Happy 20th Anniversary to Duran Duran’s ninth studio album Medazzaland, originally released October 14, 1997.
By 1986, the respective exits of Roger Taylor (drums) and Andy Taylor (guitar) could have struck a mortal blow to Duran Duran. Instead, Simon Le Bon (vocals), Nick Rhodes (keyboards) and John Taylor (bass) only drew closer together, their creative synergy red-hot on their fourth outing, Notorious (1986). Utilizing a rhythmic ingredient that heretofore had only been suggested in their New Romantic sound, Duran Duran managed to synthesize funk and art rock ambition―the ideal catalyst to ward off nostalgic convention. Notorious also introduced former Missing Persons guitarist Warren Cuccurullo as a prominent session player and touring member of Duran Duran. By 1990, Cuccurullo had entered their ranks officially.
For Duran Duran, this change culminated with the renaissance of their seventh LP and second eponymous effort, commonly referred to as “The Wedding Album” in 1993. Thank You (1995), Duran Duran's eighth long player and first covers excursion, mirrored the same groove-based rock that pumped on their 1993 self-titled project. What was meant to continue their commercial and critical ascent was mercilessly drubbed by mean-spirited critics. No strangers to critical indifference, Duran Duran moved forward not knowing that unconsciously, an eccentric 1995 side project from Rhodes and Cuccurullo―TV Mania―would be one of the touchstones for their ninth album, Medazzaland.
The LP’s title was a play on the name of the anesthetic midazolam, the mind-altering effects of which Le Bon endured during a brief dental procedure―it was the afflatus for the trippy temperament of the set. To call Medazzaland a reaction to or a reproach of popular music in 1997 would be wrong. As ever, it was Duran Duran taking stock of trends they favor and doing them their own way. In this case, the group swapped out the dapper funk tones of their last five albums and turned up the art rock noise, emphasizing dissonant electronica and alternative pop, with sections of the record drawing its idiosyncrasies (and songs) from the Rhodes and Cuccurullo TV Mania enterprise.
But the unforeseen departure of John Taylor, for personal reasons, caused strain; Taylor did not return to the band until 2001. Even with his leave, the band didn't lose sight of the LP's mood. If anything, they darkened the hues of Medazzaland. Part of it is accomplished by Rhodes' ear for detail, his programming stacking layers of warped samples and sound bites to create labyrinthine sonic spaces for listeners to lose themselves in on “Silva Halo,” “Midnight Sun” and the title track, which was the first Duran Duran composition to feature Rhodes on lead.
However, the previously discussed shadow sides of the album could not quell the neon rushes of “Big Bang Generation” and “Electric Barbarella.” Both songs possess an air of hushed danceability―the lingering influence of their preceding albums to be sure―but the twitchy, tech sheen coating the pair of songs give them an intoxicating, industrial flair. Said flair sometimes dips into hypnotic psychedelia, courtesy of Cuccurullo. He takes on dual duty of lead and bass guitar on the record, gifting a serpentine undercurrent to the semi-world music touched pieces “Out of My Mind” and “Buried in the Sand.” Though the selling point of these songs―and Medazzaland as a complete body of work―is Le Bon's brand of lyrical and vocal elegance, undiminished and captivating.
Characteristically ballsy, Medazzaland ended up as the first album with its production steered solely by Duran Duran, albeit credited as TV Mania for Rhodes and Cuccurullo and Syn Pro Tokyo for Le Bon. From March to September 1997, two singles were pulled from Medazzaland, “Out of Your Mind” (UK #21) and “Electric Barbarella” (US #52). The former featured the same year in the Val Kilmer led crime-drama flick The Saint and the latter set a new precedent by being the first song to be sold through the internet.
But soft to non-existent support from Capitol (their American label) and EMI (their British/international label) killed the record's velocity. Medazzaland only received a physical release in America on October 14, 1997. EMI opted not to launch the record in the United Kingdom or globally, making it available as an “import only” to retailers and dissolving Duran Duran's contract not long after Medazzaland's unveiling.
But they did not remain unsigned for long and took up residence with Hollywood Records where the trio delivered Pop Trash (2000)―but that's a story for another day. Medazzaland itself is emblematic of Duran Duran's most arcane era and their continued pop pilgrimage toward the pulse of the now.