534. ‘The Reflex’, by Duran Duran

Birmingham’s finest return for their second chart-topper, with what might be the most obnoxious intro to a #1 single ever. Ta-la-la-la… The re-fle-fle-fle-fle-flex…! It’s brash, it’s in your face, it’s Duran Duran…

The Reflex, by Duran Duran (their 2nd and final #1)

4 weeks, from 29th April – 27th May 1984

I’m imagining Duran Duran as those annoying kids you’ll find in any school playground, the ones needing constant attention from whoever will give them it, demanding everyone watch as they dance and cartwheel around, while the quieter, more thoughtful kids go unnoticed… (I’m not reliving any childhood trauma here, honest…) The main hook – the wh-ay-ay-ay don’t you use it… – even sounds like a child’s taunt, as they stick their tongue out and wiggle their fingers in front of their nose. It’s also a pretty darn effective pop hook. Once it’s in your head, it’s there for the rest of the day.

‘The Reflex’ shouldn’t work. It’s a hot mess of a record. The foundation is standard Duran Duran: a solid bass line from John Taylor, and the same guitars from ‘Is There Something I Should Know?’ Simon Le Bon’s voice remains one that you need to be in the mood for. But on top of this they’ve chucked everything plus the kitchen sink. Steel drums, horns, choppy vocal effects, explosions… Some of it grates, but a lot of it sticks. Everything about it – from the way the band has cut up samples of their own lead singer’s voice, to their perfect mullets in the video – screams peak eighties. This song might actually be as ‘eighties’ as it ever gets. And something about its pure relentlessness carries it through to being a pretty decent tune.

Just what is ‘the reflex’, though? It is a lonely child, waiting in the park… and it’s watching over lucky clover… You must, at all costs, try not to bruise it. Apparently it has something to do with gambling. Le Bon has gone on record as saying that he’s tired of having to explain it, as he thinks song lyrics should retain their mystique. I’d hazard that he’s tired of explaining it because he hasn’t a clue what he’s been prattling on about all these years.

In the end, and just as it went when I was reviewing their first #1, the frown from my first listen slowly fades. By the fifth play I’m dancing on the valentine with the rest of them. If my two posts on Duran Duran have taught me anything, it’s don’t overthink them. Just go with the flow and enjoy yourself.

You might think a band so synonymous with this decade would have had more than just the pair of #1 hits. Still, this was their 8th Top Hit in three years, and they’d have four more before the end of the decade (including one of my favourite Bond themes). They’ll also have a couple of Top 10 comebacks: in the ‘90s with one of their best songs (‘Ordinary World’) and in the mid-00s, when synth-rock had had a big resurgence in the charts and they were suddenly the elder statesmen of the genre…

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518. ‘Is There Something I Should Know?’, by Duran Duran

From Michael Jackson, past ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, to Duran Duran. Our head-first jump into the heart of the 1980s continues…

Is There Something I Should Know?, by Duran Duran (their 1st of two #1s)

2 weeks, 20th March – 3rd April 1983

Please please tell me now! It’s an aggressive intro, as Simon Le Bon pleads, again and again, while those trademark eighties drums blast through the speakers. In come some jangly, filtered guitars, and an insistent, galloping beat. This is a record that grabs you from the start, and doesn’t really give you a chance to decide whether or not it’s any good…

And it is a good record. After a few listens I’ve settled into it, and am spotting some cool touches. There’s a great bassline, for example, and a nice moment when, just before the choruses, everything fades apart from a pulsing synthesiser that sounds like it’s trying to send a message by Morse Code. I also like the soulful urge in the pre-chorus: With broken glass for us to hold, And I got so far before I had to say…

There are bits I’m not so hot on, though. The weird, harmonica-led ‘solo’ feels like a missed opportunity, and the line You’re about as easy as a nuclear war… jars as much in today’s world as it probably did forty years ago. I also find Le Bon’s delivery, as much as I like it in the chorus, a bit much in the verses. Although they have very different voices, it was the same with Limahl in Kajagoogoo’s ‘Too Shy’: there’s something about the new romantic style of singing that’s a bit too arch at times…

(Possibly the worst picture-sleeve yet? It looks like it’s been printed on a school jotter…)

Speaking of ‘Too Shy’, that was actually the first #1 that a member of Duran Duran had a hand in: it was produced by Nick Rhodes. Duran Duran, though, had been around for a lot longer than Kajagoogoo – ‘Girls on Film’ was their first Top 10 hit in 1981 – and would go on to have many more hits. And to me, speaking as someone who doesn’t know them away from the big hits, they are probably the quintessential mid-eighties band. The poster boys of New Romanticism and the 2nd British Invasion. Brash, loud (both musically and in their fashion), and a triumph of style over substance.

But I’m here to have my mind changed on that. I like ‘Is There Something I Don’t Know?’ I don’t love it, but there’s an endearing urgency to the song that sees it through. And in entering the charts at #1, it announces Duran Duran as the biggest band in the nation at this moment (and, unlike many of the biggest British acts since The Beatles, they were about to be huge the whole world over, too…)

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