Call It a Comeback: Duran Duran, “Duran Duran” (a.k.a. “The Wedding Album”)

Written by Music

Welcome to our latest feature, in which we dissect the album that restored an artist’s chart prominence. First up: Duran Duran, and their improbable 1993 smash.

 

Click to listen to Duran Duran’s The Wedding Album on Spotify

When I wrote up Duran Duran’s seventh album and second self-titled album (its nickname is The Wedding Album, since the cover features photographs from the weddings of each of the band members’ parents) in the Popdose Guide to Duran Duran last year, the first four words of the review were, no joke, “Call it a comeback.” And it truly was; while they were still denting the charts every couple of years, Duran Duran had lost a significant amount of momentum starting with 1986’s Notorious. By the time 1990 rolled around, and ’80s stars were having a difficult time adapting (which seems ridiculous now, but oh well), Duran Duran wisely concluded that they needed to recapture the magic of a five-piece band. The results of that effort though, 1990’s Liberty, were, well, terrible, and it was the first album in the band’s catalog that didn’t go gold. Duran Duran seemed locked in a downward spiral, never to return.

With 20 years of hindsight, we of course now know that Duran Duran are like a New Wave phoenix (or, if you’re less charitable, New Wave cockroach). You can crush them into nothing, – and on several occasions, most of the damage they suffered was self-inflicted – but they simply will not die. Let us take a look at the band’s first rebirth.

The Wedding Album was actually finished in early 1992, a full year before its release, but when the band’s new management turned the album in to the Duran’s longtime home of Capitol Records, they quickly realized that their label bosses – and indeed, many in the industry – did not share their enthusiasm for new Duran Duran material. In fairness to the label, it’s not difficult to see why they were pessimistic; the music world revolved around Seattle and all things grunge at the time, which is as far removed from Duran Duran’s trademark DOR (that’s dance-oriented rock for those of you under the age of 35) as music could get. Also, the band had only racked up four Top 40 hits – only two of which cracked the Top 10 – in the previous five years, and their most recent album was a complete bust. There really wasn’t much reason to believe that Duran Duran had any sort of second wind in them.

While the band waited to find out what would become of The Wedding Album, they began work on other projects, including the all-covers follow-up album Thank You (and honestly, the less said about that one, the better). Bassist John Taylor nearly left the band, while guitarist Warren Cuccurullo began working on a solo record. And if Wikipedia is to be believed, it was then that Warren came up with the track that ultimately saved The Wedding Album from oblivion. But more on that later.

In late 1992, Capitol ran a test to see if Duran Duran could survive in this new, supposedly hostile climate. They sent the band’s new single, “Ordinary World,” to a radio station in Florida, and monitored the listener reaction. Much to the label’s surprise, the response was overwhelmingly positive, to the point where the demand from other stations was so great that Capitol released the single well ahead of schedule. Peaking at #3 in early 1993 – the song would probably have hit #1, had it not peaked during Whitney Houston’s 14-week run at the top with “I Will Always Love You” – “Ordinary World” had the little girls screaming all over again, literally. Check out this clip of the band performing the song on “The Tonight Show.”

EEEEEEEEEEEEEE! The band also recorded a killer acoustic version of the track that is arguably better than the album version, making the cassingle a must-have. Not coincidentally, the single went gold.

Now, for the hard part: following up. As we had previously discussed, this has not been easy for the band. The chart pattern for the singles from Notorious and 1988’s Big Thing, was as follows:

First Single – Big Hit (“Notorious,” “I Don’t Want Your Love“)
Second Single – Cracks Top 40, but only the lower reaches (“Skin Trade,” “All She Wants Is”)
Third Single – Fodder for Dave Steed’s Bottom Feeders column (“Meet El Presidente,” “Do You Believe in Shame?”)

Capitol had to know that “Ordinary World” was going to be a hit, but they may have been reluctant to move forward with the album because while the album was solid, it lacked a killer second single. This is where the down time after submitting, then pulling, the album worked in the band’s favor: while working on a riff from the Liberty track “First Impression” – which makes perfect sense in retrospect – Warren stumbled on to something awesome. He slowed the riff down, reworked the drum track, and when he was finished, he had written “Come Undone.” And since the album hadn’t been released, they could record the song and add it to the track listing with no harm done. The end result: another Top 10, the first time Duran scored two back-to-back Top 10 hits since “Wild Boys” and “A View to a Kill” eight years earlier.

The Wedding Album would ultimately go platinum, the band’s first since Notorious (and, as it turned out, last), and the subsequent ampitheater tour – where they debuted their cover of Grandmaster Flash’s “White Lines” – was a smash. Of course, the band would squander all of this good fortune two years later, but for the moment, Duran Duran had accomplished two things with The Wedding Album: they re-established themselves as hit makers, and forced many to reasses their catalog as the work of a rock band, rather than a teeny bopper sensation.