90. Duran Duran - The Reflex

As I've mentioned before, I've embraced my pop-perfect music side. So I was made for Duran Duran and they for me. But I'm not so myopic that I don't realize that as pop-perfect as many of their songs may be, they're not life-changing pieces of musical art. Nonetheless, Duran Duran had to be on this list. They've got tons of great songs, but "The Reflex" is the band at its pop perfection best.

Once again, though, I'm going to recommend a specific version of this song. It's the 7"remix version that Nile Rodgers did. Rodgers, who gained his first fame as a member of the disco/funk band Chic and then as a mega-producer (first with Madonna and later with the Duranies on their Notorious record). The album version of the song is good, but Rodgers took it to the next level with his remix. The 80's were the Renaissance in the history of remixes, and this version may not quite be a Michelangelo, but it's close. There's a 12" version of the remix as well, but this trimmed and fit version keeps all the great parts and removes the dance-club extras (and a superfluous four minutes as well).

Once again, musical purists may cry foul at my adding a remix version of a song for a list like this, but I've got the facts on my side. Go purchase Seven and the Ragged Tiger and Duran Duran's first greatest hits collection, Decade. Both have "The Reflex" on them. Listen to track one on Ragged Tiger. That's the album version. Now listen to track eight on Decade? Go ahead, I'll wait.......

See! It's the Nile Rodgers remix! Even Duran Duran admits that this remix is the definitive version of "The Reflex." So let's move on to the song itself and why I think it's so good.

The one great thing that Nile Rodgers did was to give all of the instruments a chance to shine. In 80's pop music, that didn't happen very much. It's fun to watch some of the old Wham! videos and wonder why Andrew Ridgley had a guitar when there wasn't any guitar sound in the song they were doing the video for. But with Duran Duran, they were all talented musicians who deserved to be heard. And Nile gave them the chance to be heard in his remix for "The Reflex." There's great guitar work that Andy Taylor provides that is lost in the original. Some really cool quick picking during the pre-chorus. John Taylor plays some really nice bass, but doesn't get so flashy that it detracts from the song. Don't get me started on how underrated a bass player John is, because I'll go to the mattresses for my boy. Nick Rhodes is one of the best atmospheric keyboard players I've ever heard, and that's a big compliment. The way he just adds layers to so many of their songs that you never really notice unless you're really paying attention is such a nice attitude to see, especially in the "Me Generation" of the 80's. Roger Taylor's (seriously, three unrelated Taylors in one band? What are the odds?) drum playing is crisp and punchy, just what a great dance song needs. Give a good listen to the choruses. You can easily pick out each instrument, but it's not so noticeable that it seems like all the musicians are saying, "Listen to me!"

Simon LeBon has a great pop singing voice. It may be a little weak for other types of music, but it works great for this kind of music. He probably gets too much flack for his voice and maybe some of it is deserved, but you don't need a great voice to be a great singer for your songs. Look at Bono. Great voice? Um, no. But it works for the kinds of songs U2 does. Same for Simon. He never tries to be what he isn't, and that's refreshing.

Okay, I've avoided it long enough. Talk about any Duran Duran song, and inevitably the conversation has to address the lyrics. What in the hell is Simon trying to say in any of them? I'm tempted to print them all here and just start a literary professor round table to try and find out what they mean. Two different examples:

You've gone too far this time
But I'm dancing on the valentine
I tell you somebody's fooling around -
With my chances on the dangerline

First line, okay, I get that? Second line? Uh, I know you can't really dance on a valentine, so what's that about? Somebody's fooling around, okay I get that. But what's a danger line? And is that one word or two?

and then...

Im on a ride and I want to get off
But they wont slow down the roundabout
I sold the Renoir and the TV set
Don't want to be around when this gets out

Again, first line - got it. Second line? Okay, I know what a roundabout is, like Columbus Circle in Manhattan, but what does that have to do with this ride Simon's on? Next line. Okay he sold the Renoir and the TV set. That makes sense, but really, if you've got a Renoir and you sell it, wouldn't you get enough money that you could keep the TV set? They sell for millions, right? And hell yeah, I wouldn't want to be around when it got out to whoever that I sold the Renoir. And the TV set. But what the hell does all this mean? They're all sentence fragments that individually make some kind of sense, but put them together and, uh..... I have no idea.

So, seriously, anyone who can decipher these cryptic lyrics, please do, because I am one lost soul looking for meaning in these cracks in the pavement. See? I just did it. It makes no sense. Chewbacca is a wookie... (that's not another lyrical non sequitur, it's a South Park inside joke).

But lyrics aside, give this song a listen. Try to let go of all your anti-Duran Duran preconceptions fall away and just enjoy a great pop song by a band that did tons of them. And if you got one, smoke it, 'cause then I'm sure you'll know exactly what the lyrics mean.

(Another aside. I just couldn't help myself. While doing some research on Amazon to make sure that I had the track numbers right in my above remix vs. album comparison, I came across this review of the Ragged Tiger album from a reviewer named A. Pollick "80's Chick." I just had to laugh at her lauding of Simon's lyrics. She must have had one and definitely smoked it, because she is down with Mr. LeBon's lyrical mastery. Here you go:

I'm a Duran Duran fan from way, way back. Like many of the reviewers here, I always felt that one of the band's strong suits had to be Simon Le Bon's lyrics. Nowhere is his gift more evident, to me, than on "Seventh Stranger." Here's just one example from that song: "A year of Sundays seems to have drifted right by, I could have sworn, in one evening."
I do think the album deserves a repeat listen lo, these many years later. I always felt that DD got a bum rap, simply because they came in on the same wave that brought in other, very lightweight, synthpop bands. But listen to their lyrics, folks. Here, they are second to none in the genre. George Michael probably still broods that he couldn't come up with comparable lyrics while in Wham!

I wish the band had decided to include "Secret Oktober" ("Union of the Snake" B side) in this album--it would have been a strong addition. The song is just over 2 minutes in length, but is a finely crafted work--again with incredible lyrics. "Racing on a shining plane--tomorrow we'll be content to watch as the lightning plays along the wires and you wonder..." It's an exquisite image.

DD was an unusual band for many reasons, not least of which was that each member of the group was good at what he did. I think that's borne out in this album, and in "Astronaut." Some bands have an instrumental weak link, but DD never did. But, because of some of the company they kept on the charts and in the clubs, somehow, a lot of the critics managed to overlook the talent, preferring to focus on their penchant for odd clothes and hair dye.
"Seven and the Ragged Tiger" is not a perfect album. But it is certainly in the top five of its genre. It also holds up surprisingly well this many years down the line. Even "The Reflex" really doesn't sound dated. The album deserves to be more than a musical footnote--it did define a sound. It's still worth a listen.

Some nice points there, but it was just perfect timing with the lyrics thing. AND she talked about Wham! How awesome is that?!)

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