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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Duran Duran

Astronaut

Review by Gary Hill

Astronaut was Duran Duran’s reunion CD released a few years back. With a legacy like that group has you have to figure (if you are one of the guys in the band) that everything you release will be judged against your previous work. Sure, musicians grow and evolve (and as a result so does their music). But when your fans have become accustomed to a certain sound they can feel alienated if the band moves too far from that sound. Well, Astronaut is sort of a balancing act in that regard. Much of the disc works quite well in taking the classic Duran Duran sound and bringing it up to date. Where it fails is when it embraces electronica too much. Even then, though, it’s still pretty darned good. That shows how talented this band has always been. I’d consider this to be a very good album. As a Duran Duran album I’d think of it is “good.” There are some moments of sheer brilliance, though.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
Track by Track Review
(Reach Up For The) Sunrise
Keyboards start it off. They bring in the rhythm section and then the vocals. Is this the 1980’s? It sure feels like it – especially when they hit the chorus. This is a great song and has all the Duran Duran magic firmly in place. There’s a cool funky little bridge, too.
Want You More!
On the one hand this has a classic Duran Duran sound. However, it feels a little too stripped down. It’s still a good rocker, though. It just feels more like ABC than Duran Duran to me. There’s a cool little acoustic guitar based middle section, though.
What Happens Tomorrow
This is more like it. It still rather stripped down, but somehow has a very classic Duran Duran sound. They bring in more layers of sound to fill out the arrangement and this is one of the highlights of the disc.
Astronaut
Starting with acoustic guitar, they keep it in that vein, but bring in some serious ‘80’s elements, for a while. This has a big dose of modern electronica. It’s OK, but not really a standout number. The mellow bridge seems a little too stripped down and a bit boring. 
Bedroom Toys
What can you say about that title? I think just leaving it to speak for itself is probably best. This has a real stripped down funky texture. It’s cool, but doesn’t really seem like Duran Duran. This feels more like ABC to me. That said, I like it a lot. 
Nice
This is a nice song. Sorry, I couldn’t resist that. There is a pure electronica feeling to the opening and the synthesized vocal on the intro (while a bit overdone) is a nice touch. As they kick into to the song proper it really grabs you and this is more like classic Duran Duran than much of the other material here. It’s also one of my favorite cuts on the set. It’s got a great funky texture. 
Taste The Summer
The intro on this has an alternating pattern of old time movie music cut with scat singing. It’s a tasty (if a bit odd) touch. The main song is more along the lines of ABC funk gone Duran Duran. While it might be less vintage Duran Duran than some of the other music here, it’s still quite a strong piece. In fact, I’d peg it as one of my favorites on the disc. The odd little electronica based bridge takes a bit from it, though, I’d say. 
Finest Hour
The last piece is one of my favorites on show here, but this is the best cut on the disc for my money. It’s got a very evocative feeling to it. They start it slow and mellow, but ramp it up a bit in the short run and a lot before they are done. It has the feeling of an anthemic ballad, but delivered with a classic Duran Duran sound that’s been brought up to date. This is a wonderful piece of music and worth the price of admission here by itself. 
Chains
This part of the album is without question the strongest. This track is another that starts out mellow but builds gradually with some great moods and emotional elements. There is a bit more organic texture to this than the previous one, but it’s another that’s in a balladic motif. It stays mellow longer than its predecessor, but they put in a cool bit of glam rock in the middle of this. There’s actually quite a little psychedelic tinge to a lot of this number. When they add more layers and elements to the arrangement later in the cut it calls to mind the more psychedelic side of the Beatles quite a bit. 
One Of Those Days
A more stripped down and punky number, this is good, but a bit pedestrian compared to some of the other music on show. This would have seemed stronger nestled amongst the first few pieces than it does following some of the best music of the set. 
Point Of No Return
The opening to this reminds me “The Robots” from Kraftwerk. As more elements are joined that sort of fades, but this still has too much of an electronica texture. Once they fill it out a bit more for the vocals there’s a bit of a soulful feel to it, elevating the piece a bit. It gets much stronger when they power it out further down the road. This is actually quite a strong composition, but it’s not up to some of the other music on this set. There is quite a cool jazzy instrumental break later in the number.  I’d think of it as sort of middle of the pack. As strong as this is, that says a lot about the quality of the album as a whole.
Still Breathing
They pull it out quite nicely for the closer. This is another moody track that seems to do a better than average job of bringing the classic Duran Duran sound into the new millenium. I actually like this one a lot. There’s almost a progressive rock texture to some of this one. The closing instrumental section in particular feels like it could fit on a modern Marillion or Porcupine Tree disc. In fact, I think I’d probably most compare this to Lands End. It never really climbs up to the level of “rocking,” but it’s so strong that it doesn’t need to do so.
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