After skewering a sacred cow with my first ever salvo for Crasstalk, I thought I’d change tack and praise Caesar instead of bury him. Music makes me happy, and I’d love to share what I consider lost, under-appreciated or misunderstood works from great bands. Hopefully, if y’all like it, I could make this a semi-regular thing. With that in mind, the goal of Lost Wax will be to introduce or re-introduce you to songs and albums that time has forgotten. So here are the prerequisites:
It has to be:
- a song or an album
- panned at the time of its release or critically ignored
- due a modern reevaluation
Lost Wax: So Red The Rose (1985)
Cocaine is a terrible drug for musicians. It is possible to work through a healthy heroin addiction and still make an album like, say, Transformer. LSD can lead to some beautiful experimentation, and some truly awful, terrible album covers (Tarkus, Emerson, Lake & Palmer), but cocaine just turns people into assholes and songs into overproduced covers of Bang a Gong.
When two of the three Taylors in Duran Duran (Andy and John) left to join Robert Palmer, Tony Thompson and a mountain of coke and hookers (not really) to form Power Station in 1985, this left remaining members Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes with a critical shortage of Taylors. But instead of panicking, grabbing Chuck and Meshach Taylor and soldiering on as Duran Duran 2.0, messrs. Rhodes, Le Bon and Roger Taylor felt free to indulge in whatever atmospheric flight of fancy their frosted little hearts desired. That flight of fancy turned out to be a band called Arcadia, whose sole output was 1985’s beautiful, strange So Red The Rose.
I know what you’re thinking, it’s a bit of a cheat to choose this album for Lost Wax. It wasn’t a bomb (it went platinum), it wasn’t panned, it put 2 songs in the US top 40 and it contained 3/5th of what was arguably one of the biggest acts in the world at that time. And yet, the album has been largely cast off as just another indulgence from members of a band that had already peaked and was still years away from reinventing itself as the ‘Come Undone’ Duran of the 90’s.
On the face of it, ‘overindulgent’ would seem to fit. The album is as heavily overproduced as Duran Duran’s previous album, Seven And The Ragged Tiger (both were produced by Alex Sadkin), complete with the requisite electric drum kits, keyboards and Cor Anglais one would expect of the mid-80s, and there are more guest appearances on this album than a disaster telethon. Sting, Grace Jones, Herbie Hancock, Carlos Alomar, Andy Mackay and David Gilmour all have a hand in this work. The album art is a lurid mix of Anime, Flamenco and S&M. The songs have titles like ‘El Diablo’, ‘Goodbye Is Forever’ and ‘Lady Ice’. Yes, all the pieces are there for this album to be a train wreck and the apex of mid-80s pretentious excess.
What we get instead is a twisted, dark, mysterious fairy tale, more a musical than album. Listened front to back, a story emerges, something akin to a farm boy coming to the big sinful, corrupt city only to become involved with good women, bad women and the Devil. It’s pretty clear someone wants to screw him, kill him, steal his soul or do all three.
So Red The Rose opens with perhaps the album’s most famous song (and also its only bona fide hit, reaching #6 in the US singles chart), Election Day. With its driving mechanical beat and moody lyrics about ‘shadows and subways’ and entire cities being slaves to a mistress (not to mention Grace Jones sounding like she is ready to raise welts), it delivers an opening number that Sweeney Todd would be proud of.
Listen: Arcadia – Election Day
The next few tracks modulate between the sweet, bouncy, and upbeat sound of Keep Me In The Dark and the bombastic, black humor of The Flame. The real winner of the album, though, is Missing, the ‘A’ side closer (remember when Albums had such a thing?) which is full of a melancholy and grief that boy bands aren’t supposed to possess.
The B side opens with The Promise, probably the only real clunker on the album, what with its over the top lyrics like ‘The hungry make their stand when they’ll stand for no more’ and Sting’s breathy backup singing, but then everything returns to form with El Diablo, which has far better lyrics (‘only the brightest shine, but not forever’). It’s a fun take on your typical Faustian deal with the Devil, and it ends with the protagonist ruing his fate while Nick Rhodes’ keyboards make a sound similar to a fun house ride spinning out of control.
The album ends with Lady Ice, not the best track on the album, but a song that is courteous enough to leave the ending to the story ambiguous.
So there you have it. So Red The Rose owes more to the Duran Duran of The Chauffeurthan of The Reflex, but this is a good thing. Darker, meaner and more melancholy than anything else Duran Duran (under any name) ever did, this album could really be considered their Blood And Chocolate, if that conceit weren’t the most pretentious fucking thing ever.
And now, here’s a bonus for you all for getting to the bottom: The Russell Mulcahy directed video for The Flame.