Going on thirty years ago, if someone had told you that not only would Duran Duran still be around but that EMI would be issuing lavishly packaged (and fittingly period-appropriate) deluxe editions of their first five albums - first five! they survive past the first? - there's no way you'd believe them.
However, here we are in October 2010 and that's exactly what has happened. Rolled out in waves over the course of the past year, we have now been treated to multi-disc and -format editions of the five albums that Duran Duran - and, later, Duranduran - put out during the 1980's. In a very pleasant surprise, they were - for the most part - put together by someone who clearly did their research and offer plenty of bang for your buck...especially when you take the digitally available supplementary material. That's right - 2 CDs and a DVD a piece can't hold all the Duran-ness. Nerd alert!
The first to show its face was a 2-disc set of 'Rio' last Fall, which I've been over before. Pretty much everything about the set was perfect and gave high hopes for the rest.
Unfortunately, it was a bit of two steps forward, one step back from then on out. The first self-titled LP and 'Seven and the Ragged Tiger' joined us in the Spring and the cracks were already starting to show. First, the bad: the sound quality on these things is pretty wretched. Now, I'm no hardcore audiophile, though I am less than pleased with the so-called "loudness wars" and these things suffer big time. Forget taking it to 11 - this is taking it to about 15. And on top of that, there's the small matter of an audio glitch at the beginning of "Girls on Film" that causes a very noticeable stutter and false start to the track - something that would've taken about 15 seconds for QC to trim off with an audio editor. (Hell, I did it myself.) Even worse is EMI's knowledge of the error and refusal to fix it as it isn't part of the music or something like that. I beg to differ.
Anyways, if you're looking solely for an audio upgrade of these two, save your money. If you're looking for bonus material, boy are you in luck...for the first album, anyways. Disc one collects the period b-sides - all excellent, all readily available on the 'Singles 81-85' box and/or 3CD set, but all nice to have in one place. CD2 collections two sets of pre-album demos - no previously unreleased songs, but the demo of "Tel Aviv" is very, very different from the moody instrumental that we know and love - a BBC Radio Session with an early version of "Like An Angel" as a highlight, and a pair of extended mixes a piece for the album's two biggest singles. If you spring for the 3-disc edition, you also get a DVD with - *deepbreath* - the album's videos (including DVD debuts for "Careless Memories" - SO DATED - and "Night Boat"), a fluff day in the life featurette, and - best of all - a whole slew of period TV performances. Seriously, the Top of the Pops performance of "Planet Earth" makes the whole set worth it. The hair! The miming! Did I mention the hair! I mean, really, Simon has one little strand of his bangs crimped - amazing. It has to be seen to be believed. (I can say with all honesty that despite the pretty terrible sound and completely unforgivable audio glitch, that one performance made the whole purchase worth it.) On top of all of that, the whole thing comes packaged with five 5x5 postcards - one for each band member, obviously - and a replica of the poster that apparently came with the original Japanese LP, all packaged in a nice lift top box.
I really, really wish I could lavish similar praise upon 'Seven and the Ragged Tiger', my favorite Duran Duran album. (Yeah, what of it?) While there are no obvious audio glitches on the main album, it still suffers from insane brickwalling so an audio upgrade is out. It doesn't, however, have the bonus material to make it a must-have. There's a second disc, of course, but it is made up almost entirely of tracks available in the previously mentioned singles box - the only new to CD material are a pair of live tracks from the US "Reflex" 12". No demos, no newly unearthed alternate mixes, nothing previously unreleased at all. Rumors of a set of demos for this album have floated around for years and this would have been the perfect time to roll some of those out. Boo!
The DVD is also not nearly as exciting. Similar to the first DVD, it contains the album's videos (all of which were on 'Greatest') and a pair of Top of the Pops performances for "Is There Something I Should Know" and "The Reflex". By this point, though, the fame machine has obviously taken its toll on the boys and these performances are nowhere nearly as fun to watch - you can very clearly see they're just going through the motion because they've made the charts yet again. Rounding out the DVD is the digital debut of 'As The Lights Go Down', the concert-only version of the "Arena" movie. I'm personally not a big fan of watching concert films so my enjoyment of this one was limited - I watched it for a bit before ripping the audio and adding it as a third disc to the playlist on my iPod. It does come in a similarly nice box to the first album, so that's a plus, but I can't really recommend this one.
Both of the sets are supplemented in the digital world with a period concert. Sadly, the 'Seven and the Ragged Tiger'-era choice was merely an audio version of 'As The Lights Go Down'. However, I would highly recommend the BBC concert chosen to represent the debut - "Late Bar" and "Khanada" both get airings, as well as an early version of "Last Chance On The Stairway". Well worth the $10 for the download.
If 'Seven and the Ragged Tiger' is my favorite Duran Duran album, 'Notorious' is a close second and it received the deluxe treatment a few weeks ago. It was rumored a few years back for its 20th anniversary, so we've - or, I've - been waiting for this one for a while. Similar to the 'Seven and the Ragged Tiger' set, the audio portion of the release offers nothing in the way of previously unavailable material. It does, however, provide the CD release of the main mixes from the "Mastermixes" 12", which is nice to have. (The dubs are available digitally - more on that later.) DVD-wise, there's the period videos (DVD debut for "Meet El Presidente"), a TOTP performance of the title track (which is more fun than the 'Seven'-era performances but still not up to those around the debut) and the 'Working For The Skin Trade' concert film. A pair of group shots replace the departed Taylors on the postcards in the box - thank you for some level of consistency, even if everything doesn't match up - and you've got a very nice package for an underrated album.
There is a bit of a bright spot - and I mean a bit. The sound quality has been fixed...kind of. They're still brickwalled, but the kind folks at EMI have very nicely dropped the maximum level a few dBs so they're not as loud. Well, it's a start, though still not a worthwhile audio upgrade.
Finally, 'Big Thing' joined the group along with 'Notorious'. I can't lie - I love this record as well. It's a total mess and doesn't really accomplish what the band set out to do - to be taken more seriously, I suppose - but it's all the better for it. Also, they've restored the original version of "Drug" to the running order, however it was apparently always available as a bonus track on most previous CD editions as the Marshall Jefferson Mix. I think. The wording on exactly what they did here - included in a personal note from John Taylor on one of the sets post cards - is a bit confusing and I'm not entirely sure I got that right.
The bonus material is a bit hit and miss. The good: a new-to-us 7" and 12" mix of "Big Thing" (which, it seems, was going to be a single at one point) and a 6+ minute version of the sole original b-side for the period, the lovely "I Believe / All I Need To Know". The not so good: the tracks that aren't extended mixes of the singles are just edits of album tracks and/or terrible spoken word pieces used in the tour, and they were all in the second singles box. Not a 'Seven and the Ragged Tiger'-esque failure and, to be fair, they were merely collecting what was released at the time, but it is kind of disappointing to be reminded of these things.
The DVD once again collects the videos (DVD debut for "Do you believe in shame?", which was the wrong third single choice if ever there was one) and a new to home video live concert filmed in Milan.
On the digital side, there are once again period concerts available - fortunately, neither of them duplicate what's on the DVD this time. Even better, each contains at least one song from at least one of the side projects done Duran-style - the 'Notorious'-era show features Arcadia's "Election Day" and Power Station's "Some Like It Hot" and 'Big Thing' rolls out the latter's cover of "Bang A Gong (Get It On)". Also available this time are remix EPs to collect the mixes that didn't fit on the physical sets. The 'Notorious' EP gets an alternate mix or dub for each of the three singles as well as "American Science" and "Vertigo (Do The Demolition)", while the 'Big Thing' EP collects the dub of "I Don't Want Your Love' (why, why, WHY wasn't this called "I Don't Want Your Dub"?) and a trio of "All She Wants Is" dubs. They're both borderline overkill - OK, three dub mixes of "All She Wants Is" is totally overkill - but they're nice to have available if you want them.
(It's worth noting that Arcadia's "So Red The Rose" received a similar 2CD/1DVD reissue after the first three but before the last two - chronological correctness! - but it was packaged in a standard fat-boy case rather than a lavish box. Regardless, it collects pretty much everything you could want related to the Arcadia project - I'm not entirely sure there's anything not included but I'm sure someone could prove me wrong - and is worth tracking down as well.)
So overall, a far nicer treatment of the Duran Duran back catalog than could have been reasonably expected and - despite a few issues - a very lovingly and well-put-together set of reissues. I highly recommend all but 'Seven and the Ragged Tiger' - if you're even thinking you want them, you probably do - though can you really have that gap in the middle where it should be? (They're starting to pop up second hand, so that might be your best bet for that one.)
I don't normally say this, but please stop the campaign now. I really don't want to feel pressured into buying a 3-disc set for 'Liberty'.