Duran Duran’s ‘The Wedding Album’ Turns 20: Backtracking
Robbie Daw, February 22, 2013
Backtracking is our recurring look back at the pop music that shaped our lives. Friends may come and go, but we’ll be spinning our favorite albums forever.
The first half of the 1980s was good to Duran Duran. The English group, relatively unknown in 1981, were one of the acts to ride the crest of the original MTV wave. They subsequently became pinup boys for the New Romantic movement as their exotic videos for “Hungry Like The Wolf,” “Rio,” “Save A Prayer” and “Union Of The Snake” translated into bona fide global chart hits. Two American #1 singles followed: the Nile Rodgers-remixed “The Reflex” and the James Bond theme “A View To A Kill” (incidentally, the final such 007 track to top the Hot 100, to-date).
The latter half of the ’80s was quite another story. The Fab Five splintered when members Roger and Andy Taylor departed, leaving frontman Simon Le Bon, keyboard player Nick Rhodes and guitarist John Taylor to forge on as a trio. Guitarist Warren Cuccurullo was eventually drafted into the band, but the hits were becoming few and far between. Liberty, the band’s sixth studio album, stiffed on the charts in 1990, and it seemed Duran Duran were set to be remembered as a mere footnote of the 1980s.
What happened next defied all music industry expectations. Head below as both Idolator and Nick Rhodes look back at the band’s self-titled 1993 album.
That’s right — self-titled. Though Duran Duran’s seventh LP, released on February 23, 1993, was technically called, well, Duran Duran, it quickly was dubbed by fans, the media and the group’s members alike as The Wedding Album, given that the cover art, designed by Nick Egan, features all four band members’ parents on their respective wedding days.
Reflecting on Duran Duran’s collective mindset at the time, Nick Rhodes tells Idolator, “It was a much stronger album than our previous album, which was the Liberty album. If at any point in our career I felt that we were struggling to find a direction, that would be it. And with The Wedding Album, we went back to songwriting and to really trying to match the music with a lyric that touched people emotionally. And I think we were certainly successful with songs like ‘Ordinary World’ and ‘Come Undone’.”
So, about that early stateside crossover success Duran Duran had thanks to MTV? Let’s just say that 10 years later, the quartet was not only disillusioned with the network’s decision to focus less on music videos and more on original programming like Beavis And Butt-head and House Of Style, they were also, perhaps as a result, ready to indict the cable channel for their own fall from grace.
“Destroyed by MTV, I hate to bite the hand that feeds me so much information,” Simon Le Bon snarls on “Too Much Information,” arguably one of the greatest album openers of the ’90s. Later he plants tongue firmly in cheek and adds, “We covered all the angles, the survey people say / just put us on the cover, we’d be smiling anyway / this video was made with love for you!”
Rhodes notes, “‘Too Much Information’ was written really about MTV, and MTV becoming less of a music channel and about the fact that you can give away too much. You lose your mysticism. I think when I was a kid and we were growing up listening to David Bowie or Roxy Music, you didn’t know so much about them. You’d read possibly everything you could or see new photos that would come out. But you didn’t have a Twitter feed where you’d find out what they were having for lunch. And so it has changed an awful lot. Some of it for sure is much better. The fact that we can get everything instantly is extraordinary. But the overload is mind-boggling.”
Despite the scathing lyrics, MTV welcomed back Duran Duran with open arms. By early 1993, The Wedding Album‘s lead single, the haunting “Ordinary World,” was in the network’s heavy rotation lineup.
“I very much remember the instant that we stumbled across [the song],” Nick Rhodes tells Idolator. “We were just jamming in our studio in Battersea. Warren and I played some chords together that just sort of crescendoed in this fantastic way, and Simon jumped on it. He got the melody almost instantly, which was the chorus. At that point — it was one of those where you just sort of feel the hairs on the back of your neck rising — we knew that there was something musically powerful about it.”
Indeed, “Ordinary World” instantly connected with the public worldwide, despite the mass consumption of all things grunge and hip hop at the time — not to mention the song’s dark subject matter.
“[Simon had] the idea to write the lyric about a friend who had sadly died of an overdose,” Rhodes explains while reminiscing about “Ordinary World” and its recording. “He was deeply affected by it and it poured out in this song about trying to find your balance in the world after things happen around you that have such profound effect. I think the key was matching that with the emotion in the music. Warren, of course, came up with the most extraordinarily beautiful guitar line for the intro. Everything just tied together. The orchestration on it to me was, in part, slightly Beatle-esque — which, if you’re in a band and you write songs, it’s hard to avoid some kind of Beatles influence somewhere along the line. It definitely felt like a very classical song but with a very modern sound to it in that period.”
By the spring of 1993, “Ordinary World” had not only reached #3 on the Hot 100 — the band’s highest placing on the main singles chart in six years — the song proved to be a Top 10 smash in various other countries, including Canada, where it climbed all the way to the top. Suddenly, MTV veterans Duran Duran found themselves just as relevant (again) as then-mainstays Nirvana, En Vogue and, um, Michael Bolton.
“I think it is still the best lyric Simon’s every written,” Rhodes says now, “and he’s written a few that I’m quite proud of.”
For the follow-up single, the band and their label opted for “Come Undone,” another moody track. Noted for its snaky guitar effect, hypnotic drum hook (one of many at the time to employ a sample from The Soul Searchers’ “Ashley’s Roachclip”) and Julien Temple-directed music video shot at the London Aquarium, “Come Undone” curiously began as a song intended for a side project Nick Rhodes was toying with.
He tells us, “It was something that Warren and I started writing alongside some other stuff that we’d been playing around with, and Simon came in and heard what we were doing. He said, ‘Wow, I love that!’ And so it became a Duran Duran song. [Simon] came up with a really great melody — we already had the ‘can’t ever keep from falling apart’ section — and he very quickly made it his, or himself part of it.”
The results: Another Top 10 hit that kept Duran Duran on the airwaves through the spring and summer of 1993, helped buoy The Wedding Album‘s chart fortunes and ensured that their upcoming tour would be a well-attended one. Not bad for a song that almost didn’t make it onto the album.
“It’s one of the very few songs that we’ve ever written, certainly whilst John was in the band, that he didn’t play on,” Rhodes says. “And he plays it beautifully live. I wish he had played on it in the studio, but he was in LA and we were all in London. It was the last piece of music to be added to the album, so it was really almost an afterthought: ‘Hey, we’ve written this and it’s pretty good. We should put it on the album.’ And so the story goes. It was done quite quickly. We had most of it done in a day.”
For the most part, Simon, Nick, John and Warren’s commitment to strong songwriting with this project ensured that The Wedding Album would not only carry Duran Duran out of the mere “nostalgia act” category in 1993, but also that the record itself would stand the test of time.
Oddball track “Love Voodoo” is still as creepy and timeless in 2013 as it was in 1993. (“You peel me like an onion skin and then wonder at the state I’m in / one day you’ll turn up to begin and find there’s nothing left but innuendo,” Le Bon menacingly sings atop a mesmerizing beat and thrumming bass.) Elsewhere, “Breath After Breath,” a duet with Brazilian singer Milton Nascimento, shuffles along pleasingly on its samba-rock vibe, while “Femme Fatale,” one of the album’s few slowed-down moments, is swathed in layers of ear-catching, glorious instrumentation.
The Wedding Album‘s final seven minutes are comprised of the funky, Prince-esque jam “Sin Of The City.” Lyrically, Le Bon details the real-life fate of Happy Land, a Bronx nightclub that was set ablaze by a Cuban refugee in March 1990, thus leading to the deaths of 87 attendees inside. Grim subject matter that might not have seemed like your older brother‘s standard Duran Duran fare back in the ’80s, but the guitar work here by John Taylor and Warren Cuccurullo is relentless, as well as astonishing.
If the record’s opening track “Too Much Information” was taking MTV to task for using up and spitting out the acts that propelled the channel to success during the previous decade, final number “Sin Of The City” was calling out the whole human race for at least not owning up to its innate dark side. “We are given angry heart but anger’s not enough (you’re wasting your people),” Le Bon laments amid a dizzying orgy of guitars.
When asked if he felt there was a chance The Wedding Album would bring about Duran Duran’s comeback upon its release in February 1993, Nick Rhodes comments, “I don’t think you ever expect it at any point in your career. But we were hugely grateful that the record broke through on that level… There’s also a lot more experimentation on the album, which is something I think we lacked a little on the Liberty album. There are things on there like ‘Shotgun’ and ‘Drowning Man’ that definitely have that dance loop feel to them.”
Modern sounds, the right amount of experimentation and solid songwriting on The Wedding Album allowed for these onetime new romantics to capture the imagination of the Real World generation and match the expectations of their longtime fan base.
“Looking back, it doesn’t seem like [it’s been] 20 years,” Rhodes says at the end of our conversation. “But I definitely think it’s one of our strongest albums.”