Today’s Pop Rescue from an uncertain future, is the 2004 album Astronaut – the eleventh album by British band Duran Duran. Will this album be a shining star, or is it all a dark matter?
This 12 track CD opens with the gentle synths that welcome lead single (Reach Up For The) Sunrise. A beat and bass drop in as Simon Le Bon drops in on the vocals. This track has a nice steady guitar-laden sound but the keyboards play a strong role and a balance between the two sounds, with the chorus being an absolute belter. The result is a song that’s really quite bright and catchy, ushering in an almost ‘new era’ with their sunshine analogy. The track went down well when it hit the UK charts, giving them a #5 hit.
That’s followed by Want You More!, and this gives us a bit more energy than the previous song, and it again is a wash of synths and guitars, except the synths are phat and duel perfectly alongside the electric guitars. The track isn’t quite as catchy as the previous track, but that’s only slightly, and it’s another strong song.
Guitars chug us into What Happens Tomorrow as a delicate little tinkling keyboards sound flitters in the background in the verse as a contrast. At times the vocals here sound quite a bit like a slightly higher pitched Noel Gallagher (Oasis), and they’re lifted nicely as a tide of strings soar beneath them. This mellow track was the album’s second single, narrowly missing the top 10 in the UK, and giving them a #11 hit.
Titular track Astronaut follows this, and the track opens with some really nice acoustic guitars. The contrast in the vocals sit perfectly over the top. The synths give off a siren/warning sound during the chorus, which sits well with the ‘we’re going to space’ lyrics. This is quite a mellow track, and whilst we know Duran Duran have a load of guitars, this track feels quite light – vocally and lyrically almost David Bowie-esque, but with a dash of Take That’s Mark Owen. This definitely feels like an album-only song.
Guitars and a nice rim-shot give us a funky walk into next song Bedroom Toys. There’s some nice contrasting vocals here alongside Simon thanks to Tessa Niles. The vocals in the verse sound almost like they belong to 90’s band Space. It’s a pretty chilled out song, with sexual innuendo (‘I saw the bedroom toys, now i’m stalling’), which absolutely follows the song title’s topic and perhaps the slinky funky sound too.
Third and final single Nice follows, opening with some heavily affected robotic vocals as the guitars roar in. Then the synths drop in with the pseudo-disco bass, and this gives the track quite a nice foot-tapping sound. The vocals weave effortlessly along throughout with a simply melody, resulting in a good steady grower of a track.
Taste The Summer follows this, opening with a weird synth, and some ‘doo doo doo’ vocals, beginning like a Beck song. Sadly the protracted diction in the vocals in the verse feel simply stretched to fill the space until the chorus. The ‘doo doo’ section does make the song momentarily catchy, but it is lacking elsewhere.
That’s followed by Finest Hour opening with some bleeping synths, handclaps, and simple guitar chords – the track feels quite mellow to start with. The vocals drop in to match the mood, and these add some ‘drama’ for the chorus as they show their defiant nature. There’s enough echoes in this song that feel close to fragments of their 80’s sound, but wrapped in sweeping strings and 00’s production, that it stands as a pretty decent track here.
Next is Chains which gives us a downbeat guitar-led sound and almost-Gallagher/Space vocal style. The descending bass works well with the vocals, lyrics, and melody. The track still manages to feel warm, despite it’s tone of tiredness and resignation. The track’s intermittent floods of sound sit perfectly alongside the contrasting vocal harmonies. It’s a nice mellow track.
That’s followed by One Of Those Days which feels like a complete contrast to the previous song, and in fact most of the earlier songs. This track has menace and energy – the countdowns and growling guitars hint towards this, but Simon’s vocals and the harmonies carefully navigate it back and forth (including to ‘the gates of Hell’ and a ‘final showdown’). I had a terrible thought of Damon Albarn from Blur singing this, and whilst it would probably sound like Blur, i’m glad it’s Duran Duran. The menace broods, and the song passes along without incident.
Point Of No Return is the penultimate track here and it opens with some nice little space-y synths and finger clicks. This is joined by a beat that drops in effortlessly. Simon is soon on the mic with wafting/drifty vocals to match it. The bass guitar here is wonderful, helping to usher this dreamy meandering track along expertly. There’s also a really nice unhurried guitar solo in the final third, which sounds perfect amongst the rest of the song.
The album closes with the reassuringly titled Still Breathing, which has a nice repetitive guitar, bass, and synth sequence. The chorus has a really nice shriek sound to it, and that lifts it perfectly. The track plods along in the background, making it feel like it flows along effortlessly, but that’s not to be said about Simon’s vocals which range from monotone and resigned, to bursting open to reach for the highs. It’s a great closure for the album, and almost country music inspired, and slightly hypnotic. The space-like sounds and the swirling strings make a wonderful closing sequence.
Over all, this album is treading a fine line between guitar rock and 00s pop, and it treads it meticulously.
The album starts off on a high with (Reach Up For The) Sunrise, Want You More!, and What Happens Tomorrow – all being highlights of the album. Those highlights are joined by Point Of No Return and Still Breathing – both giving a last minute burst of highlight. The lowest point here is Taste The Summer, which whilst the catchy ‘doo doo’ vocals help it out, the rest of the song feels strained due to what seems to be a lack of lyrics or just too much music. That summer is a sour taste.
What lurks in between is nice enough though, and it demonstrates a band with a long lasting career who have found a sweet spot between their legacy and the current sound of music for a middle-aged male band – almost like a more synth-y Take That niche but with dialled down Gary Barlow moments. They’re still recognisably Duran Duran, but like a-Ha, they’ve had to cut through into more modern sounds, and it just about works here.
- POP RESCUE 2022 RATING: 3 / 5
- 2004 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #3, certified Gold by the BPI.
- POP RESCUE COST: £1.08 from a Discogs.com seller.