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Reissue Theory: Duran Duran, “Medazzaland” and “Pop Trash”

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Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we focus on notable albums and the reissues they may someday see. With a new album by Duran Duran receiving deserved critical acclaim, let’s take a look back at the band’s years as a trio in the late ’90s and see what gold could stand to be dug up from the vaults.

As current electro-pop music goes, all you need now is All You Need is Now. Duran Duran’s 13th studio album was first released independently (through the band’s new Tapemodern label) as a nine-track digital affair on iTunes in December, but was recently expanded on CD this week (distributed by Universal’s S-Curve Records) with as many as eight extra tracks. And the results in either configuration are superb. With a revitalized sound and production by Mark Ronson, All You Need is Now is easily the band’s best effort since the late ’80s, and proof positive that the band, having been in the public eye for three decades, has still got it where it counts.

The band’s longtime original label, EMI/Capitol, has done a decent job of paying homage to one of their biggest catalogue acts through various reissues and compilations since the band were dropped in 1998. The last two years have seen a flurry of activity from the label, with deluxe 2 CD/1 DVD editions of the band’s entire studio output in the 1980s coming out since 2009. While they’re not always perfect thanks to ever-shifting release dates and less-than-stellar (and often erroneous) remastering, it’s nice to see that EMI hasn’t forgotten about the boys from Birmingham.

One of the more popular posts on The Second Disc addressed what could be done with potential expansions of the remainder of Duran’s EMI catalogue – 1990’s Liberty, 1993’s self-titled album (“The Wedding Album”) and 1995’s covers project Thank You – adhering to the three-disc format put forth by the label. Of course, there would be two albums from this time period that Capitol would not be able to expand: Medazzaland (1997), released by the label but ultimately relinquished to the band, and Pop Trash (2000), released on the Hollywood Records label to little fanfare. Subsequent releases of both albums on iTunes seem to indicate that Duran Duran own the rights to not only the first album they released as a Taylor-less trio but the second; thus, they could conceivably fill in nearly all the gaps of the catalogue should EMI choose to finish out their end. (The band’s Epic material, Astronaut (2004) and Red Carpet Massacre (2007), are certainly expandable, too – but more time should elapse before such a consideration.)

With Duran Duran’s third wave of success in full swing, today’s Reissue Theory takes you back to a time long before that, where Duran Duran were arguably on the brink, but as always came up swinging. Revisit Medazzaland and Pop Trash after the jump.

Of course, Duran Duran were the golden boys of ’80s U.K. pop-rock. By 1985, vocalist Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, guitarist Andy Taylor, bassist John Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor (no relations, all Taylors) were on top of the world, having a No. 1 hit on both sides of the Atlantic with the theme to the James Bond film A View to a Kill. But the strains of touring and being stars were taking their toll; the band spent most of the year apart, with Andy and John spearheading The Power Station with CHIC drummer Tony Thompson and vocalist Robert Palmer and Simon and Nick undertaking the underrated New Wave project Arcadia. (Roger contributed to both, but was an official member of the latter.)

By the time the band got back together, they were down by two: Roger left the music industry and Andy opted to go solo (playing minimal parts on 1986’s Notorious). By the end of the ’80s, Duran were not the commercial juggernaut they used to be, and by 1990’s Liberty (featuring an expanded lineup of ex-Missing Persons guitarist Warren Cuccurullo, the band’s touring guitarist since 1986, and drummer Sterling Campbell) they couldn’t even persuade critics.

So it was a huge surprise in 1993 when the band (now a quartet without an official drummer) scored not one but two Top 10 hits with the ballads “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone.” Even in the face of grunge, Generation Xers were happy to welcome them back, and they were enjoying this second wave of momentum. Of course, two years later, the wave had peaked, with the Thank You album earning faint praise from critics. The band went back into the studio to reclaim some of their mojo, but more heartache was on the way: John Taylor, the recently-sober bassist with the chiseled cheeks, announced in early 1997 that he was leaving the band. While much of his work on the record was complete, only a handful of tracks survived with his work intact.

The majority of tracks written for Medazzaland (so named after a particularly odd trip Le Bon embarked on while sedated with the drug midazolam during a dental appointment) seemed to address loss in general. Tracks like “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Buried in the Sand” addressed the breakup with Taylor directly (there was a particular sting involved with losing the guy who, with Rhodes, founded the band), while others addressed the distance between old friends, some gone (“Out of My Mind,” written by Le Bon for late friend David Miles, the subject of “Do You Believe in Shame?” and “Ordinary World”) some not (the titular man in “Michael” was Michael Hutchence, the lead singer for INXS, with whom Le Bon had become close. Hutchence died while the band was on tour.)

When it came time to promote the album, “Out of My Mind” was advanced as a single from the critically-lambasted adaptation of The Saint starring Val Kilmer. While it was another gorgeous, Eastern-themed ballad in Duran Mk. II style, its placement in the U.K. charts of No. 21 was a sign of things to come. But the real slap in the face came after Medazzaland‘s poor performance in America: EMI first cancelled the album’s release in the band’s own country and later dropped them outright. The only track other than “Out of My Mind” to be released in England was “Electric Barbarella,” an unremarkable rocker included on the band’s Greatest compilation in 1998. (“Electric Barbarella” is notable in music history for being one of the first tracks to be released as a legal digital download. Unsurprisingly, physical retailers weren’t happy.)

Ultimately, Medazzaland loses something without much input from Taylor and the overall hard-edged, almost-confrontational feel of the record, a result of Cuccurullo’s gaining influence in the band. (The back cover featured Patrick Nagel’s iconic sleeve to Rio (1982), the band’s masterpiece, defaced almost beyond recognition.) There’s certainly enough material, both in terms of B-sides and remixes as well as original demos and mixes (the album went through a lengthy, 11th hour remix), to warrant an independent reissue that would mirror the other EMI expansions. Several of the demo tracks feature input from Taylor, particularly “Butt Naked,” which he sang.

Duran Duran, Medazzaland (Tapemodern)

Disc 1: Original LP (released as Capitol CDP 72438 33876 2 5 (U.S.), 1997)

  1. Medazzaland
  2. Big Bang Generation
  3. Electric Barbarella
  4. Out of My Mind
  5. Who Do You Think You Are?
  6. Silva Halo
  7. Be My Icon
  8. Buried in the Sand
  9. Michael You’ve Got a Lot to Answer For
  10. Midnight Sun
  11. So Long Suicide
  12. Undergoing Treatment

Disc 2: B-sides, Demos and Remixes

  1. Ball and Chain
  2. Sinner or Saint
  3. P.L. You (Demo)
  4. Plastic Girl (Demo)
  5. Butt Naked (Demo)
  6. Before I Die (Demo)
  7. Michael You’ve Got a Lot to Answer For (Acoustic)
  8. Out of My Mind (Electric Remix)
  9. Midnight Sun (Remix)
  10. Electric Barbarella (Tee’s Club Mix)
  11. Out of My Mind (The Perfecto Mix)
  12. Electric Barbarella (Dom T. Mix)
  13. Out of My Mind (The Perfecto Dub #1)

Disc 1, Track 1 from Japanese pressing of album – Toshiba EMI VJCP-25317, 1997
Disc 2, Track 2 and 8 from Virgin CD single VSCDT 1639 (U.K.), 1997
Disc 2, Tracks 3-7 and 9 previously unreleased
Disc 2, Track 10 from Capitol 12″ Y 72438 58674 1 5 (U.S.), 1997/EMI 12 ELEC 2000 (U.K.), 1999
Disc 2, Tracks 11 and 13 from Virgin CD single VSCDX 1639 (U.K.), 1997
Disc 2, Track 12 released as digital download through Liquid Audio, 1997 – previously unreleased on CD

Disc 3: DVD

  1. Out of My Mind (promo video)
  2. Electric Barbarella (promo video)
  3. Electric Barbarella (Live on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, NBC-TV (U.S.) – 10/10/1997)
  4. Possible live shows – Ultra Chrome Latex and Steel – Electric Factory, Philadelphia 11/18/1997 or Latest and Greatest – Wembley 12/21/1998 (both are known to have been professionally recorded)

Duran got through the failure of Medazzaland on the strength of touring (where they were still a decent draw), and were soon signed to a three-album deal by Disney’s Hollywood Records (the U.S. home for the otherwise-EMI controlled Queen catalogue). Cuccurullo’s increasing influence became apparent when the unthinkable happened: Le Bon suffered a tremendous bout of writer’s block, leaving the other two to write much of the record (and produce it, too – but more on that in a bit). The trippy single “Someone Else Not Me,” featuring the first video made in Macromedia Flash, was another derivative ballad, and the remainder of the record was mostly forgettable, outside of decent tracks like “Playing with Uranium” and “Last Day on Earth” as well as “Pop Trash Movie,” written for Blondie but never released by the band.

This time, following abysmal promotion of the record, touring couldn’t even sustain the band; although they pulled off some successful rearrangements of their back catalogue and also dipped into deep-cuts territory for their set lists, the string of expensive chain restaurants and small clubs they played often could have cared less. But the band’s futures would soon turn around; in 2001, Rhodes and Le Bon terminated Cuccurullo (whose increasing oddities, including forays into pornography and other adult material, were becoming a liability for the band), and invited all the Taylors back into the studio and on the road. The reunion gained a massive amount of press in the years ahead, and while the band stumbled with the hip-hop-oriented Red Carpet Massacre (produced in part by Timbaland, then the pop flavor of the moment) and departure of Andy Taylor, the unit remains strong.

Duran Duran, Pop Trash (Tapemodern)

Disc 1: Original LP and B-sides

  1. Someone Else Not Me
  2. Lava Lamp
  3. Playing with Uranium
  4. Hallucinating Elvis
  5. Starting to Remember
  6. Pop Trash Movie
  7. Fragment
  8. Mars Meets Venus
  9. Lady Xanax
  10. The Sun Doesn’t Shine Forever
  11. Kiss Goodbye
  12. Last Day on Earth
  13. Un Autre Que Moi
  14. Alguien Que No Soy Yo
  15. Prototypes

Disc 1, Tracks 1-12 released as Hollywood Records LP HR-62266-2, 2000
Disc 1, Tracks 13 from European pressing – Hollywood Records 0110942HWR, 2000

Disc 2: T.V. Mania Sessions

Of all the latter-day Duran projects in the vaults, this is arguably the most intriguing. Prior to the Pop Trash sessions, Nick and Warren began working on a multimedia project under the T.V. Mania banner. Using found sound, experimental song fragments and other stimuli, the “social junk culture triptych opera,” to quote Rhodes, was to have manifested as a potential theatre show called Bored with Prozac and the Internet, but was ostensibly scuttled when it came time to make and ultimately bounce back from the Pop Trash record. (The duo did use the T.V. Mania moniker as producers of both Medazzaland and Pop Trash, marking the band’s first and only self-produced efforts.)

Though whatever remains of the project might be a difficult listen compared to the synth-pop of your average Duran LP – owing more to the bonus track/sound collage “Protoypes” than “Rio” – including the sessions as a counterpoint to the final album would be a holy grail for Duranies.

Disc 3: DVD

  1. Someone Else Not Me (promo video)
  2. Possible live shows – NEC, Birmingham – 12/14/2000 (professionally recorded), Pleasure Island, Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando – 12/31/2000 (featuring guest guitar work from Nile Rodgers), House of Blues, Anaheim – 3/29/2001 (professionally recorded) or Koseinenkin, Osaka – 6/22/2001 (Warren’s final show)

Written by Mike Duquette

March 28, 2011 at 13:50

Posted in Duran Duran, Features, Reissues

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8 Responses

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  1. You know what? I’m not a fan of those albums, especially not ‘Pop Trash’, but I would pick these up – based on the background material you’ve provided. Great job, Mike! 🙂

    The Thorn

    March 28, 2011 at 17:53

  2. Another great reissue theory on Duran!
    Regarding Pop Trash – the German edition from the WOM musicstore chain includes all tracks you mentioned on disc 1 + an exclusive acoustic version of ‘Starting To Remember’ -> that could fit either on disc 2 or stay on disc 1.

    Dennis

    March 29, 2011 at 06:45

  3. I agree, nice article! For me, the ‘one-two’ punch of Thank You and Meddazaland completely killed the upward momentum and interest in the band that the wedding album gained. By the time Pop Trash came out, it was almost irrelevant that it wasn’t any good. Thankfully they came back with Astronaut and All You Need is Now. I’m hoping they found their ‘direction’ and can continue this latest momentum.

    Mike

    March 29, 2011 at 08:22

  4. well,for me “Medazzaland” and “starting to remember” from pop trash, are up there with rio and all you need is now (and the arcadia album) as the best work DD has done.
    from the start DD always try to live on the line between mainstream pop and a more alternative experimental trends. so their best work is when this balance is done with an inteligent melodies and lyrics.
    the first album,rio,arcadia,medazaland and all you need is now, all these albums achieve this goal and those are my favorites.

    ron

    March 31, 2011 at 02:20

    • PopTrash is a fantastic album!!!.couldn’t agree with you more Ron.Big thing is another underrated album!

      andre

      January 8, 2013 at 06:36

  5. I’ve been a DD fan for YEARS! (not any more, but it would be a long and uninteresting story). Medazzaland and Pop Trash are two of their best albums, saddly the weakest songs were chosen as singles (Someone Else Not Me? Seriously?)…

    Megatof

    April 15, 2011 at 17:07

  6. I hope one day that both albums are remastered, would be nice to have a complete collection. Medazzaland is a decent album, bit experimental but I’ve heard much worse from other bands before. Pop Trash, however, is probably the most underated Duran Duran album of them all. Every song is brilliant, though I agree that ‘Someone Else Not Me’ shouldn’t of been chosen as a single, should of been ‘Lava Lamp’ or ‘Pop Trash Movie’. The best song on the album has to be ‘Lady Xanax’ – just a shame they didn’t add an extra verse or two lol. I would also be greatly interested in viewing the DVD content as well as gaining the extended version of ‘Midnight Sun’.

    Luke

    May 17, 2012 at 00:05

  7. The strange thing is, I got into Duran Duran as a naïve 14 year old in the very late 90s after hearing Out Of My Mind. I honestly thought they were a weird alternative band like Depeche Mode or the Cure and absolutely loved the Medazzaland album. I couldn’t believe it when I heard their early stuff and realised they had been just a light, bouncy, foppish pop band! I am not a big fan of their 1981-85 output (its ok, mind), but I do love the Big Thing, Wedding Album, Medazzaland and Pop Trash albums to this day. Warren Cuccurullo’s influence is all over those fine records and y’know what, he was the best thing that ever happened to this band, they’ve been utterly forgettable yet again since his departure in 2001. Andy Taylor was, is and will always be a twat.

    Paul

    May 8, 2014 at 21:15


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