Much like early U2 are the point at which British post punk and arena rock meet, early Duran Duran are the point at which British post punk meets pop.
The reason Duran Duran were so successful is that they wrote catchy songs. And even at this early stage, they’ve written some very catchy songs. The reason British post punk didn’t “break” (especially in the US) is because most people within the genre couldn’t or wouldn’t write the kinds of songs that were going to make it on the charts in the early ’80s. (Of course, some of them got better at it and had hits in the late ’80s, but by then most of them had changed their sounds.) Duran Duran first focus is on catchy songs, I’d say. And the reason the Second British Invasion Happened is because there were a whole host of UK bands who were concerned with writing catchy songs first, and sounding some way or other second.
But Duran Duran really lean into the post punk cliches on the record. On more than a few tracks, it’s as if they’ve found the middle ground between the funk and disco some post punk bands were pairing punk with, and “modern” musical aesthetic and production of second wave new wave. Songs can recall a bunch of different bands at once, depending upon what instrument you’re listening to. (John Taylor is in full disco-via-the-UK mode, for example.)
Even a few years ago, I would have been practically spitting on this record. But I’ve definitely aged out of my moral outrage at bands that exploit interesting music for pop hits. Still, it’s weird to listen to a band like this, which sounds so much like other, better bands (with far less catchy songs) but which most people know way better than those interesting bands. The older I get, though, the less and less I can hold it against anyone for figuring out what their niche is.
And Duran Duran, for all their parroting of better music, are pretty damn good musicians. I’m not sure the deep cuts hold up to “Girls on Film” in the catchiness department but, clearly, the rest of the album is still far more catchy than anything their “purer” contemporizes were writing. And like U2, they’ve found their niche, a niche nobody else was really in before them. And a niche that people clearly wanted filled.
I’d rather listen to the genuine article (whether it be post punk, new wave, or funk or synthpop) but I understand why some people might like this, a little more than when I first heard Rio.