Monday, January 18, 2010

Classic Album : Medazzaland

Well, where to being with a retrospective review of an album that was tricky to get hold of the first time around, and just about impossible to (legally) purchase now? At the start, I guess.

By the mid-90s Duran Duran were in a “difficult” spot. Having never really gone away (late 80s stuff had still sold well, despite the mega-selling Wedding Album and single Ordinary World being labelled as some sort of comeback) or taken much of a break the remaining original members of the band were experiencing some “tensions”, not helped by their record label EMI.

As some sort of “tension breaker” the band recorded a number of covers. Whereas the intention was for it to be a light-hearted bit of fun the record company got involved and complicated matters, including enforcing a contractually obliged tour to promote it. The band were not happy with touring it and the gigs were, by all accounts, awful, notable only for seeing which number bassist John Taylor stormed off the stage on.

John Taylor storming off wouldn’t be confined to an enforced tour as it turned out, as he effectively left the band after recording a handful of the tracks that would form the album Medazzaland. Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes, along with relative new-boy Warren Cuccurullo, finished the album and delivered it to EMI for release. Seemingly having enough of one of their biggest ever selling artists, EMI took the rather strange decision to give the album a (very) limited release in the USA and Japan only, effectively killing the release in the hope of dissolving the relationship with the band. They got what they hoped for.

There are two mysteries with the above. The first is why on earth did EMI decide to ditch the band, despite differences, when they had just given them the best full album since Rio? The second is, and I would imagine this one is covered by “ownership issues”, why didn’t the band take the album and release it through another label? Medazzaland is a fantastic album from start to finish. It’s one of the great music crimes of the 90s that it was never available to a wider audience.

Aspects of answers to the above include what was selling at the time, the way the band presented the material and indeed the fatal fate of their most famous fan. If it was released as scheduled it would have been up against the colossus, monstrous Oasis Be Here Now album, which was reported to be selling at a rate of one copy every four seconds on day of release. That doesn’t leave margin for people to but much else The artwork was certainly eye-raising too, with the band apparently considering it a good idea to have defaced images of John Taylor and the much cherished Rioalbum cover on it. Some could have taken that as them “trashing” their past.

Dabbing “Mid Price” all over it probably wouldn’t have made it all that appealing either; an act I interpret to be a go at the way EMI were treating them. Trust me on this note, there was nothing “mid” about the price I had to buy the album for in the end!

And finally, sadly, the album would have seen light of day around the time at the passing of their most famous fan, Princess Diana. This isn’t something many have picked up on in connection with Medazzaland, but for me it’s hard to see them avoiding some unfair negative comments about releasing an album with “Princess of my dreams” written all over it at the time.

Two of the tracks, in the form of singles, did at least make it to the ears of people outside the limited areas of release. Out Of My Mind, a haunting classic, featured on the soundtrack for the Val Kilmer film The Saint. Electric Barbarella, that cheeky, great pop tune that was a homage to the origin of the bands’ name, was released as a single, but it came with a video that was rather tricky for stations to play and thus the song really didn’t get as much airtime as it should have.

Medazzaland as suggested, though, is far more than the two songs listed above. There may be one or two oddities (the introduction track in particular), but in essence the album is 12 tracks of a band at their best. Perhaps it is the case that, with respect to John Taylor and all the other Taylors who left, Le Bon and Rhodes are the heart and soul of the band, and this is them presenting the sound they want to make, irrespective of the name it’s released under. To go through it track by track might be a bit much for this already lengthy post, but to highlight some, the dark, menacing Be My Icon, the beautiful acoustic lament of Michael You’ve Got A Lot To Answer For and the introspective Buried In The Sand stand up as some of the finest songs ever recorded by the band.

Duran Duran were always above average musicians and great with the lyrics (“you’re about as easy as a nuclear war”, anyone?), but rare is it since 1990 that these two factors have come together to deliver more than the sum of their parts. This very much happens on this album.

What has come after Medazzaland has been far from bad, it’s just not been as blessed with the creative, overwhelming sense of a band on form as this album. I was fortunate and wise enough to get my hands on a rather expensive import copy whilst on holiday in the UK at the time, and I can with confidence say it’s one of the best albums I own.

My usual advice in regards of a classic album would be to go out and buy it as soon as you can. As a quick search of the interwebnet suggests that it’s still not an easy album to find to buy at a sensible price this is rather tricky advice to give. The best I can do, then, is suggest that you exhaust all legal means to obtain the album, but get your hands on the album however you can…..

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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