Rio [Collector's Edition] / Live at Hammersmith '82! Pitchfork Review

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Duran Duran
Rio [Collector's Edition] / Live at Hammersmith '82!
[EMI ; 2009]

7.3 / 7.7 (out of 10)

For the last 20 or so years Duran Duran have essentially been a post-fame band, racking up albums, pleasing their very devoted fanbase, occasionally trying new things, and becoming an admirable pop fixture that no longer communicates with casual listeners. Though their loyalists will howl at the notion, the Duran Duran people care about is the one that recorded Rio and drank cocktails underwater.

The band made most sense at its most successful. Rio isn't just front-loaded with some of the era's most bulldozing hits, it's still Duran's best shot at an artistic legacy. Their first album was made by a group shaking off its David Bowie and Japan crushes, Seven and the Ragged Tiger was a grand and flimsy folly: Rio is where the band's hunger for success really catalyzed its mix of rock, disco, and heartthrob pop. You can't understand the 1980s without watching the promos for "Rio" (yachts!) and "Save a Prayer" (elephants!), but the album has higher peaks. "Hungry Like The Wolf" is the group at their most lustily, nonsensically exciting, and the self-mythologizing "Hold Back the Rain" supercharges the band's early synth-pop sound and strafes it with gated snare drums to magnificently shameless effect. As for "The Chauffeur", Rio's big art-rock climax, it's a new wave "A Whiter Shade of Pale": cryptic, stately, sealed into its time but defining it.

Rio is, as it was in 1982, a romp of a record-- so how does loading it with extras affect that? Early believers in the power of 12" mixes to widen a band's range and transform their songs, Duran Duran were-- often justly-- proud of the extended "night versions" they created for their singles. But what's on evidence on the deluxe edition of Rio isn't so much transformation as commercially minded perfectionism. With the record selling slowly in the US, they had most of the first side remixed to sound punchier and more dancefloor-ready. These "Carnival Remixes" sit next to the songs' UK original mixes and the Night Versions-- and in some cases the demo versions too-- and the differences honestly aren't great enough to justify listening to all of them. The 2xCD package is probably best used as a way of recreating whichever version of Rio floats your nostalgia yacht.

Live at Hammersmith '82! is a different matter. Recorded that November, just before Rio's American success put Duran through the fame barrier, this CD/DVD release is a picture of a group who know they're big but are tantalizingly unaware quite how big. There's no sense of distance in Simon LeBon's enthusiastic stage banter, and it's only the extreme pitch of the screams when "Save a Prayer" or "Hungry Like the Wolf" are announced that make you realize quite how hot Duran Duran had become. More importantly, the group sound fantastic. The rock side of their make-up is higher in the mix and Nick Rhodes' synths play a less decorative role than on record, dropping back into the rhythm section to muscle the songs forward. The set throws Rio tracks in with the best of their debut album-- a raucous, proto-Britpop "Friends of Mine" is a highlight-- and shows a Duran Duran who clearly loved playing music together. Which does more than any number of bonus mixes to tell you how they won those loyal core fans in the first place, and why a pop band whose closest brush with brilliance was 27 years ago are still in the game.

— Tom Ewing , October 14, 2009