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Medazzaland 20th Anniversary

October 12th, 2017

It’s the name of a place, but not a physical place. More a state of mind.

Medazzaland.

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It’s not insignificant that the title of Duran Duran’s ninth studio album, released 20 years ago this week, is the name of such a place.

Medazzaland is transportive and, in its best moments, transcendent. It’s the band’s most Lynchian album; the surface might be dazzling, but darkness, sadness and strangeness lurk underneath. Largely absent are the pop comforts of Duran Duran past. This is no ordinary world, and we learn this quickly as the opening title track, featuring Nick Rhodes’ disturbing, dreamlike monologue, unspools.

“Big Bang Generation” brings us back to a more comfortable place. It’s what an attentive listener in 1982 might’ve imagined Duran Duran would sound like a decade and a half later with the turn of the millennium fast approaching.

The single “Electric Barbarella” — historically noteworthy as the first song ever to be sold as an audio download — is the peak of the album’s pop offerings, but even that track’s melodic neo-disco is subverted by its razor-sharp noise-guitar solo.

There’s an almost bipolar alternation between melodiousness and dissonance throughout Medazzaland, and though the album has its cheeky moments, it’s the band’s most downright serious release, as well as their most experimental.

There is an anti-pop brilliance to the mysterious “Silva Halo,” the stalker tale “Be My Icon” and the funny-but-kind-of-not-funny closing track, “Undergoing Treatment,” all of which eschew pop conventions in favor of an off-kilter darkness.

The album finds its true greatness in its most emotional moments: the classic pop-rock “Who Do You Think You Are?”; the haunting “Out of My Mind” and “Buried in the Sand”; and the back-to-back ballads “Michael You’ve Got a Lot to Answer For” and “Midnight Sun.” There is a gravity to these songs — a sense that they’re deeply personal lyrically, in addition to being compositionally brilliant — that elevates the entire album.

Medazzaland is my favorite album — by Duran Duran or anyone else. Listening to it now, though, I have to remind myself that I wasn’t so captivated by it on first listen. Melodies and instrumental lines that I now consider essential Duran Duran didn’t strike me as such immediately. And there’s a rough edge to the production that can be both endearing and frustrating. But repeated listening revealed an intricate work of art that, at its core, to me, is about humans trying to understand and connect with one another — sometimes tenuously succeeding, other times failing.

Those are my thoughts on Medazzaland looking back after 20 years. Nick, Simon and Warren offered their own stories about the album.

— Nathan Stack, October 2017

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What are your thoughts on Medazzaland‘s legacy and place in Duran Duran’s catalog?

Nick: I like the album. For me, the difference was that I wrote a lot of lyrics on Medazzaland because Simon had writer’s block; it’s not really “my baby,” but an album that I was more involved with on the writing side. Both Pop Trash and Medazzaland were more experimental, and while we were making Medazzaland, John had left, though he is on a little bit of the album.

There are some great songs, it holds up, and I like the sound of Medazzaland. It is definitely different than earlier albums, and we had issues getting a proper release in some countries. We also “broke up” with EMI during that time.

It was a tumultuous time for us; it was in question if Duran Duran would continue without any Taylors.

Simon: It’s not what I think of as one of our classic albums; it was the album that John left us on. It has some interesting things about it, for sure. The fact that it isn’t on Spotify works against it, I think, so it doesn’t get the interest a lot of our other albums have had. I think it’s unexploited.

I had some interesting experiences with it, but it’s like a “marmite” album — you either love it or hate it.

Warren: I love Medazzaland. I think it’s one of the best records we’ve ever done. It passed the 10-year test of time and is still going strong at 20.

What songs and moments from the album stand out to you the most now?

Nick: To me, the record has a lot of sadness. Simon wrote “Michael You’ve Got a Lot to Answer For” for Michael Hutchence, and not long after the release, Michael died. We stopped playing it live at a point because it was painful, so that stands out to me. I like “Big Bang Generation,” but not sure it holds up even though I like the energy. “Out of My Mind” held up really well … a gothic ghost story with a video filmed in the Czech Republic.

Other songs I really like:
“Buried in Sand” — Has an Eastern vibe; this track is about John leaving the band.
“Be My Icon” — This song is about obsession, which we know a lot about.
“So Long Suicide” — Simon wrote this song about Kurt Cobain’s death.
“Silva Halo” — A little poem I had and Simon liked it a lot. We opened the tour with it at several shows.

Simon: This was one of the most difficult albums for me, and the band wasn’t in a great place, nor was I.

Songs that stand out: I love “Undergoing Treatment,” which I think is a fantastic song. “Michael You’ve Got a Lot to Answer For” is a great song and straight from the heart, that one was. I like “Midnight Sun,” but it got ruined in the mix, in my opinion. I also love “So Long Suicide,” the vibe and lyric.

Warren: I still love the end of “Be My Icon”; it has lots of crazy delayed guitars. “Undergoing Treatment” is great! “Michael You’ve Got a Lot to Answer For” is gorgeous, “Electric Barbarella” has got energy, and Nick talks his way through the title track.

Simon’s dental visit led to the title of the album. I also remember John coming up with a great idea for what was to become “Who Do You Think You Are?” We were still wondering about the song and JT suggested we make a Christmas song out of it because KROQ in LA was doing a yearly Christmas show, and I think that was part of his thought behind it. Listen to the music, you can practically see snow in the intro! It’s a shame we didn’t go for it; I think it could have been very special.

Many of the lyrics seem deeply personal, including “So Long Suicide” and “Michael You’ve Got a Lot to Answer For.” What can you tell us about your writing process during the recording of the album?

Simon: It’s known that “Michael You’ve Got a Lot to Answer For” was about Michael Hutchence, who was alive when I wrote it. The song took on a deeper significance when he lost his life. “Who Do You Think You Are?” was about my relationship with Warren.

Warren: There’s three very personal lyrics on the album: “Out of My Mind,” “Buried in the Sand” and “Michael.” All of them are dealing with serious situations with real people in our circle. I never thought of this record as a downer, however — quite the opposite!

Do you see the songs forming any kind of theme for the album?

Nick: Chaos was theme of the record!

The record industry was changing, piracy was a hot topic, no one knew what would become of bands in general, and John leaving Duran Duran made it an unusual time in the band’s life. You get so far in life and, at times, you want to “rearrange the flowers” … this was one of those contemplative times, trying to figure out where we wanted to go. John’s departure was overwhelming; I don’t think I ever thought that moment would come. While I didn’t want it to happen, I understood his need to focus on his personal life. I had to let go, and at the end of the day, it worked out for all of us.

Simon: For me, the theme was trying to get it finished. There was some really great stuff on it, but managing to bring it home was difficult.

There has recently been a lot made of the fact that Duran Duran’s “Electric Barbarella” was the first song available to purchase and download online. What do you remember about that?

Nick: I am very proud that we were the first act to ever sell a track online. What I find most astounding — based on what I’ve read from the articles that have been put out online — is that there are people we don’t really remember working with jumping on the bandwagon. We knew about the technology, we were the ones approached by Liquid Audio and, from what I remember, Capitol Records did NOT like the idea. We negotiated with them for months, although there was one woman at Capitol who liked the idea. Nonetheless, they fought us, we had to get lawyers involved, etc. I knew it would be the future of music, and I wanted to be a part of it. I remember being in Abbey Road Studios and I pushed the button on the computer.

Simon: It happened, it was great, we were all really proud. We all felt, “Wow! This is an amazing thing.” I think we knew it was going to be the future, but not to the extent that it ended up being.

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If you could include any track from Medazzaland in a current set list, which song would it be?

Nick: I’d choose “Electric Barbarella” to play live now because of the song’s history, but if that didn’t matter, I may choose something very different, like “Be My Icon.”

Simon: Probably “Undergoing Treatment” because it is funny. The song is about being in a band that refuses to be killed off, personal ambition and trying not to listen when people say, “You’re over, you’re done,” and thinking, no, I am going to carry on.

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