Back to glorious '82! This was Duran Duran's wake-up call for the 80s, and it struck like a bomb. Punk and disco were finally put to rest, and along came the New Wave / New Romantic movement. So slip into your Antony Price leisure suit with matching pastel tee, fix yourself a Chi Chi, get out the coke (and I don't mean the sugary stuff from Atlanta), and prepare for sheer 80s bliss...
Rio is generally considered the quintessential 80s album, brought to you from the erstwhile kings of New Wave decadence and teenie girl idols, Duran Duran. Arguably their finest album, it became a worldwide bestseller, reaching the #1 and #2 spots in Australia and the UK, respectively, while going gold and even double platinum in the US. No mean feat considering it was only DD's second album, and this inspite of its mixed reception by critics at the time. This was the album everybody bought but few admitted to owning at the time. :^)
The distinctively glamourous covergirl by artist Patrick Nagel already sets Rio apart from contemporary releases and qualifies it as a classic. Better known to "readers" of Playboy magazine for his kinky illustrations for the Advisor Column, Nagel thankfully operated in exceptionally good taste here. The piece was one of two commissioned by DD's manager, Paul Berrow, and later also came to be known as Texas when it subsequently went on exhibit in Dallas. The alternative cover (unsmiling and sultry as typical for Nagel) appeared on the Japanese issue of My Own Way. British graphic designer Malcolm Garrett of Assorted Images did the layout around Nagel's artwork, creating an icon of album cover art.
Bearing the artist's trademark features (wavy jet black mane, bone white teint, vaguely delineated nose, scary slash earrings, colourful streamers, and jaunty pastel hues), the Nagel Babe exudes sex appeal in no uncertain terms, setting the tone for the musical content: nine exuberant, at times even ethereal, heavily synth-driven tracks. Rio is bold, brash, and beautiful; it is the epitomy of glamour-pop, exuding the very essence of 80s chic like no other (and by god, do we miss it). From its packaging to the music, everything about this album is polished to perfection; shiny new music for a shiny new decade!
Duran Duran allegedly lived out the slick playboy lifestyle they portray in this album and its groundbreaking (?) videos; fancy yachts, exotic locations, wanton lust, and bodypainted feral women in unnatural poses. It's conceivable that both DD and PN helped themselves to generous servings of yuppie snow for creative spark; how else can you explain the Nagel Babe's leery grin, breaking with the tradition of icy aloofness pravelent in the artist's other works? (Must be the "cherry ice cream smile" the title track refers to...)
I remember when Rio hit (and I do mean hit) the record shops in Australia. To be honest, I wasn't impressed by the title track, which I found rather silly, particularly the video (how's that for a discerning 12-year-old?), and Hungry Like the Wolf, while actually an ace song, was simply played to death in the media. I wasn't swept up by the hype and didn't really care for DD. The memorable album cover kept popping up whenever I flipped through the record shelves, but I consistenly dismissed it as "80s drivel", and its memory faded over the years.
My attitude toward DD has mellowed somewhat since then. Having recently rediscovered some of the music from my youth (read: big time 80s revival), I found Rio on several "definitive albums of the 80s" lists, and managed to pick up a copy. I simply wanted to find out what all the fuss was about.
I was dumbstruck.
What you have here is a stunning lineup of early 80s pop songs which exhibit consistently high production value. The lush soundscape is plastered with arpeggiated Roland Jupiter synths, multilayered vocals, and frantic beats, all supported by a prominently funky bass. The arrangements tend to be remarkably complex and versatile for pop material. It's clear that behind DD's brash Pommy Poofta antics lurked true talent and rock solid songwriting. DD proved they could also effectively contrast their catchy pop numbers with haunting ballads like Save A Prayer and Lonely In Your Nightmare.
Side one is clearly the danceable side (Hungry, Rio, My Own Way), while side two is more restrained and brooding (Save a Prayer). The Chauffeur is a rather sinister standout track that doesn't really fit in with the rest of the mix. My personal fave, Lonely In Your Nightmare, is also a refreshing departure from the usual over-the-top DD sound.
My only niggle (and it's a slight one) are the lyrics, which border on Dadaism at times:
"Doo dododo dododo dododo dododo doo doo..." (Hungry Like The Wolf)
"Someone's kid just lives for today, ain't your problem anyway..." (My Own Way)
While some tracks are more or less straightforward in their interpretation, the ambiguous and downright bizarre lyrics of Hungry seem to suggest, if anything, a study in seething horniness (just listen closely before the fadeout). And what the hell does "sing blue silver" mean? But I'm nitpicking here: if the music's in focus, who cares? For sheer entertainment value this album is a hard act to follow. Look elsewhere if you crave profundity or the meaning of life...
Alas, time has moved inexorably on (todo: develop shellscript to reverse space-time continuum). DD's subsequent albums couldn't recapture the magic of Rio, and their star began to wane in the mid to late 80s after being decimated to a trio. Meanwhile, the legions of teenie girls who worshipped them have now grown up. PN met an untimely and ignominious demise only two years after the album's release when he suffered a heart attack aged 38 (!) after participating in a celebrity "aerobathon" to benefit the (drum roll) American Heart Association! What we're left with is the music and PN's commemorative silkscreens (now coveted collector's items).
This album really took me by surprise so many years after its release. I've had to revise my (admittedly biased) opinion. The truth of the matter is that the tracks that weren't released as singles (or received little airplay) are of comparable, if not superior quality to the well known tracks Hungry and Rio (the somewhat slower album version of My Own Way is IMHO also groovier than the single). This level of consistent quality is rare on a pop record of any era.
The other surprising aspect of this record is its enduring appeal to this day, which I can now fully appreciate: it still sounds as fresh today as it did in '82! It has matured gracefully into a coveted 80s gem. Now how many pop albums can make that claim?
This is intoxicating stuff. Beware: as with coke, you might just find yourself seriously hooked... :^)