioning the futility of human existence.


Pop Trash as an album is a confused mess, which reflects the confused mess of the relationships in the band.


Simon had already been less-than-subtly dissing his bandmate on Medazzaland, and was feeling aggrieved at his elbowing from centre stage in the band. His creative block seems to have included an ennui at actually doing anything about it. To what extent was he staying in Duran for want of anything better to do?


Warren had been gradually increasing his membership stake in Duran Duran from 20% (1990), to 25% (1993), to 33% (1997). Hmm. Fate or sharp elbows? By 1999 he was already 50% of TV Mania, and his influence in the studio time may have been edging that figure for Duran as well.


Nick remained the silent partner, able to have fans project their feelings on to him however they wished. Was he Warren’s stooge? The gatekeeper of the Duran flame? The saviour in the wings? He certainly had shrugged off John’s departure quite easily, and, with perhaps uncomfortable ease, stepped into the lyrical space Simon had vacated.


Pop Trash is a document of a people in despair. U2 began their biggest album with the line “I want to run, I want to hide,” and followed that up with a song stating they still hadn’t found what they were looking for. Existential doubt need not be an impediment to engaging music, providing there is a consistent strength of purpose for the people involved. Duran Duran (or what was left of ‘Duran Duran’) did not have the heart to be in a position to provide that.


This Reimagined Pop Trash finds a more hopeful story to tell. Duran Duran, with their amazing story and experiences, had every right to tell it. There is still struggle, and doubt, but one in which the frailties and ravages of time have a more engaging entrance through the music.


We need to start by cutting the runts of the Pop Trash litter by confirming the exit of Mars Meets Venus. As if singing a letter wasn’t bad enough (To Whom It May Concern), the laziness of opening a magazine and chanting out an advert is probably worse. One can hear Simon declaring “That’ll do!” as he finished this song off. Also banished without further ado are The Sun Doesn’t Shine Forever, and the Fragments.


I am also taking the harder option to kiss goodbye to Lady Xanax. It is a tough listen, and drags this album down. It is a scathing, ugly look at life in freefall. “Why so many friends but nobody calls?” asks a Simon now trapped in a desolate life. “When the darkness falls, got to make it to the party.” The themes it explores are too similar to Pop Trash Movie and dark for the more uplifting tone of this reimagined album.


Someone Else Not Me is a tough listen for different reasons – my historical antipathy to this dull, unimaginative plodder is well documented. It is possibly the worst ever album opener in Duran’s history, and, with two other ballads already in place (see below), sequencing it anywhere else would drag this new album down. File under unpopular opinions.


What we need to build is songs of consistent musical heft, stronger lyrical consistency – and a popular bass player.


1.     The Panhandler (John Taylor, The Japan Album, 1999)


“How did I get here?”


Which is the first question asked by someone when they realise they are lost.


Let’s kick off this album with the return of an old friend, Mr John Taylor. He had been busy since leaving Duran in early 1997. By the time of Pop Trash’s release in June 2000, he had released a mixture of five albums and EPs, and toured extensively. We are going to pick up his 1999 album ‘John Taylor’ (aka The Japan Album, one of three he released that year). It introduces us to the theme of search for identity and meaning, making this less a midlife crisis than a place for questioning and reflection. A introspective intro leads to a chorus in quick order. Bass and guitars are aplenty and I can even overlook the whistling. “I want you all here,” John implores, and this album is up and running.

2.     Playing With Uranium


“Come on over to my place.”


Invitation or threat? Straight off the buzz of The Panhandler, comes Warren’s wailing guitar and a killer chorus. Given this reimagined album continues to struggle to identify obvious singles, this one stands out.


3.     Lava Lamp


“The shape of things to come is constantly changing, so let it flow.”


I’ve switched up the order of PWU and Lava Lamp to keep the energy up at the front of the album. Lava Lamp has an interesting place on the album, as it pivots back to the past in its mood and tone, without the heartache and yearning for better days


4.     Already Gone (Simon le Bon and Nick Wood, unreleased, 1998)


“Waiting for my train to come.”


In 1998, John had a new band, and Warren was churning out music (solo LPs, concerts and the TV Mania project with Nick). Simon was at a loose end, and took the opportunity to make more of Syn Music with Nick Wood (which they had founded in 1991). [The opportunity for travel to the organisations base in Tokyo and Los Angeles may have been appealing.]


Simon didn’t produce very much himself in the way of music, and this song was never actually finished, which says a lot. What exists is an acoustic demo which would not be out of place on John’s Japan Album. Is it the love letter to John that Buried In The Sand failed to be? Or a more a more poignant ode to Yasmin that Someone Else Not Me? It may be too similar to Starting To Remember, but two lovely songs is not one too many.


5.     Pop Trash Movie


“Now the script is final, it’s time to go.”


Well, nearly, but not quite yet. The last great Duran song of the 20th century is, tellingly, the only Duran song without Simon on the credits. He contributes a marvellous vocal performance though, with the snarled ‘yeah’ echoing through the years.


6.     Hallucinating Elvis


“What you see ain’t what you get.”


I originally sequenced this as track 4, but bumped it to retain Pop Trash Movie in its position at the heart of the album. You can move it back, if you like. It lifts the mood from Pop Trash Movie, with a fun, silly vocal. Musically, from the ‘60s vibe of Lava Lamp, we move to the ‘70s, showcasing the breadth of Duran’s experience and their own place in musical history. It highlights the discordant, isolating effects of unhinged fame far better than Lady Xanax – and, thankfully, was ditched as the name for the album.


7.     Air Miles (John Taylor, The Japan Album, 1999)


“I’m going home where it’s warm.”


It’s worth saying that most of The Japan Album is fairly pedestrian and not worthy of significant attention. Air Miles, however, has a pleasing mix of musical experimentation and twists of direction to keep Warren interested, and lyrical dexterity to boost the closing structure to this reimagined album. It starts with a Jah Wobble-esque dub beat, and ends with Eastern chants to an immersive close. If he’d been around to present this in the Duran studio, there would have been plenty for Nick and Warren to contribute to. Which leads us comfortably into…


8.     Starting to Remember


“I was happy ever after was it only yesterday that I bought the dream?”


This sweet song deserves better than being lost within Duran’s darkest moment. It continues the theme of regret and aching memories, but opens the possibilities of redemption, and closes with the refrain, “Time will heal.”


9.     What’s In The Future? (TV Mania, Bored With Prozac and the Internet, 2013)


“Mirror Mirror on the wall… what’s in the future?”


‘Not you, buddy’, murmurs Simon from the sidelines. Given Pop Trash is, in large part, TV Mania Featuring Simon le Bon, we ought to include this shout out to the project itself as our album winds down.


There was a version of Duran Duran that fulfilled the promise of their origins from art school after 1995. However contracts / confidence / ego pulled the plug on it. At the end of the day, they liked playing arenas, and to do that they had to keep reaching back to Hungry Like The Wolf. Nick would scratch his itch with TV Mania, and, later, The Devils. Pop Trash fails in part because Duran (Simon?) just couldn’t commit to the project of experimentation and niche musical interest. U2 toyed with this as well in the ‘90s (with their Passengers project), before pivoting successfully back to the centre ground in 2000. Duran had to perform major surgery to their line-up to get there.


10.  Last Day On Earth


“You’ve got to roll the dice.”


This is the last of the six Pop Trash songs to survive, and it just about deserves to. Last Day On Earth remains the bittersweet closer to this album. Pop Trash is a disjointed, imperfect, album, and there is only so much one can do to smooth out all the rough edges. However, Warren gets one last chance to let rip, and departs stage left to the sound of le Bon singing at him “This is the time of your life, but you don’t realise… I kiss you goodbye.” Whack.


This reimagined album rises above the original by retaining the search for meaning without falling too far into depression. It has a depth of consistency and challenging music than all the reunion albums, bar Future Past.


Ultimately, it is still likely that Duran Duran would have realised that a new century required a re-boot. They might not, though, have felt the need to launch themselves as far away as possible from it by calling their next album Astronaut.


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