Top of the Pops: Rio

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January 18, 2015 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

“I’m on the hunt, I’m after you” declares lead singer Simon Le Bon on “Hungry like the Wolf”, a tune that highlights both the sexually assertive nature of Rio, and the exotic mysteries that Duran Duran seeks to uncover on Rio.  On their sophomore album, Duran Duran is clearly searching for something; whether it be new experiences, exotic locations, or marvelous women, Rio is an album seeking to explore the finer pleasures in life.  As bassist, John Taylor once explained “Rio, to me, was shorthand for the truly foreign, the exotic, a cornucopia of earthly delights, a party that would never stop”.  With this in mind, Duran Duran couldn’t have picked a title more apropos than Rio.

The biggest failing of the band was in trying to convince themselves that they were ever anything other than a pop band, but on Rio they embrace their pop sound in a way that presented them as being earnest and real, something that’s almost impossible to do while singing about exotic women and hunting them as prey.  But in admitting to the world at large that they were a pop band, it allowed listeners to have no pretenses or illusions about what the band was selling and allowed Duran Duran to become more accessible and better understood.

Duran Duran is a band that makes good pop songs; look no further than standout track “Hungry like the Wolf”, an absurdly catchy and fun song equating courtship with hunting, one of the greatest metaphors in all of pop music.  Although it’s a purely carnal song, there’s something sweet and almost romantic about their forthrightness.  It’s a sexual song, but it’s not really dirty.  There aren’t any curses, vulgar euphemisms or imagery, quite the opposite actually; Le Bon uses very natural imagery in his lyrics to convey this sense of overwhelming, yet oddly innocent lust.  Lines like “Woman you want me give me a sign”, and “In touch with the ground, I’m on the hunt I’m after you” not only portray this search, this hunt really, as being natural and earthly, but also as fun and exciting.  He’s not only on the hunt for this woman, he’s on the hunt for something new.

While “Hungry like the Wolf” is about the pursuit of a target, the eponymous “Rio” which kicks off the album, is about seeing this woman for the first time.  Rio is a woman bound by no rules, a goddess, “a bird of paradise”, of which she is only one of her kind.  Just as human libido, characterized as “the hunt”, is this unstoppable force of nature, so too is Rio as “she dances on the sand, just like that river twisting through a dusty land”.  He can look, but you cannot touch her, nor can he have her no matter how hard he chases after her.  “I’ve seen you on the beach, I’ve seen you on T.V.”, but it still doesn’t do the singer any good, because although he may never find Rio, he will never give up the search for her.

Avoiding the 80s cliché of overusing and abusing the synthesizers, much of the backbone of the songs on Rio come from the bass.  This is never truer than on “True Religion” where Taylor’s bassline provides a pleasantly surprising funk to it proves to be just as intriguing as Le Bon’s conflicting vocals where he signs two different verses at once, as if engaged in a shouting match with himself.  Instead of searching for his goddess, on “True Religion” the singer is looking for the true within himself.  He’s at war with himself, and for one ego to win out, the other must die.

No matter how much fun Rio is, there’s still a noticeable darkness on the album that doesn’t disturb the flow or the ride, but presents itself just as much the sexual aspect of Rio.  On “My Own Way” Le Bon is searching for just that, will trying to run from the grasps of an obsessive lover.  On “Lonely in Your Nightmare” he explores all the different ways to thaw out another jilted lover, and get through to her despite all of her previous failings in love.  Duran Duran isn’t searching for a woman, it’s searching away from one in the former, and on the latter, for a way through another one.

Closing out Rio is “The Chauffer”, which with its heavy keyboards and minimalist (for the 80s at least) approach sounds more like a sinister lullaby than a postscript to an album that dedicates itself to all the hunts of life, lust and love.  “The Chauffer” details what happens when we finally find that which we’ve been searching for-It will inevitably desert us.  The hunt is over, he’s finally won her over as told in the line “You sit besides me, so newly charming”, however implying that it’s impossible to hold onto anything forever, the lines “And watching lovers part, I feel you smiling, what glass splinters lie so deep in your mind…and I’ll only watch you leave me further behind” portray his treasure, his goddess, as having left him.  Where once he was a wolf on the prowl for Rio, he can now only watch helplessly as she goes off on her own way.  After all, what else is there left to do once you’ve found what you’re looking for.

Once the exotic or the mysterious is discovered, it can never be unknown or new ever again.  It loses its appeal and tempts us no longer.  Although the victory is the most rewarding part, the hunt is the most exciting part.  Chasing someone down, the cat-and-mouse games, and the tension are what makes every hunt new and exciting.  Regardless of whether you’re the pursuer or the pursuit, it’s a fun game to play because of the mysterious intrigue.  Wanting someone is reason enough, and being wanted by someone is flattering, exciting, and interesting.  We’ve all been on the prowl for a lover, we’ve all been hunted, we’ve all seen our target elude us, and we’ve all escaped our pursuers.  These are all aspects of the hunt and the hunt itself will never cease to be new and exciting, we’ll always be on the hunt.  On this hunt, we’re all hungry like the wolf.

For a band that just wanted to make it big in America, this is probably way more philosophical than they ever intended Rio to be.

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