It looks simply ludicrous today … worse still, on the album’s 35th anniversary. What were five limey Brummy boys doing strutting around on the mythical Sigiriya rock in Sri Lanka, and taking in the wind on a yacht in the Caribbean Sea in their coloured Antony Price suits? These celluloid snippets couldn’t be more mismatched.
But that’s where Rio was a trendsetter – it didn’t merely announce a genre-defining album, it defined a revolution, one which blasted through TV screens in all its technicolour splendour. Everything that looked and sounded 1980s was represented by the album. Its biggest singles, the title track, Hungry Like The Wolf, and the splendid Save A Prayer, formed the very foundation MTV built a platform on. The sense of mystic and carefree abandon displayed in those iconic videos have been etched in the vernacular of pop culture.
Like most music acts and artistes, Duran Duran began as a product of its time, and when the three Taylors, John, Andy and Roger, and Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes were fashioning its sound, they moulded it on the quasi-avant garde pop of Roxy Music and the finger-snapping funkiness of Chic. It was a formula that worked to a tee for the band, a template that turned them from pop hopefuls to artful game-changers who typified a decade. And to think this all came crashing through the punk rock barricade erected by the likes of the Sex Pistols and The Clash is simply astounding.
The New Romantics movement in Britain might have been in its infancy when the quintet’s self-titled debut dropped, but by the time Rio hit the airwaves, the likes of The Human League, Spandau Ballet and Simple Minds were already riding that very same crest.
By 1981, Duran Duran had a selection of songs that truly trumped its predecessor. Rio kicks off with the title track, a sonic canvas on which the band painted the kind of multicolour dreams that Birmingham barely provided. The song, almost an allegory of the sun-kissed vibrance of the Brazilian capital embodied in a girl, continues to set the pulse racing, particularly with John’s thumping bass line and Andy’s slash and burn guitar chords.
Some of the lesser known tracks on Rio, like Hold Back The Rain, New Religion and Last Chance On Your Stairway would be mantelpieces on any lesser act’s album. But while they appear more like links in a hefty chain, stitched together with the gems, they made Duran Duran world beaters.
If the pop edifices of the smash hits hinted at mere clever songwriting, album closer The Chauffeur cemented Duran Duran’s reputation as bona fide artisans. From Le Bon’s lilting vocal (“sing blue silver” must be one of the coolest lines in a lyric) through to the moody, melancholic synths, and right down to the ocarina interlude, this is artistic statement personified.
It might be much simpler to become a pop darling today, but back then, it took educated songcraft and guile to put something down that stands the test of time. Rio opted for sophistication over today’s overt sauciness, and that’s why it’s still a classic nearly four decades on.