EMI, like so many major labels, is circling the drain, buried beneath a mountain of debt and public indifference. The label is wise to plumb the back catalog and offer fans of its key artists the opportunity to pick up fancy versions of their favorite albums with loads of extra stuff. But has its attitude soured the fans on future purchases?
Ever since their foppish heroes burst in the scene in the early '80s, fans of Duran Duran have long been derided by "serious" music fans as unsophisticated nitwits in thrall to a band built on a platform of flashy videos, high cheekbones, and a sense of style which wavered between pure androgyny and cut-rate drag queen.
But all was never as it seems, especially where it regards Duran Duran. Witness the response to the band's former label, EMI, which sorta-kinda acknowledged an error in a recent deluxe reissue of Duran Duran's seminal debut in the Ask Katy section of the band's official website...
“It has come to our attention that some fans have suggested that the mastering on the recently reissued editions of Duran Duran and Seven and the Ragged Tiger is incorrect. Mastering is always subjective, and we acknowledge that the mastering on these versions is different to that of previous remasters, however that does not necessarily make it wrong. We have received both positive and negative comments about the mastering which is usual for any project – although those that don’t like the sound of these new records are by far in the minority. We will always take on board constructive criticism and act upon it, where we believe it appropriate, and we respect the opinions of the fans. However, in this case there have been some personal comments about the mastering engineer that were highly offensive, wholly inappropriate and unjustified.
"There is a glitch due to tape deterioration in the camera clicks at the very start of 'Girls on Film' on the Duran Duran album. Whilst this glitch is not ideal, as it is in the camera clicks and not within the main body of the music, there are no plans to replace any discs.”
Though the official website no longer has its own fan forum, the band has a subscription site where 35 bucks buys, among other exclusives, a largely partisan message board where Duran Duran enthusiasts can discuss a wide range of topics, with few ever covering the sonic fidelity of releases, deluxe reissues or otherwise.
The debate has raged elsewhere, though, including a ProBoards message board founded in early 2007 when the band pulled the plug on their free official forum. In fact, it's possible some of the "highly offensive, wholly inappropriate and unjustified" remarks about the mastering engineer may have originated there.
Each of Duran Duran's first three albums -- Duran Duran (1981), Rio (1982), and Seven and the Ragged Tiger (1983) -- have been given the deluxe reissue treatment in the past few years, with a plethora of bonus tracks, radio sessions, and demos (though the choices in those regards -- especially on the third album -- irked many). Also joining the recent deluxe frenzy was Arcadia's So Red the Rose (1985), a satisfyingly pretentious side project featuring Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, and Roger Taylor (Andy Taylor and John Taylor spent that year as the Power Station, whose eponymous album was also reissued a few years ago).
Rio was the first of the recent spate of reissues to hit the marketplace, an album which had already been the subject of considerable conjecture over the years because several of its classic songs came out in different regions mixed in different ways and at different lengths. The 2009 two-disc set didn't exactly take sides, but it did present the listener with a number of possibilities, including numerous album and single mixes, as well as associated b-sides and a handful of work-in-progress demos that showed in some small way how the album got from point whatever to point finished.
Add to that a semi-fancy book format with lots of colorful pages of the band (some of which weren't actually from that particular era), and you'd think EMI had done the job properly. And according to some sonic-nerd Duranies, you'd be dead wrong. The complaints, by comparison to what was to come, seem relatively innocuous, though even then it was clear the label needed to get it right the next time around. Which they emphatically did not.
Fans of Duran Duran agree on so little. For some, the first two albums are held in the highest esteem, regarded as sacred as a pair of fey tablets from on high. Others prefer the (sometimes misguided and tuneless) lean years, with electronic experimentation at the fore on albums like Medazzaland. Of Duran Duran's most recent album, Red Carpet Massacre (2007), the divide is even more pronounced, with some fans enamored of Timbaland's production and others acting as though they feared for their property values with the famed producer moving in to their lily white neighborhoods.
One thing the majority of Duranies do agree on is the top shelf quality of the music on So Red the Rose, which unlike the first three Duran albums proper had never been reissued. So for the past 20-plus years, fans have had to make do with the cruddy first wave CD fidelity. But given some of the complaints since the reissue dropped, it might as well have remained a quaint and quiet decades-old artifact, untouched and unsullied by modern technology (unless the fretless bass is still a contemporary indulgence).
The same bent on criticism is true of the first three Duran Duran albums; everything from the sonic stinkiness to the shoddy packaging to the decision to not include this or that demo, video or radio performance. Even the most ardent Duran-hater would have to give the Duranies their due on the audio issue: Even if one doesn't necessarily agree, it's clear someone who backs their opinion with a lengthy dissertation on the validity of sound-based technology most of us are completely clueless about has done their homework.
Specifics about the disparaging comments directed at the audio engineers haven't been released, but if they came from a Duranie, you just know they were pretty vicious.
What's most puzzling about the whole thing is that the first three Duran Duran albums were already remastered several years ago, and for the most part those releases didn't suffer the same scrutiny as these. Which begs the question: why didn't EMI just use those mixes where applicable? Sure, they might have been accused of cutting corners, especially with the hype (and relative critical success) of the Beatles remasters which came out around the same time. But wouldn't that have been more palatable for all involved than all this noise?
To the untrained fan's ear, the new mixes might sound perfectly fine. But there's no missing the greatest error of all, one which EMI blamed on "tape deterioration." Let's look at the portion of the press release which covers this...
"Whilst this glitch is not ideal, as it is in the camera clicks and not within the main body of the music, there are no plans to replace any discs."
The "glitch" is in the iconic opening to "Girls on Film", and while it's technically not part of the music, it still turns the beginning of the band's third single into a pile of poop. It's messy, and the fans are right: it never should have made it on to disc.
EMI isn't the only party raising the hackles of Duranies; Duran Duran itself has also come under fire for not speaking out against the quality of the reissues. Speculating as to why that might be is better left to those message boards, but it's certainly worth noting that the band hasn't exactly gone out of its way to hype the releases, either. Perhaps it's because the group so focused on completing its next studio album, a two-year endeavor recorded with producer and acknowledged Duranie Mark Ronson (with whom the band appeared on stage in London recently at the Lovebox Festival.)
Current members of the band have made a few statements here and there. In an officially-generated Katy Kafe video interview, Rhodes acknowledged the band hadn't been consulted on the reissues, calling the Arcadia packaging a "pig's ear", and saying much of the addition material included with the deluxe version of the album was "superfluous and inferior" to the original music. John Taylor, on the other hand, praised the sound on the vinyl reissue of Seven and the Ragged Tiger.
Former Duran Duran member Andy Taylor, whose guitar can be heard on all three Duran Duran deluxe reissues on the market, has been less tight-lipped of late. Here's what he had to say about "Girls on Film" on his Facebook page...
"As EMI seem incapable of remedying the very bad glitch on the camera sound at the start of the track. I have taken the liberty of fixing it myself...
"...This took me all of 10 minutes & some very basic engineering skills...
"Unfortunately I cannot make this available to download as that would be illegal, but you can here how it should sound, and maybe the loverly folks at the label will follow my lead!!!"
Taylor's website, www.andy-taylor-music.com, offers
further unfiltered opinions on the reissues as a whole...
"There were 3-key points arising from the re-mastering debacle, not wanting to be misunderstood - I would like to clarify my feelings.
"1. The audio experience is at times very disappointing.
"2. Certain product is blatantly faulty.
"3. There is demo material now commercially available.
"Of course the problem with re-mastering is that if you already liked it then is it really necessary? It's not as if there are legions of petition for such a change… Maybe the changes that are made sound like 'music to your ears' and that's cool, but it's never going to receive universal acceptance, so you run the risk of alienating a bunch of people [and often annoying even more] - But I guess you can always stay with what you were happy with if it's not for you… However, I do think its worth posing the question that: Can this change in the sonics [a days work at best] really be a valid reason for flogging you something you were already perfectly cool with?
"Well yes, if it has a value to you, then I am still very grateful for that, and I have recently done this myself with older material - But to then discover that what you have spent what I believe was up-to $36 on, is not exactly enhancing your experience and is also Err… faulty -- Is more than just a little disappointing. But then to be told that the 'faulty product' will not be refunded and/or fixed is just basically annoying & crap…If this were a piece of software there would be a free update… And let's be honest, it would be very simple to replace the dodgy digital element, very simple… And certainly appropriate to replace all faulty physical product, without any withering defence -- But let's not forget we are dealing with 19th century 'Baronial' thinking …
"There is also a whiff of contradiction - On the one hand EMI are marketing this to you on the basis that its all for your pleasure, you the fan are their main consideration, and that they are a marvellous old company for creating this 'deep & unique re-issue'… 'especially for you'… So how can it follow that when there is a problem on their side of this remarkable act of benevolence, they are not in the slightest bit concerned about maintaining your support, goodwill and doing the right thing, and then as a further display of their true colours, deny that there is any problem at all… So I guess were all stupid now… Its one thing to brand the artist as awkward, but the fans… Beggars belief!!!"
EMI, like so many major labels, is circling the drain, buried beneath a mountain of debt and public indifference. The label is wise to plumb the back catalog and offer fans of its key artists the opportunity to pick up fancy versions of their favorite albums with loads of extra stuff. But has its attitude soured the fans on future purchases? The oft-delayed deluxe reissues of Duran Duran's fourth and fifth albums, Notorious and Big Thing, are currently slated for a September release. What happens then? Well, perhaps not much of anything.
A recent poll on the ProBoards forum referenced above asked whether Duranies would continue buying the deluxe reissues in light of the reported problems with those already released. Of the 36 respondents, more than half answered either "Definitely!" or "Probably!" Two said they might, but only if they saw EMI making a greater effort to do the job properly. And while a relative minority, 11, said they were finished with the reissues altogether, that's still over 30 percent of those who responded. Though the poll is hardly scientific, would EMI be happy with the roughly 64 percent who still felt positively, or concerned about the 36 percent who did not? The excellent Gimme a Wristband blog asked the same question on July 15, positing that the resulting response could cause the venerable record label to wind up with more than just hurt feelings.