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Coke & Wet: The Power Station Versus Arcadia By Simon Price
Simon Price , March 26th, 2015 09:43

30 years on, Simon Price revisits the undeclared war between Arcadia, who made "the most pretentious album ever", and The Power Station, who made "the most cocainey album ever"; and asks who, if anyone, was the winner

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"Arcadia and The Power Station", writes Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley in Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story Of Pop, "were possibly the two worst bands of the decade. So much huff and puff." Critical hindsight hasn't been kind to Duran Duran's two splinter groups. It wasn't even particularly kind at the time, for that matter. There's a puritan streak in the music press which abhors excess, and Duran Duran were the most excessive band in an excessive age.

Duran Duran were essentially the Led Zeppelin of 80s teenpop, a band defined by their extravagance and extremes. As Boy George, a close eye-witness, put it in his autobiography Take It Like A Man, "the champagne-swilling, yacht-sailing Duran Duran touted 'playboyeurism' and a new pop superficiality. Suddenly it was OK to be rich, famous and feel no shame. Some saw it as a natural consequence of Thatcherism." And, as befits a shamelessly over-the-top band, when Duran Duran broke into two factions, they released two of the most extreme records, in very different ways, of their era. If Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and the Taylors (Andy, John and Roger) comprised a New Aristocracy, then Arcadia and The Power Station were their grand follies, each set up in stark opposition to the other. One project represented the 'Chauffeur' wing of Duran's sound, the other the 'Wild Boys' end. One was ultra-arty, the other thunkingly blunt. Beauty, and the Beast.

It's an appraisal shared by Roger Taylor, the Duran Duran drummer who contributed to both spin-offs, and is therefore uniquely-positioned to offer an informed perspective. "I had a foot in both camps," he told me when I interviewed the band for tQ in 2011. "I did a lot in Arcadia, and a little bit in The Power Station. Was it cocaine-fuelled? Yeah. It was the two ends of the band really, wasn't it? You had the arty end and the rock end. A kind of parting of the waves. I think Arcadia has stood the test of time better, maybe. The feeling was that The Power Station was more successful at the time. It was a bigger commercial success. Arcadia was probably cooler."

It was The Power Station who fired the first shot in the undeclared war. But that shot didn't come out of a clear blue sky: there were precedents in Eighties pop. 1983 was the year that the sumptuous sheen of the New Pop got roughed up. It was the year of bands telling journalists their new album was going to be "harder, more percussive", while wiping their white powder-encrusted nostrils. ABC's The Beauty Stab, released in November of that year, was the most infamous example, its strutting pseudo-metal guitars and colossal drums riding roughshod over the orchestral elegance with which they'd made their name on the previous year's Lexicon Of Love. Duran Duran, who spent most of '83 outside the UK as tax exiles (save for a Prince's Trust concert at the Dominion in London and a Mencap charity show at Villa Park in front of Princess Diana, who famously named them as her favourite band), were at it too. The tub-thumping 'Is There Something I Should Know?', a non-album single which became the band's first No.1 in the spring, dispensed with the sparkle and subtleties of the Rio era in favour of a reductive, shouty simplicity.

However, the subsequent album Seven And The Ragged Tiger, recorded with Alex Sadkin at George Martin's Air studio on the island of Montserrat, reverted to the fussy maximalism and carbonated pop fizz of their earlier work, to the frustration of their bassist, who had been increasingly keen to move in a tougher, rockier direction. John Taylor reportedly smashed up a shower cubicle in the apartment he was sharing with Sadkin, when the producer asked him to come into the studio and re-record a bassline because keyboardist Nick Rhodes had changed the chord structure to a song. Rhodes, meanwhile, collapsed with a heart condition during sessions and had to be airlifted to hospital. The cracks were beginning to show.

Nevertheless, the Ragged Tiger era presented an opportunity for a bit of serious wish-fulfilment for at least one member of the band. Famously, John Taylor's original vision for Duran Duran was to fuse the Sex Pistols and Chic, after hearing the two bands back-to-back on a pub jukebox and experiencing a lightbulb moment. Duran Duran's first shot at working with an actual living, breathing member of Chic came towards the end of the Seven And The Ragged Tiger sessions, when the band were tinkering with 'The Reflex' with a view to releasing it as a single, but couldn't quite get it right. Impressed by his recent production job on INXS's 'Original Sin', Taylor called Nile Rodgers in for a remix.

It was, however, a single release which almost never happened, because Capitol Records told the band that Rodgers' treatment was "too black-sounding". The producer and the band stuck to their guns, called the label's bluff and put Rodgers' version out. It went on to become the biggest hit of Duran's career. Point proven, Rodgers was duly hired to actually produce the next Duran Duran single, 'Wild Boys', which was incongruously tacked onto the band's live album Arena. (To return the favour, the Durans sang backing vocals on 1984 remix of Sister Sledge's Chic-produced 'Lost In Music'.)

Chic, by 1984, had fizzled out as a working entity, while Nile Rodgers' career as a solo producer was taking off via smash hit albums with David Bowie and Madonna, leaving his former rhythm section of bassist Bernard Edwards and drummer Tony Thompson at a loose end. Duran Duran had first met Chic in '82, but it was when John Taylor and Andy Taylor met Tony Thompson after a David Bowie concert in Frejus, France in May 1983, while Thompson was drumming as part of Bowie's Serious Moonlight touring band, that they planted the seed of the idea of working together some day. Within a year, it became a reality.

For the first four months of 1984, Duran embarked on a world tour (the one captured on Arena, the film and album). During the subsequent hiatus, John Taylor and Andy Taylor convened an ad hoc gathering of musos at Maison Rouge studios in Fulham, to back model, singer and serial rock girlfriend Bebe Buell, whom John was briefly dating, on a cover of T. Rex's 'Get It On' (or, as it's known in the States, 'Bang A Gong'), with the newly-unemployed Chic rhythm section of Edwards and Thompson on board. However, the project foundered when Taylor and Buell fell out, giving the Duran-Chic alumni the makings of a supergroup, but no-one to front it.

A plan came together, under the working title of Big Brother (ditched when someone realised the name had been previously used by Janis Joplin's band in the Sixties), for a 'house band' along the lines of the Funk Brothers at Motown, Booker T & The MGs at Stax, or – more recently - Heaven 17's B.E.F., for a revolving-door cast of star singers. Mick Jagger, Billy Idol, The Psychedelic Furs' Richard Butler and Mick Ronson were all approached to take part, but the hunt ended when Robert Palmer came into the picture.

The former Vinegar Joe blues-rocker, by now a suave purveyor of urbane adult pop, was a favourite of the Durans: they'd invited him to support them at those two charity shows in 1983. In the autumn of '84, John Taylor ended up on the same flight as Palmer, and told him about the side project, now renamed The Power Station after the New York studio which had become its de facto HQ.

The Chic contingent had barely heard of Palmer when he came in to try out on the ready-made 'Get It On (Bang A Gong)' backing track, but he nailed it. Bernard Edwards, now the act's producer, told the Taylors: "Stop looking. You've got your singer." It was an unlikely generation-spanning alliance – the Taylors were pretty boys of 24, Palmer a gnarled 36 – but somehow it clicked.

By now John Taylor had moved to New York, where he was waiting to move into an ultra-modern chrome-and-glass condo in the Park Belvedere (a tower overlooking Central Park on the Upper West Side that was still being built), driving the same type of gull-winged DeLorean as used in Back To The Future, and dating Danish supermodel Renee Simonsen, upon whom he'd made a terrible first impression at a party after failing to recognise her from her photos, and lolled drunkenly on the floor rather than greet her properly. (In a bizarre piece of symmetry, back in London Simon Le Bon was also dating a model – Yasmin Parvaneh, his future wife – whom he had originally seen in photos, and who was initially unimpressed by his advances.)

The making of The Power Station's debut album was as lavish as its creators' lifestyles, costing in excess of $500,000. The sleeve of the finished LP bore the inscription "Conceived, written and recorded in Paris, Nassau, London and various bars around the world" - the ones with marble-topped cisterns, one might surmise. The travel and accommodation costs alone must have eaten up the lion's share of the budget. In Notorious, the excellent unauthorised Duranography by Steve Malins (to which I must credit many of the facts and stats in this article), one learns that at first, the two Taylors stayed in the high-class Carlyle Hotel, whose clientele included Prince Charles and President Reagan, and that when Roger Taylor and his drum tech were flown over to make their contributions to the record, it was by Concorde.

The original basic tracks were laid down in London, and the vocals recorded in Nassau (where Palmer lived), but all the fancy whizzbangs and effects – and there were plenty of those – were created at The Power Station Studio, which John Taylor had first visited to oversee the mixing of Arena. A former Consolidated Edison plant in Hell's Kitchen on West 53rd St, run by Tony Bongiovi (cousin of Jon Bon Jovi), The Power Station was famous for its massive reverb, created using a disused lift shaft, and for its abnormally huge Urei speakers. All Chic's classics had been recorded there, as had albums by Bowie, Roxy, Blondie and The Clash. When The Power Station (the band) were in residence, Dylan, Ferry and Jagger were to be seen wandering in and out.

In that kind of company, a certain amount of musical insecurity was to be expected. It's hardly surprising that the formerly chubby, uncool kid called Nigel had a sudden attack of stagefright. John Taylor compared himself to the musicians around him, and found himself wanting. Embarrassed by his lack of proficiency, at least relative to that of his own producer, Taylor asked Bernard Edwards to play the basslines on the album himself, but Edwards insisted he should play on. The Duran faction were equally in awe of Tony Thompson, whom John later described as having "the heaviest foot in the business", praising his power and volume. "The Power Station project", he explained, "was intended, as much as anything, as a way for Andy and me to pay homage to Tony Thompson and, hopefully, put him in the spotlight we felt he deserved."

Another way in which the studio was remarkable, even by rock & roll standards, was the availability of Class As. John Taylor, whose own coke habit had reached the point of getting high during Duran Duran gigs, slotted in comfortably. "I'd never seen more drugs in my life," he later recalled. "The access to cocaine was unlimited." The studio even used a phoney bike courier service, through which 23 different types of drug could be ordered from a menu, attached to photographic sheets. The bassist's intake became so prodigious that Park Belvedere neighbour Boy George, no saint himself, mischievously left a silver tray piled high with white powder (actually sugar) outside Taylor and Simonsen's door. Andy Taylor, speaking to Goldmine magazine, was candid about the chaotic lifestyle the band were living: "We used to hang out down in the Village at Beebop and get whacked, do Power Station and fuck about. We were really living it up, spending $500 a night, just doing stupid things. It was just a massive party all the time. I don't know how we got any work done. It was great." John would put it more tersely: "1985. Nobody ate that year."

No surprise, then, that the end result was what I've called before, and will call again, The Most Cocainey Record Ever Made. The first the outside world would hear of it was the single 'Some Like It Hot', released on 4 March 1985 with a video starring transsexual model Caroline Cossey aka Tula. 'Some Like It Hot' is an ugly brute of a thing, but it's a fascinating artefact. If Andy Taylor, a Geordie from Cullercoats, hadn't answered Duran Duran's ad for a guitarist, he would have been hammering metal as a shipbuilder. On 'Some Like It Hot', he was fulfilling that alternate destiny through music. The thwacking gated drums (the punchy reverb-curtailing technique pioneered by Tony Visconti on David Bowie's Low and popularised by Hugh Padgham on Phil Collins' 'In The Air Tonight') are more than just the promised showcase for Tony Thompson: they're practically a demonstration brochure for The Power Station studios, screaming "Just look what we can do with drums nowadays!" The bottom end cooked up by John Taylor and Bernard Edwards is so overdriven it threatens to buckaroo the needle out of the groove. And on top of it all, Robert Palmer's uptight, knotted-tie delivery, sounding like he's on the brink of phoning the paramedics. It's a record that brooks no dissent. Sometimes you just need to put it on at full volume and marvel, submit to its strutting rock-funk grandeur.

The rest of The Power Station's eponymous album is in much the same (bulging) vein. 'Lonely Tonight' and 'Communication' are clench-teethed white soul numbers. 'Go To Zero', co-written with prolific session bassist Guy Pratt, is a decent piece of Princely synth-funk. Sadly, that T. Rex cover has none of the sexy slinky swagger of Bolan's original, trampling all subtlety with its bump and grind. And to say that their cover of 'Harvest For The World' lacks a certain lightness of touch would be an understatement of the sort to which The Power Station were congenitally allergic: the only harvest they were interested in was the one in Colombia. But everything anyone needs to know about The Power Station is in that opening track, the debut single. Fire up the twelve inch, turn it up to 11. Your septum hurts, just listening to it. 'Some Like It Hot' feels like being slapped by Tony Montana then skullfucked by Patrick Bateman. The Power Station are the high water mark of the BIGNESS of the Eighties: big dreams, big noises, big budgets, bigger shoulder pads, biggest drug habits. They're musical Ozymandias. Look upon their mighty works, ye feeble peons, and despair.

Talking to me for the aforementioned Quietus interview, Nick Rhodes gave his outsider's perspective on The Power Station. "I wouldn't know, because I wasn't there for those sessions, but The Power Station certainly felt like it was boiling over. There were some really good songs on their album. I remember hearing it at the time and not loving it, because I was so engrossed in what we were doing, but I think history's been kind to it, and they invented a sound for Robert Palmer to continue with, that's for sure." Simon Le Bon, meanwhile, was more direct in his verdict. "About the cocainey thing? I would agree! I don't think even John Taylor would disagree with that. In a cocaine battle, they would win that."

John Taylor himself, in the same interview, reluctantly accepted the C-word. "Cocainey? Yeah, maybe," he conceded, blowing air through his lips, horse-like. "I don't think that's a compliment. You can't resist the lure of these… it was an opportunity to do something different to Seven And The Ragged Tiger, which was a really difficult album to make, and I wanted to make something more primal, Andy felt the same way, and we just concocted this plan to 'play away'. Cocainey? Yeah, it's definitely one way to describe it."

Interestingly, America took to The Power Station more than Britain did. In the States, 'Some Like It Hot' and 'Get It On (Bang A Gong)' both made the Billboard Top 10 (even though the former took three whole months to get there), and the Top 20 in the UK. In the States, the album reached No.6 and sold a million. In the UK, No.12. In any case, The Power Station were a going concern, and Duran Duran were on hold.

Nick Rhodes, meanwhile, had been living up to his image as the flamboyant, arty member of Duran. His super-glam wedding to Julie Anne Friedman at the Savoy on 18 August 1984 featured real flamingoes, and was photographed by royal – and Roxy – photographer Norman Parkinson. The couple moved into a Victorian townhouse in South Kensington with a lavish bespoke Art Deco interior and Warhols and Picassos on the walls, and Rhodes exhibited his own Polaroids in December (just months after his hero David Sylvian had done the same thing).

However, he too had been frustrated with Seven And The Ragged Tiger, albeit for very different reasons to John Taylor, and was feeling the itch to launch a side project of his own. As the dandy keyboardist explained to Canadian TV show Good Rockin' Tonite he, Simon Le Bon and Roger Taylor, the core line-up of Arcadia, had learned the virtues of "space within music" and "letting the music breathe", in contrast with the over-cooked clutter of some Duran records. Furthermore, Rhodes was ready to break away from the rigid "verse/chorus/verse/chorus/middle-eight/chorus-to-fade arrangement" which had become Duran Duran's formula.

It began, at least according to the twinkle-eyed tall tale Le Bon span to Good Rockin' Tonite, with a meter reading from the gas man just when he was leaving to go on holiday. The gas man's visit delayed his departure just long enough for him to happen to be at home when Rhodes rang with the idea of writing some songs together. He grudgingly agreed, the trade-off being that Rhodes had to promise to let Le Bon go on a boat race in his yacht next year (an adventure which nearly ended up killing him).

The pair decamped to Geneva to spend some time, as Le Bon told Mike Read on Saturday Superstore without detectable innuendo, "getting some ideas together in the snow, actually." Those ideas were the direct antithesis of the bully-boy artlessness of The Power Station. Rhodes had been buying highbrow electronic albums on Japanese imports (Ippu Do, Yellow Magic Orchestra), and also bingeing on the fragile keyboards of Richard Barbieri of the band Japan on the albums Quiet Life, Gentlemen Take Polaroids and Tin Drum. Le Bon, too, had leanings in that direction. Previous Le Bon-led compositions had tended towards the elegantly ethereal - 'The Chauffeur' and 'Seventh Stranger' being two known examples – so it's reasonable to guess that his head was in a similar place to Rhodes.

Even the name Arcadia was rich with arty allusion, in contrast with the Ronseal-like functionalism of The Power Station. It was taken from Poussin's 1638 painting 'Et In Arcadia Ego', a memento mori depicting shepherds in ancient Greece gathered around a tomb, which drew upon Virgil's Eclogues, and would itself be referenced countless times, by Goethe, Nietzsche, Auden and Waugh among others. (In 1995, when I needed a name for the London club night I was launching for the Romo scene, I went with Arcadia. It had all the right connotations.)

The Arcadia album was created in a spirit of "Anything they can do, we can do better". The cost came in at over £1 million, twice that of The Power Station, making it one of the most expensive of all time. The trio of Rhodes, Le Bon and Roger Taylor convened in Paris between April and June 1985, taking over an entire floor of the Plaza Athenée (the project's debut single spoke of having "more playtime than money", but they clearly had no shortage of either) and recording at the Studio de la Grande Armée, a Situationist brick's throw from the Arc de Triomphe. Le Bon praised the city's "inspirational" galleries and cinemas, as well as "rotting-body shops full of tack and trash... that nobody's been in for 50 years". The ambience of the French capital would feed into the mood of the album, Rhodes frantically scribbling down ideas at all times on pieces of scrap paper, which backfired when he sneezed on a tissue which contained notation for an Arcadia song. (A hater might joke that it sounds like they went ahead and recorded it anyway.)

In personnel terms, Arcadia were the Continuity Duran, in the sense that their core line-up didn't introduce any outside elements, and that they retained the services of Alex Sadkin, producer of Seven And The Ragged Tiger (although, in terms of tone, his earlier work with Grace Jones on her classic run of early 80s albums was arguably more relevant here). They did, however, bring in a variety of guests, with cameos from Herbie Hancock, American jazz bassist Mark Egan, Ippu Do mainman Masami Tsuchiya, Bowie sideman Carlos Alomar, Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour and Roxy Music's Andy Mackay.

During the hiatus, the two halves of Duran Duran rarely met one another except for members' weddings, and not always at those. Andy Taylor didn't attend when Roger Taylor married Giovanna Cantone in Naples on 27 July 1984 (although in fairness, he had an alibi: his own wife was heavily pregnant, and gave birth to a son on 20 August). There were times, however, when they were obliged to work together, such as the recording session of Band Aid's 'Do They Know It's Christmas' at Trevor Horn's Sarm West studio in November 1984, and the recording of 'View To A Kill' the following spring.

Duran had bagged the Bond gig when John Taylor accosted Cubby Broccoli at a launch party and told him "someone decent" should record the theme to his next film. John Barry himself composed the string arrangement, and Bernard Edwards was seconded from Power Station duties to oversee what would become his first No.1 as a solo producer. The sessions, however, proved about as easy as a nuclear war. Tensions ran so high that Edwards couldn't have the whole band in the studio at any one time, a situation which continued into the filming of the accompanying video, shot in Arcadia's temporary home town of Paris. In his memoir In The Pleasure Groove, John Taylor recalls that "the rift was everything", and that flying to Paris for the video felt like "a sortie into enemy territory". Watch the video now, and it's noticeable that no member of Duran is ever on screen with another. (There's a brief scene where the camera pans across the Eiffel Tower from Andy Taylor to Nick Rhodes, but they never share the frame.) The whole band did attend the film's Royal Premiere, through gritted teeth.

The next time the Fab Five would be obliged to reconvene would be even more public. The Live Aid concerts were coming up in the summer, and the combination of Bob Geldof's moral blackmail and Harvey Goldsmith's industry clout forced several estranged bands to put their grievances on the back burner and reunite in the name of charity, and Duran – perhaps the most recently riven of all – were one.

Both The Power Station and Arcadia were also approached to perform at the Philadelphia concert, with Arcadia (who had yet to release a record) planning to 'do a Phil Collins' and play Wembley before dashing across to the Atlantic for the Duran set, but logistics forbade it. The Power Station, meanwhile, had run into a slight problem of their own: they no longer had a lead singer. Rather than tour with the band, Robert Palmer decided to capitalise on his newly-raised profile to record a solo album Riptide (featured Tony Thompson, Bernard Edwards and Andy Taylor, in other words the entire Power Station minus John), which kicked him up into a higher tax bracket due to the success of the single 'Addicted To Love'. Paul Young was initially approached to replace Palmer, but was unavailable, so they settled on the virtually-unknown Michael Des Barres (formerly of Silverhead, Chequered Past and Detective), whose friendship with notoriously hard-partying actor Don Johnson led to The Power Station making a cameo appearance on Miami Vice. With friends like that, clearly Des Barres was going to fit right in.

The Power Station made their live debut at the Ritz in New York on 1 July, then played a handful of other dates to warm up for Live Aid. Then it was time to face up to dusting off the cobwebs with the guys from the old day-job. "Duran had broken up and there was a rift", John Taylor recalled later. "Andy Taylor and I were touring with The Power Station in America, and Simon and Nick were working on the Arcadia album. We met in Philadelphia and did several days of rehearsal, and it was not a friendly or happy situation." (He has also been quoted as saying that these rehearsals were "more fun than the Power Station", which surely tells its own story about the doubts he was already having about the side-project.) "The only time we (Duran Duran) were able to get in the same space together was when we did the photo for the programme."

The timing couldn't have been better for both bands: 'View To A Kill' was No.1 in America on the week of the concert, and 'Some Like It Hot' was in the Top 10. Andy and John Taylor, in particular, were entitled to strut the stadium stage as cocky as conquering kings. And so they did, grinning and gurning through 'Murderess' and 'Get It On' in their calf-length success coats, while Des Barres, in his ripped waistcoat and red pantaloons, worked up a sweat. Later in the day, after the actual Led Zeppelin had done their bit (with The Power Station's Tony Thompson filling in on drums), the Taylors returned for a Duran Duran mini-gig now remembered mostly for Simon Le Bon's infamous bum note, which he has described as the most embarrassing moment of his career. Nevertheless, John Taylor remembers Duran's set as a "moment of transcendence" which revealed The Power Station's US tour to be "a vanity project that had run out of steam". It would be the last time that all five members of the classic Duran line-up would appear together for 16 years.

On August 10 1985, Simon Le Bon cashed in that pre-Arcadia promise from Nick Rhodes (who didn't approve of the singer's sailing exploits: "The whole idea of orange cagoules was displeasing to me aesthetically...") by setting off on the Fastnet Race – a warm-up for the Whitbread Round The World Yacht Race - in his 78-foot, personally-commissioned yacht, Drum. Midway through the race, disaster struck when Drum's 14-ton keel sheered off the hull due to a design fault, and the boat capsized off the Cornish coast, leaving Le Bon and his crew of six trapped in an air pocket as the water rose, till they were eventually rescued by frogmen. (Incredibly, Le Bon didn't lose his sea legs, and did complete the Whitbread later in the year.) It's an indication of just how estranged the five members were by this point that Andy and John Taylor didn't learn of the full seriousness of the incident until they read about it in People magazine a whole week later.

Nevertheless, slowly, rapprochements began to happen. By the end of the year, Nick Rhodes had visited John Taylor in New York, and even walked onstage for a comedy cameo during a Power Station gig with a broom, pretending to sweep the stage. Before long, moves were afoot to reunite Duran Duran, or at least, a version thereof. But first, there was the small matter of a million-pound Arcadia record to be released.

The debut single from Arcadia couldn't have made their stance – and their aesthetic opposition to The Power Station – more obvious. 'Election Day' was a flagrant contravention of the prevalent mid-80s idea that we'd left all that silly, posey 'art' stuff behind when the Blitz closed, and it was time to get sensible and save the planet. It was a song which opened with the verse "Wild kind of look to the day/Opening eyes impale neon flickers/She moon she turning away/The city's her slave but he's cheating his mistress...", and two thirds through, suddenly cut to an impenetrable dominatrix diatribe from Grace Jones. Clearly, Arcadia prized the arcane and esoteric over the dumb and direct. And the video, oh the video. A nine-minute mini-movie from Alien art director Roger Christian, inspired by Jean Cocteau's La Belle Et La Bête, its aesthetic was ultra-New Romantic and heavily-stylised, with Le Bon and Rhodes, their hair newly dyed gothic black, pulling shapes in a Bosch-like underworld, high-cheekboned models everywhere, human chess pieces springing out of the floor, and a cameo from William Burroughs. It was a Visage video on ten times the budget. "Pretentious?" smiled Nick Rhodes when challenged on it. "I should jolly well think so."

Le Bon admitted to Good Rockin' Tonite that the Arcadia album, So Red The Rose, could alienate some fans who might miss what he called "the bubble, the pop, the fizz" of Duran Duran. He had a point. After Side 1 opens with 'Election Day', 'Keep Me In The Dark' and 'Goodbye Is Forever' drift past unmemorably. But things pick up again with 'The Flame', which sounded like a sequel to 'View To A Kill', with a Japanese female spoken intro which appears to be a direct homage to Bowie's 'It's No Game'. When 'The Flame' was released as a single, there was further evidence that a thaw had begun between the two Duran camps: in the Rocky Horror/Hammer Horror-inspired video, John Taylor turns up as a record company executive hiding in a closet.

The side closes with gaseous but not-unpleasant ballad 'Missing', and Side 2 begins with a Sakamoto-esque instrumental, 'Rose Arcana', which is arguably the best thing on the album. The understated elegance of 'The Promise', another single, is somewhat ruined by the presence of bloody Sting on BVs. The Hispanic pop of 'El Diablo' and the seven-minute, Japan-like 'Lady Ice', complete with woozy fretless bass, round off a record which was never going to be a zillion seller but which, as vanity projects go, is a thing of underrated beauty.

Years later, for tQ, I reminded Le Bon of his famous boast that So Red The Rose was "the most pretentious album ever made". He'd forgotten ever making the claim. "Did I say that about pretension?! Maybe I was pre-empting, thinking that it was better for me to say it than anybody else. I think there's a very fine line, a blurring, between 'pretension' and 'aspiration'. It's about trying to reach for something. Halfway through the making of the Arcadia album I met Yasmin for the second time, and nothing else mattered. I'm surprised we finished it, to be honest, cos all I could think about was Yasmin." Nick Rhodes, however, was happier to wear the accolade with pride. "Was Arcadia's the most pretentious album ever made? Yes, we've struggled with that one," he smiled, "but I always like to retain that title."

Another thing the Arcadia project struggled to do was to recoup the enormous outlay. 'Election Day', released in October 1985, made No.7 in the UK and 6 in the US, but but subsequent singles barely troubled the charts. The album, released a month later, only reached No.30 in the UK (23 in the US). Meanwhile, The Power Station had called it a day, and John Taylor released a one-off solo single 'I Do What I Do' from the 9 ½ Weeks soundtrack, which he promoted with a slurring appearance on Saturday morning TV after pulling an all-nighter in the company of Freddie Mercury. It didn't chart.

In the aftermath of the Arcadia/Power Station schism, Andy Taylor left Duran Duran to release a solo album and become a producer-for-hire. Roger, worn out by the whole experience of 1985, quit the music business altogether to live on a farm in Gloucestershire. And understandably so: having been a part of both Arcadia AND The Power Station, it's a miracle Roger survived into 1986 at all.

Duran Duran became a trio of Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and John Taylor, cannibalised 'Some Like It Hot' and 'Election Day' into the band's live set, and made a fantastic funk-pop album, Notorious, with the other half of Chic Productions, Nile Rodgers before soldiering on for the rest of the 80s and 90s through various line-up changes.

Tony Thompson went on to play even heavier rock with Nine Inch Nails, and was reunited with Palmer, the Taylors and Bernard Edwards when The Power Station made an ill-fated comeback in 1996. Before the sessions had even been completed, Edwards tragically died after a Chic reunion concert in Japan. When it finally emerged, Living In Fear sounded much the same as the first Power Station album, right down to a clunky seven-minute version of Marvin Gaye's 'Let's Get It On', but music had moved on, and nobody bought it, literally or figuratively. By 2003, Robert Palmer too would be gone: he died from a heart attack in a Paris hotel room, aged 54. Just two months later, Tony Thompson died of renal cell carcinoma aged 49, leaving the two Taylors as the only survivors of The Power Station.

It wouldn't be till 2001 that Roger Taylor and Andy Taylor returned to the Duran Duran fold, and the classic Fab Five line-up was finally welded back together for a stadium-filling comeback, the various protagonists having perhaps realised that the fabulous clutter and clatter they'd been making before the ructions of 1985 - that "bubble, pop and fizz", rather than that "huff and puff" - was what people really wanted to hear.

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Mar 26, 2015 12:38pm

none of this lot produced anything as good as 22 grand job by the rakes

Reply to this Admin


Mar 26, 2015 12:38pm

none of this lot produced anything as good as 22 grand job by the rakes

Reply to this Admin

No Refugee
Mar 26, 2015 1:46pm

In reply to :

none of this lot produced anything as good as 22 grand job by the rakes

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Wesley
Mar 26, 2015 2:52pm

So Red the Rose is great - I was playing it only the other day. I've never been album to sit through The Power Station in a single sitting but Notorious is one of the best things Duran Duran ever produced. If their last album was their belted follow up to Rio then hopeful the new one will be the sequel to Notorious.

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Mar 26, 2015 2:58pm

Lovely read. Thank-you.

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Mark
Mar 26, 2015 4:39pm

Very interesting article about what I consider to be one of my most favorite albums, So Red the Rose. Call it pretentious all you want, at the end of the day, it sounded great and I loved the dark Dean Chamberlain look and the art of Tony Viramontes (who sadly died in the 80s at a young age). I'm glad that back in the 80s when I was young I was too naive to know about their drug use (it's not like Tiger Beat was going to do an in-depth article on it!). Thanks for the article!

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Blixa Bargeld
Mar 26, 2015 5:50pm

none of this lot produced anything as good as 22 grand job by the rakes

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Adi Orange
Mar 26, 2015 5:58pm

none of this lot produced anything as good as 22 grand job by the rakes

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Jupiter Whistles
Mar 26, 2015 6:01pm

none of this lot produced anything as good as 22 grand job by the rakes

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Gero
Mar 26, 2015 10:49pm

They should all face trial, and then be executed for their crimes.

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Mar 27, 2015 4:51am

like the choice between chlamydia and syphillis, jesus fuck what is wrong with you Simon?

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Paul Hanley
Mar 27, 2015 10:06am

The Power Station's version of 'Get it On' (Very possibly the worst T.Rex cover of all time) prompted one of the more succinct reviews in the NME - 'Get It Off'. The hubris involved in thinking the world needed 2 simultaneous Duran Duran side projects is so incredible as to be actually quite impressive. (and I speak as a long-time DD fan)

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Nick Wallis
Mar 27, 2015 3:19pm

Lovely piece Simon, thanks. I was a massive Durannie and whilst I wanted to be as handsome as John Taylor, I was much more intrigued by Nick Rhodes with his lipstick and his pink wedding outfit. Initially I didn't approve of either side project as it looked to me like DD was going to split up, and JT and AT had to take the blame for that by insisting on the Power Station happening. I sort of liked Some Like It Hot, but never bought the album, whereas the aesthetic and general wooziness of Arcadia worked for me. I was still a fanboy come Arena (duff album) and View To A Kill, but then Andy left and the magic died. There was an extraordinary, lengthy, late night interview broadcast on Radio 1 between Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and Simon Bates discussing So Red The Rose the week before its release in which Le Bon goads Rhodes (ever the politician) into putting on the record his belief that Lady Ice is the best thing the Duran boys have ever done, which he does, warily. Strange old days. Here's my take on the Rio album should you have nothing better to do: http://becarefulwhatyouwishfornickwallis.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/top-ten-albums-rio.html

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TW
Mar 27, 2015 8:40pm

Huge DD fan. PowerStation blows away Arcadia. So Red The Rose is weak. Prefer the Careless Memories/New Relgion sound to the Seven and the Ragged Tiger sound. Nile Rodgers saved The Reflex.

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Mar 30, 2015 2:31pm

30 years on, Simon Price revisits the undeclared war between Arcadia, who made "the most pretentious album ever", and The Power Station, who made "the most cocainey album ever"; and asks who, if anyone, was the winner
maybe the question should of been who if anyone really gives a fuck...?

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Shane
Apr 10, 2015 2:22am

The Rakes never produced anything as good as Mule Skinner Blues by the Fendermen

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Shane
Apr 10, 2015 2:24am

The Rakes never produced anything as good as Teenage Mother Superior by Bedazzled

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Shane
Apr 10, 2015 2:26am

The Rakes never produced anything as good as Electric Deaf by Sote

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Shane
Apr 10, 2015 2:28am

The Rakes never produced anything as good as Beat Bop by Rammelzee vs K-Rob

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Nick Peters
May 7, 2015 11:42pm

Great article Simon. I recall at the time Nick Rhodes either talking about or reviewing ABC's Beauty Stab (I'm guessing probably in Smash Hits). He compared it unfavourably to The Lexicon of Love... and noted that the absence of Trevor Horn made all the difference. Always stuck with me as at that age (13 or 14) it was the first time I'd heard anyone in a band attribute creative input to a producer.

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Bob Fast
May 12, 2015 8:21pm

Always tickles me how the pop/punk purists stuck to garbage like this while the rest of us were obsessed with underground/mainstream heavy metal which was just insanely fun.

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