it's all too much

As (long) promised, this week brought us the physical release (and digital re-release) of last December's shockingly amazing 'All You Need Is Now' from Duran Duran - also known as the band who refused to die. ("Planet Earth" came out 30 years ago - THIRTY YEARS - and they're still here. Whod'a thought?)

The good: it's still incredible and "Girl Panic!" will go down as one of the greatest songs of the decade, mark my words.

That out of the way, they've totally made a mess of the entire thing. First off, as feared, they've made the album too long by mixing in five new songs with the original nine. (9 tracks is the perfect length for a Duran Duran album as the first three LPs - and 'Notorious'-minus-"Winter Marches On" - will attest to.) That's not to say the new songs aren't quality. We've had "Medeterranea" as part of an EU-only iTunes EP since the album came out and it's still great in it's second-side-of-the-first-LP kind of way. Even better is the fantastically titled "Too Bad You're So Beautiful", which is essentially "Girl Panic!"'s twin sister - one wonders if I would be raving about it as much as "Girl Panic!" if it had appeared in the original track list. My guess is yes. There's also "Other People's Lives" which is yet another track that would have sounded very comfortable on 'Seven and the Ragged Tiger', so a win. The last two are orchestral interludes based on the title track arranged by Owen Pallett, which are fine but a bit pointless - this is a Duran Duran BIG pop album not some epic concept album that needs pallet-cleansers (see what I did there?), so they do drag things down a bit.

The big culprit, though, is the formatting. What a fucking disaster. For years, fans have been "rewarded" with different bonus tracks being available through different distributors or distribution methods but this has to be the worst case of fucking the fans over by far. Depending on where you buy the album in the UK, you get either the 14-track expanded album, one bonus track and a bonus remix, a different bonus track, yet a different bonus track, or the first two bonus tracks plus a bonus disc with two additional remixes. In the US we're slightly luckier with only four options: the straight-up 14 track album, a 15-tracker with one of the UK bonus tracks, a 16-track CD with the same bonus track and one of the remixes from the UK bonus disc (but NOT the one from the bonus track/remix pairing in the UK - got that?), or a 17-track disc with all three studio bonus tracks but no remixes only available at Best Buy. (This is, as far as I can tell, the only way to get two of those tracks on CD as they're digital only in the UK.) The other two remixes are MIA as of now in the US, as is the mentioned-by-name-by-Nick-Rhodes-in-an-interview fourth bonus track entitled "This Lost Weekend" which is on none of the myriad of options presented above for either country. (Fitting, I suppose.) There's a DVD with some of those different configurations up there with your typical EPK type crap plus a band commentary on the main 12 tracks of the album, but that gets kind of lost in the bonus track mania.

*deep breath*

Not done yet. Best Buy has the best option, so off I go to do some shopping. Well, someone somewhere fucked something up and there are multiple SKUs for the album in their system - as best I can tell, for the 14-track version, the 15-track version and the exclusive 17-track version. The 17-tracker + DVD is being advertised in their ad for $11.99, which isn't terrible in this day and age, and when I show up in the store at 10:05 on Tuesday morning there's only one version on the shelf - 17 tracks but no mention of the DVD, though the packaging looks like it could be holding one. I don't care too much about the DVD - right? - so I'll take my chances. When I get to the cash register it rings up at $13.99. I feel a bit silly arguing over $2, but at this point I have already bought the album once back in December and am feeling a bit put out by this bonus track nonsense so I bring it to the cashier's attention. We have to go back to the shelf to look at the shelf-tag and the SKUs don't match - ugh. I point out this is clearly the version being advertised in the circular - hoping she won't notice that the DVD isn't explicitly mentioned on the packaging, which she doesn't - but she has to call her supervisor over to ask. Fine, I work in retail I get it - but then she gives me the run around for a good five minutes about how it's a different version (it's not), that it's not the one being advertised in the ad (which is the same argument, and it is) and we putz around on the computer for a while trying to figure it out. She eventually begrudgingly gives it to me for $11.99 - along with a side dish of attitude - and pulls every other copy off the shelf to "try and figure out what's going on". I've read and heard similar stories so way to stay on top of things, Best Buy. (Granted, I'm sure the new Duran Duran album is not their top priority, but if you're going to be the exclusive retailer of something you really should get your shit together.) There also is apparently a pressing issue with some batches of the Best Buy version where the last half of the album is riddled with digital noise but I thankfully didn't experience that. There's commentary on the decline of the music industry somewhere in there but I can't even be bothered at this point.

So now we get the three bonus tracks and how are they? Bonus track-y. "Too Close To The Sun" is pure 'Astronaut' - fine by me, I still maintain it is a fine album - sounding a bit like one of the dubbier mixes of "(Reach Up For The) Sunrise". That said, it is a bit out of place with the rest of the album. "Early Summer Nerves" sounds to me like what I wanted 'Red Carpet Massacre' to be - a modern update of 'Notorious' - so I love it, even if it is a bit short and also out of place. "Networker Nation" - the bonus track that appears on the most versions of the album if you're trying to keep score at home - is the one true mis-fire, with it's mention of "Facebook friends" and terrible modern club beat. Ugh. If I recall, none of the three were part of the sessions with Mark Ronson that produced the main album, being completed with different producers after the fact and it really shows. (It also doesn't bode well for the future, but we'll worry about that when we get to it.)

End result? Still one of my favorite albums of the past few years and one that I have a feeling I'll be coming back to for a long time to come. Your best bet is to keep at least a playlist with the original 9 track running order and then play around with the extra tracks to make a solid companion EP. And, while I don't generally condone this kind of thing, steal the fuck out of whatever bonus track(s) your edition doesn't have because this is bull. shit.

Duran Duran have no right to be this good in this day and age, but that's what makes the whole thing so fun. I really, really wish I had been able to get tickets to the show at the Phoenix in Toronto next month - it's going to be a total blast.


build a disappointment boys!

The new Elbow album leaves me underwhelmed, and that makes me sad.

Now, let's be fair - it's been out for only a few weeks so this is first impressions and all. That said, this is the first time in five albums that I feel like something is missing. What's that something? I don't know, but it was something of which the other four have plenty to spare.

It brings me back to my first listen to 'Cast of Thousands'. It was possibly my most anticipated album of 2003, following the note-perfect 'Asleep In The Back' as it did, but I was also a little nervous, as it was following the note-perfect 'Asleep In The Back'. The digital release of "Ribcage" ahead of the album was the first time I paid for a download and I remember being incredibly impressed, a bit confused and sort of disappointed in it all at the same time. Certainly not an easy track for a comeback single, but after a few listens it sunk in and revealed itself to be the stunner it is. Then came the album and I had a similar response - not as good as 'Asleep In The Back'! But, it wasn't trying to be. It's a completely different beast and that confused me. Repeated listens over the next few days brought me around to it but, right or wrong, that initial impression still shapes my feelings about the album. Forced to pick, I rank it as my least favorite Elbow full length. (Or, rather, did.)

That initial insane expectation shattered and somewhat met, 'Leaders of the Free World' and I had an easier time on our first meeting. Then came 'The Seldom Seen Kid' and it was quickly apparent that this was the album they had been trying to make for the past two but hadn't quite been able to reach. They'd arrived and created their second masterpiece.

Which, of course, gives us new troubles for 'build a rocket boys!', following the (almost) note-perfect 'The Seldom Seen Kid' as it does. (Its flaws - tiny as they are - are part of its charm.) It's hard to pinpoint what it is about the album that doesn't sit well with me, especially because every time I think: "this isn't working", I realize that it was a brave move on their part and I appreciate them more for it. (Right? Right.)

There's one thing that I know for sure does not work for me and it was painfully obvious on my first listen to the track: "Neat Little Rows" is not very good. Here's why: it is little more than an attempt - conscious or not - at a "Grounds For Divorce" retread, itself not their finest single. It starts out well enough with its driving bass line and treated vocals, but the chorus brings it to a grinding - or should I say - pounding halt. It's all "bang bang bang bang" while the descending piano line really drags the song down with it - a bit like driving a car at top speed during the verse and then slamming into the brick wall of the chorus. All of this isn't helped by the immediate recall of the perfection of "The Bones Of You" with the lyrical imagery - not the same sentiment by any means but I instantly go there when I hear it and/or see the single sleeve. I hate to say it, but it's the first not good Elbow single. *tear*

As for the rest, here's where it gets tricky. It's all a bit flat, but that probably wasn't the worst idea after the bombast of "The Seldom Seen Kid". This, of course, is going to make the album more of a grower than a shower, but continued attempts to pull more out of it reveal little to nothing. It starts out promising enough - epic opener "The Birds" takes the swamp-rock "Grounds For Divorce" admirably attempted but came up a tiny bit short and runs with it for 8 minutes without overstaying its welcome by a second. Even though it could only come first, it doesn't really play nice as an opener and sets up the very strange flow of the rest of the LP. "Lippy Kids",while lovely, is too much of a whisper to follow such a shout and feels a bit wasted as the second track, and the jarring transition into the more upbeat "With Love" lessens the impact of both. (Also: poor use of the choir in "With Love" - it sounds cheap rather than uplifting.)

"Jesus Is A Rochdale Girl" sits uncomfortably in the middle, being even more subdued than "Lippy Kids", and no amount of Guy Garvey's way with a turn of phrase can hide that there's no tune here. "The Night Will Always Win" stretches a good idea out for too long, repeating an amazing sentiment - "I miss your stupid face" indeed - to the point where it ruins the impact. "High Ideals" does similar, except even after a dozen listens I can't recall a single line, just a slightly out of place mariachi band and orchestra arrangement.

Following that, though, is the stunner for me. "The River" is a bit like a fleshed out "Our Little Boat" and is totally gorgeous. It is as long as it needs to be at under 3 minutes just as "The Birds" needs all 8 of its minutes and there's not an extra note or voice to be heard. It's the "Presuming Ed (Rest Easy)", "Crawling With Idiot" and "Some Riot" of this album and, as of now, the only thing I truly love on it.

Up next is "Open Arms", such blatant attempt to re-write "One Day Like This" that it is very little surprise that it has been earmarked for second single. I don't think I'd go as far as saying I hate it, but - like "One Day Like This" and "Grace Under Pressure" before that - it is an Elbow song that is not meant for me. This fades to a bit of a pointless reprise of "The Birds", sung by an older man to suggest the passing of time that the album is (apparently) obsessed with - or something like that - but it comes off a bit hokey. The album closes with "Dear Friends", which is pleasant enough but certainly not strong enough to end the album.

It's heartbreaking, really, that this album does very little for me. Much like the mess of a PJ Harvey album, if the name wasn't attached to it I'm not even entirely sure I'd have made it through an entire listen. I realize I'm being incredibly nit-picky and am, perhaps, expecting a bit much from it, but they've shown in the past they are more than capable.