Alright, mom. You finally broke me.
As a child, my mom blasted Duran Duran on our family’s old Ford Expedition radio countless times. While never connecting with me during those youthful times, she never strayed away from keeping her love for the band from myself or my brothers. If there are three musical acts you can link my mother too, it’s easily Duran Duran, P!nk and Gwen Stefani.
Over the past few years, I’ve come to admire the English new wave band for their recognizable sound, liberal use of synth layering and Simon Le Bon’s vocals.
Rio was the second record to come out of the group’s discography. Their self-titled debut record came out a year before and featured their first hit song “Girls On Film.” While provocative in the track’s nature, Duran Duran was able to use MTV and complex filmmaking styles for their music videos to really explode on the scene in the United States.
For those too young to remember, anecdotes I have heard of MTV in the 1980s compared the channel to that of a YouTube or visual Spotify or whatever streaming service you use today. This was the only way people our age during this time were able to access music. They couldn’t just preview music before buying a CD or vinyl record. They either had to wait hours for a song of their favorite artist to appear on MTV or they bought it blindly and hoped it was a good album.
The band’s self-titled debut may have not had all the hits to become that top-40 radio group, but their follow-up certainly changed that narrative.
Rio is essentially the synth-wave of all synth-wave albums and the original style that you heard recent albums throw it back to like The Weeknd on After Hours or Dua Lipa on Future Nostalgia.
The title track kicks the record off in grand fashion to set the tone for the assault of synths that strike your eardrums. Take it as you will, but for me, it works throughout the record. It could definitely be overwhelming for new listeners, but one has to understand that this record epitomizes what pop music was in the 1980s, but that’s not to take away from the group’s instrumental work as there are ripping guitar riffs on the track. “Rio”, on the surface, appears like a track of admiration for a specific woman, but it’s actually a metaphor for the band’s desire to succeed in the U.S. as they are from across the Atlantic Ocean.
The next two tracks aren’t standouts on the record, but I can appreciate the guitar work and Le Bon’s vocals on “My Own Way” and “Lonely in Your Nightmare.”
The fourth track needs no introduction as it’s probably in many people’s “Hall of Fame” for songs. Honestly, you’ve been hiding under a rock if you don’t know this track. Not only did I hear this song all the time in the car, but it was also featured in a film that sparks a lot of nostalgia in Big Fat Liar.
One would never consider a fairy tale being fun or something you’d envision dancing to in a song, but nonetheless, that’s what “Hungry Like the Wolf” is. Not only is it just an overall joy of a track with the glorious guitar work and layered futuristic synths, but the music video is another reason why the song is as big as it is thanks to the heavy influence drawn from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Again, nobody was evoking enticing visuals in their music videos quite like Duran Duran (before Michael Jackson’s Thriller).
Two of the more underrated tracks in Duran Duran’s discography are “Hold Back the Rain” and “New Religion.” The layering on the former expands what the band was accomplishing as the keyboard portions go absolutely bonkers on the track, but don’t take away from the band’s talents on your orthodox instrumentals.
“New Religion” plays out like an epic as there is an immense buildup to the hook with one of the grooviest bass lines I can remember listening to and these wailing synths defining the grand tone of the track. Not to mention, this is some of the group’s best songwriting as well.
Definitely not a terrible song, but “Last Chance on the Stairway” doesn’t expand on any ideas we’ve heard on the record already and could make many listeners feel as though they are just going to hear slightly altered versions of the same song to close out the record, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Two of my favorite Duran Duran songs come in the form of the closing tracks “Save a Prayer” and “The Chauffeur.” “Save a Prayer” definitely brings a more haunting vibe with the opening synthesizer and a bass carrying the song’s tone similar to Eminem’s “Stan.” I’d say it was one of their more experimental outings for their discography.
“The Chauffeur” closes the record out with this very unique instrument for a mainstream group in the Ocarina. It truly brings an iconic and unique sound that you won’t really hear on many radio tracks these days, or ever in pop music’s history. Once again, the group’s songwriting is at its peak with what sounds like a poem of a chauffeur being awestruck by a woman he is driving for. The track alludes to a classic fairy tale as well and encapsulates the grandeur of the record.
Again, Rio is a groundbreaking record, not only for its quality, but for Duran Duran marketing this record with the music videos for a majority of the songs on the album. Without MTV and the cinematic style for which the group accomplished on each video, I don’t think the band would be as popular as they were. Therefore, they should be appreciated for setting the tone of how modern music is marketing today, even though music videos are an afterthought for artists now.
Richest Tracks: “Rio”, “Hungry Like the Wolf”, “Hold Back the Rain”, “New Religion”, “Save a Prayer”, “The Chauffeur”
Worst Track: “Last Chance on the Stairway”
Listen to the album: