Only gods play in Wembley Arena, and Duran Duran, in its peak, wouldn’t fit in another category. As homage, they entitled their live album, actually recorded around the world, Arena.
In the year of Orwell’s 1984, the British band pictured a world in which the villain of the movie Barbarella (for which the band was named) kidnapped fans and tried to sabotage Duran Duran’s concerts. Arena (An Absurd Notion) was the name of this vision — it was a revolutionary home video, a cross between a music video and a movie. This album, Arena, is the audio version.
They were one of the first bands to use screens in their concerts, and the songs on their first three records were sophisticated and proved them to be skilled musicians. Even though Arena was missing such hits as “Girls On Film,” “Rio,” “The Reflex” and “My Own Way”, its song selection is for connoisseurs. For the 2004 reissue, “Girls On Film” and “Rio” were added.
From the debut album, when they commandeered the New Romantic genre, we find the widest selection: “Planet Earth,” “Careless Memories,” and “Is There Something I Should Know?”
Twenty five years later, Rio (1982) is still their best work, a collection of classic Roxy Music-style tunes, and is represented on Arena by “Hungry Like The Wolf,” “New Religion” and “The Chauffeur.”
Nonetheless, it was Seven And The Ragged Tiger (1983) that made them famous worldwide as the spoiled children of MTV discovered them even before radio stations; charmed by their suggestive videos, fans requested their songs and raised them quickly in the charts. As a consequence, they were number one in the UK and sold 12 million in the US. From that third album, “Union Of The Snake” and “The Seventh Stranger” are the flagships of this album. To be elegant was synonymous with looking like Duran Duran.
Considered international playboys, posing in yachts, drinking champagne, wearing Anthony Price suits, and surrounded by gorgeous women, they wouldn’t met the most famous playboy, James Bond, until 1985, when their song “A View To A Kill” reached number 1. Then it came time to relax and to focus on side projects, Arcadia and Power Station. However, they shared the stage for Live Aid.
In 1986 they became a trio, parting ways with guitarist Andy Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor, who wouldn’t come back to the band until Astronaut (2004).
Duran Duran — Arena: Track-by-track review
1. “Is There Something I Should Know” [live]
Included in the reissue of Duran Duran in the US, and released as a single in the UK in 1983, this song reached number 1 in the UK and number 4 on the Billboard chart.
Its opening couldn’t be catchier: Simon Le Bon repeating “Please please tell me now” to the rhythm of the drums. What should the girl should tell him?
Is there something I should know?
Is there something I should say?
Gonna make you come my way
Do you feel the same?
‘Cause you don’t let it show
Fortunate in love in real life, women always make their songs’ protagonists suffer. Here, they seem like a masculine version of Whitney Houston in “How Will I Know?”
How will I know
If he really loves me?
The concept of the video is closer to Seven And The Ragged Tiger than to Duran Duran. For drummer Roger Taylor, singing in this video was one of his most regrettable moments.
2. “Hungry Like The Wolf” [live]
In the golden age of adventure films, and having Indiana Jones in mind, the group travelled to Sri Lanka to record three videos — for this song, “Rio” and “Save A Prayer.” MTV put them in the top 15 most played of all time.
The adventurer Le Bon desperately seeks a girl through the city, the rivers, and the jungle and uses the metaphor of being a wolf to describe the anxiety that her absence causes him. “Is anybody hungry?” Le Bon asks the audience.
In touch with the ground
I’m on the hunt
I’m after you
Smell like I sound
I’m lost in the crowd
And I’m hungry like the wolf
His friends help him on the way, letting him be seduced by the local girls.
Stalked in the forest too close to hide
I’ll be upon you by the moonlight side
When he finds her, she’s a stunning black model, panther-like, and scratches his face. This live version ends with Lebon howling.
3. “New Religion” [live]
The 80s were the era of programmed drums, keyboards and synthesizers, and until 1985, Duran Duran was mostly based on Nick Rhodes’ skills in this arena. In this song Rhodes takes the chief role, giving “New Religion” its high points. His sounds are intriguing in the opening; mysterious and threatening through the song; and decadent at the end. It’s the keyboardist’s masterpiece.
Written in 1980 and with its New Romantic topic, it would have fit better on the debut album from 1981, as it is “a dialogue between the ego and the alter ego.” This fight between different parts of his personality makes him feel confused and anxious.
I need a reason
I can’t think of one now
Don’t know why this evil bothers me
So why is he trying to follow me?
How many reasons do they need?
4. “Save A Prayer” [live]
This is a song whose lyrics are as suggestive as the video, and it might be their most famous ballad.
The singer walks in the sand. There is a boat in the shore, children running, and the rest of the group playing. Then he is in a dream house, dressed in all white, seated in front of the window, and remembers.
And you wanted to dance
So I asked you to dance…
But fear is in your soul
Some people call it a one night stand
But we can call it paradise
The girl feels lonely, so she “flashes in her window sill” and they meet. After all the passion, it ends.
Live, Simon plays the acoustic guitar (taught, as he confesses, by Andy Taylor), and it sounds more intimate.
5. “Wild Boys” [new studio track]
If “Thriller” was the most famous video of the 80’s, this was the second one, with spectacular visual effects, dancing, action, and costumes. The BRIT Awards of 1985 considered it the best video of the year.
In Mad Max II-style costumes, the musicians are survivors in a world of decadence. Kidnapped and tortured by wild boys, they are awaiting their rescue.
Simon had the hardest time of the video shoot when a watermill’s mechanism malfunctioned and held him underwater almost to the point of drowning. (His second encounter with death was the next year, when he had an accident in his yacht.)
Musically, “Wild Boys” established the path that bassist John Taylor and Andy Taylor would follow in the Power Station, closer to rock with strong drums and guitars.
6. “The Seventh Stranger” [live]
This is the last track of the Seven and the Ragged Tiger album, and by far its best. The topic could be summarized by the line, “was I chasing after rainbows?” After all the time and the tears, it seemed he didn’t know the girl he was dating.
I wouldn’t say you were ruthless or right
I couldn’t see from so far
This is the best example of the deepness that the poetry of Simon Le Bon could achieve.
7. “The Chauffeur” [live]
If Spandau Ballet were known as the good boys, Duran Duran were known as the bad ones. Nick Rhodes confessed that in their early videos they went as far as possible without being banned.
“Girls On Film” was the first to be censored by the BBC, and “The Chauffeur” the second. In this elegant video, filmed in black in blue, with no traces of the band but in the playback, two gorgeous girls (with little on) who are lovers drive through town to meet in a parking garage. They dance topless as the chauffeur drives on.
8. “Union Of The Snake” [live]
In “New Moon On Monday,” Duran Duran were members of a revolutionary society; in the video for this track, they are explorers in the desert who discover a secret civilization ruled by the magician Nick Rhodes. Drama student Simon Le Bon seizes the opportunity to prove his talent.
9. “Planet Earth” [live]
This was their first single and their first video. Here, Nick Rhodes creates keyboard atmospherics like the group Japan, of whom he was fan, and the lyrics refer to images that the New Romantic wave suggested, such as “only came outside to see the night fall with the rain.”
On this version, singer’s voice sounds in a rush and overloaded, but the end is climactic.
10. “Careless Memories” [live]
New Romanticism drifts throughout this song. Memories of a love are scattered by lies that still hurt, even though time has passed, because he hasn’t forget her yet.
Where are you now ’cause I don’t want to meet you
I think I’d die
I think I’d laugh at you
I know I’d cry
What am I supposed to do, follow you?
He tries to look strong and haughty to avoid pain, but reality is shown between his fingers.
11. “Girls On Film” [live]
Relying on the technology of the time, the sound of the camera clicking that opens the song had to be recreated every time “Girls On Film” was played live. Nick Rhodes was a big fan of photography and had a sweet spot for the Nikon brand.
This is their most tempting video ever, with girls fulfilling fantasies of porn movies: lesbo kisses, toplessness, oil massages, and cold showers.
12. “Rio” [live]
Her name is Rio and she dances in the sand…
In the video for this song, the temptress Rio seduces every member of the group just to abandon them all; Nick Rhodes is the one that resists best. As he recalls, “all I could think of is that I was damaging my Anthony Price suit.”
Arena by Duran Duran
“Is There Something I Should Know” [live]
“Hungry Like The Wolf” [live]
“New Religion” [live]
“Save A Prayer” [live]
“Wild Boys” [new studio track]
“The Seventh Stranger” [live]
“The Chauffeur” [live]
“Union Of The Snake” [live]
“Planet Earth” [live]
“Careless Memories” [live]
“Girls On Film” [live]