Duran Duran – Pressure Off
I’m well aware of how completely out of touch I am with the modern way of marketing pop music. As we’ve discussed before with Brandon Flowers and Frida Sundemo, the current record company approach appears to be all about generating “buzz”, as opposed to a hit single. Presumably the purpose of this is to sell albums – and if that’s the case, then it certainly worked for Brandon. But I can’t help but think that an actual hit would be a more effective tool for shifting units, and where’s the risk these days anyway? It’s not like you’re going to end up with a warehouse full of unsold CD singles.
Still, I expect they know what they’re doing, so today I’m writing about a “buzz” track in the sincere hope that I have to take this post down one day because actually there was a grand masterplan all along to make it a massive hit single. All I know is that Pressure Off by Duran Duran has been available to buy on iTunes since the end of June, without pre-ordering the album. So that’s a single, right? But if it is, it hasn’t troubled the top 100. We are in, quite literally, uncharted territory.
At the risk of upsetting lots of hardcore Durannies – though I might be safe as it’s not 1982 any more – Duran Duran are one of the most frustrating pop groups ever, due to a peculiar “feast or famine” approach to quality control: they are either really really good or really really bad, with no room for plain old mediocrity. Please note I don’t say this with malice, nor as a secret Spandau Ballet fan with an agenda to push.
Their imperial phase – one of pop’s greatest – ended abruptly at the beginning of 1987 when their best ever single, Skin Trade, failed to crack the top 20, and for me they’ve lurched from amazing to awful ever since. For every Ordinary World there’s a White Lines (Don’t Do It), for every (Reach Up for the) Sunrise there’s a Someone Else Not Me. My internal pop clock has been telling me for some time that the pendulum was due to swing back towards brilliance, and so it has proved with Pressure Off.
Seriously, how amazing is that? It literally has every essential ingredient required for an awesome Duran Duran record – minimal bits with obtrusive synth spikes zig-zagging about, show off-y guitar work, a prominent girl (in this case a sterling turn from Janelle Monáe), meaningless lyrics and lots of lovely shouty Simon Le Bon vocal moments. And best of all, it has a pre-chorus, proper chorus and then – sensationally – a post-chorus which contains this year’s finest pop moment to date, which is quite simply this: “Oh oh oh oh oh oh / Oh oh oh oh”. This was always Duran Duran‘s greatest gift – the ability to make magic out of utter banality. I love them for it.
It’s really rather interesting that the era the group is revisiting here is the very one that was prevalent when they began shedding Taylors and the wheels started to come off their previously roadworthy bandwagon – the Nile Rodgers-helmed Notorious period of 1986/87 which yielded Skin Trade. But history has been kinder to that sound than contemporary record buyers ever were, and it’s withstood time’s ravages far better than subsequent albums Big Thing or Liberty.
In short, Duran Duran were really good at being funky – much more so than a bunch of Bellini-swigging, yacht-sinking white boys had any right to be. Nile Rodgers‘ production brought that funk, but it also added an element of cockiness and swagger to their sound that suited them completely. Of course being British we immediately decided to take them down a peg or two by transferring our loyalties to Curiosity Killed the Cat. That’ll teach us, eh?
Someone who clearly loved that particular era was Mark Ronson. Drafted in to produce 2010’s All You Need is Now album, I suspect he’s intent on creating a sort of parallel Duran Duran timeline, racing through their evolution in double quick time – so while that album re-imagined the band’s early sound, the new one, Paper Gods, looks like it’s timed by a clock that stopped in 1985/86 and has the cockiness knob set to 11. And look! There’s Nile Rodgers again, like he’s never been away. If you ask me, all of this is a smart move – when you’ve been around for 37 years you can either continue the struggle to innovate, or take all of the knowledge you’ve accumulated and use it do what you do best, only better. One approach leads to Confessions on a Dance Floor, the other to MDNA – I think we all know which is preferable. Thankfully it looks very much like we’re getting the former with Paper Gods.
So what’s going on here? Is Pressure Off going to get a video? Is there an even more brilliant track lurking on the album set to storm the charts? Will the label remember to tell anyone it’s available? Over to you, Warner Bros. No pressure…
Entered chart: did not chart (yet)
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Oh come on. Give an up and coming band a chance, eh? Those Bellinis won’t pay for themselves.