It needs to be mentioned that I have a weird thing for Duran Duran. I can’t even chalk it up as a guilty pleasure, because I’ve found myself legitimately definding the merits of their music through the years. I was way into them when I was eight, and for some reason it just stuck. I even had the good fortune to see them (for free!) this summer and I’ll be damned if they didn’t put on a good show — a two-hour set, no less.
Which brings us to Arena, a document of a tour some twenty-four years earlier and an album I can honestly say I probably haven’t listened to in over twenty years. The problem with Arena is that it isn’t sure exactly what it wants to be. It’s a live album, but you can barely tell to listen to it. Almost all crowd noise was removed or mixed out to the point of being inaudible, and as its nine live tracks are culled from different performances, it feels disjointed. Adding to this is “Wild Boys”, a newly-recorded studio track (and a big hit) which was dropped right into the middle of the record.
Even looking past that, it gets more maddening. As Duran Duran was kind of a big deal in 1984, the tour that spawned Arena was a massive worldwide affair. So why aren’t the performances contained within better? And why only nine songs? And why the omission of many of the bands biggest hits? It seems almost self-defeating to put out a live record this short, and without the inclusion of “Rio”, “Girls on Film”, or “The Reflex”.
And much of what does make it onto Arena just lays there. Some are so near note-perfect as to seem redundant, while others don’t even conjure up the energy level of the originals. There are exceptions; “Union of the Snake” is elevated by frenetic guitar work, and “New Religion” at least sounds live enough to be interesting. But as some of the selections weren’t even very good songs to begin with, the whole exercise just doesn’t make much sense.
Footnote: As I’m reviewing my albums in the format in which I own them, there’s always the chance that some of these older works have been given the re-release treatment. This would seem to be the case with Arena, which included the tacking on of “Rio” and “Girls on Film”.