Waxing Nostalgic Cover Albums: Duran Duran, Thank You

Published on July 10th, 2013 in: Music, Music Reviews, Waxing Nostalgic |

By Jeffery X Martin

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Make no mistake: I have always loved Duran Duran. I have no problem admitting this. I had the John Taylor rubber bracelets, the uncensored version of “The Chauffeur” on VHS, the whole nine yards. Their last studio album, All You Need is Now, is criminally underrated. I say this just so you understand that I have no axe to grind. I’m not out to pick on some New Romantics, looking for that TV sound.

But good gods, folks. This album is a constant.

From what I can gather, the album is called Thank You because the band wanted to thank the people who inspired them to play music. That’s a backhanded compliment, regardless of how well intentioned.

The problem is not with the song choices (well, that’s not always true, but more on that in a second), but with the arrangements. One of the rules is to make the songs of other people your own, while still showing respect to the original. It’s a fine line, difficult to walk. On this album, Duran Duran falls off that line more times than Charlie Sheen taking a sobriety test.

I don’t know whose idea it was to have the whitest band since The Kingston Trio cover Public Enemy’s “911 is a Joke.” I certainly don’t know whose idea it was to add slide guitar to the song and make it sound like Beck’s “Loser.” There’s a slightly mocking tone to this cover that makes me a little uncomfortable. Rich white Brits shouldn’t be allowed to sing this song. They don’t mean it.

Then again, I also feel uncomfortable listening to Simon Le Bon’s overly breathy vocals on The Door’s “Crystal Ship.” When he says he would like to give you one last kiss, you can almost feel his tongue in your ear. Morrison’s psychedelic poetry becomes a crazed serial-killer monologue in Simon Le Bon’s heavy hands.

Their slow reggae version of “Watching the Detectives,” originally performed by Elvis Costello and the Attractions, is mind-bogglingly off. Square peg, round hole. The same thing can be said for their version of Bob Dylan’s “Lay, Lady, Lay.” Le Bon’s overly sexualized vocals turn the tune into a series of bad pickup lines no self-respecting woman would ever fall for.

Duran Duran cuts loose and does it right for their rendition of “I Wanna Take You Higher,” by Sly and the Family Stone. It strikes the proper balance between funk and synth-pop without an excessive usage of background singers (often employed to make bands sound funkier than they actually are).

The only other track I can halfway recommend is an aural poem called “Drive-By.” It’s mysterious and strange, but ends up being a spiritual sequel to “The Chauffeur,” a song by Duran Duran. Remember, if you cover your own song, it doesn’t count. “Drive-By” is only a partial cover, though; I suppose it’s more like a shawl.

One or two good tracks out of twelve is not a good ratio. The real problem with Thank You is that every song Duran Duran chose to cover was originally performed by a band much better than them. The only voice Simon Le Bon can really perform well in is his own. Even after years of performing, he doesn’t seem confident enough to inhabit someone else’s material. There’s nothing wrong with that, but when you cover songs by performers with unique vocal styles (Dylan, Morrison, Lou Reed), you’re hamstringing your own throat.

Thank You may have been originally intended as a serious tribute to bands that inspired Duran Duran, but it reaches too far and trips itself up. Le Bon’s voice, a strong point in Duran Duran, can’t bear up under the weight of the history this album chooses to access. Thank You is a curious thing, but not one to be revisited often.

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