Review Summary: Not even Timbaland's dream team can prop up this lazy effort,
It’s an interesting concept. Duran Duran, for so long the face of “real instruments” and old-fashioned rock n’ roll in electronic pop, handing over their creative impulses to the greatest modern exponents of assembly line pop music: Timbaland and his crazy-successful wingmen Justin Timberlake and Nate “Danjahandz” Hills. Granted, Tim sticks around for just three tracks, and Timberlake two, while Danja bravely takes on the remainder in conjunction with the band, which is to say “in conjunction with Simon and Nick.” As it’s still not entirely clear what differentiates Danja from his glory-hogging mentor, Red Carpet Massacre
had the potential to become yet another Timbaland Presents
, yet, somehow, that’s not quite how it’s worked out.
The loss of a Taylor is a big psychological blow for any band. Less so Duran Duran, who have two more Taylors to fall back on, and a competent replacement for guitarist Andy in studio hand Dominic Brown. Taylor left the band around the time they began working with Timbaland and Danja, probably sensing a return to the synth-heavy days of the mid-‘80s. While Red Carpet Massacre
doesn’t quite fall to those levels, it’s definitely the most dancefloor-oriented collection they’ve been involved with in recent years. Yet, the producers don’t quite stamp their considerable-sized feet over proceedings as they’ve tended to do on other artists’ releases, where the artists themselves appear as much like spectators as the listeners do.
Legends that they are, Duran Duran command much more respect, and as a result the master-student relationship which defined Tim and Danja’s contributions to Loose!
, Good Girl Gone Bad
and even FutureSex/LoveSounds
isn’t reproduced. Instead, Red Carpet Massacre
feels almost like a weird sort of jam session between band and producers, and the quality is about as patchy and uneven as that description implies. Take lead single ‘Falling Down’ for example. Co-written and produced by Timberlake, it’s as tight and melodic a number as they’ve produced in twenty years, a healthy juxtaposition of piercing blues leads and heavy, processed beats. Yet, inexplicably, it’s at least two minutes too long, proudly boasting a pleasant yet completely skippable middle section and even less memorable lead guitar coda. The single edit clocks in below four minutes, and one has to feel a producer who wasn’t a self-confessed “superfan” would have been strong enough put his foot down and make the album two minutes shorter. Danja might have introduced intro piece ‘The Valley’ to a similar fate, but it was not to be.
All criticism aside, Timberlake and Timabaland’s collective input forms by far the most enjoyable portion of the album. The pair link up for second single ‘Nite Runner,’ which could quite easily pass for an outtake from JT’s last album. Justin and Simon’s harmonies on the chorus are so tight that it’s hard to tell them apart, while the frenetic bursts of Princey funk guitar and a delightful winding pre-chorus motif come right out of the A-material chapter in Timbaland’s play book. ‘Skin Divers’ is a more collaborative effort and, accordingly, is the album’s one moment of transcendent brilliance. Despite the presence of Tim’s patented booty-clap beats and random shouting, it has most of the elements of classic Duran: bare, syncopated rhythms; funky slap bass; and a classic LeBon soul-tinged chorus. Timbaland’s show-stealing entrance brings the entire collaboration full-circle. Unfortunately, with the exception of the oddly fascinating folk strumalong ‘Box Full O’ Honey,’ most likely the work of bassist John Taylor, the Durans bring very little else for Danja to work with. And as infectious as Danja’s beats are, they were never designed to physically carry an album as they threaten to do here.
Simon LeBon’s lyrics are consistently the most interesting thing about the album, and for none of the right reasons. Rumour has it this album’s previous incarnation was rejected in 2006 on account of its overtly political content. It would be an interesting research project to find out just what it was that was so offensive, but it could hardly be much worse than the horrorshow on offer here. It might simply be a statement about the world we live today, where political stances are out and songs hinging upon four year-old buzzphrases like “Tricked Out” are apparently in. Kind of like the fifty year-old Welsh guy who presents the UK version of Pimp My Ride
, nothing quite screams ageing hipster like the words “your Google-dirty fingers.” But the lyrics themselves aren’t the problem, it’s the fact you can’t ignore them. And that’s
why nobody will be dancing to Red Carpet Massacre