For something that’s thirty-five years old, Rio sounds pretty good. It starts quietly, but it doesn’t take long to explode in its overproduced wonder. It’s hard to imagine a world where Rio wasn’t a huge hit, a very long time ago.
But that world did exist – and took the first steps towards the one we know today when Duran Duran first appeared in 1981, and gave us a taste of what would become one of the most iconic sounds of the eighties – seemingly overflowing with money and suits with enormous shoulder pads and hair. Or whatever.
Having got the title track out of the way right at the start, that only leaves another eight tracks, a further three of which were singles. My Own Way was the first of them, and actually pretty much everything on here sounds as though it could have been one too. Whether or not it’s actually any good is definitely a matter of perspective, but it’s hard to deny that they were sure of themselves.
Lonely in Your Nightmare is next, definitely one of the weaker moments on here. It’s got a pleasant broken-down chorus half way through, but that’s really about all you can say about it. A little filler here and there is forgiveable, although it is surprising, given how few tracks there are on here.
But on this album you’re never far away from a single, and it’s Hungry Like the Wolf that turns up next. Duran Duran were really at their peak at this time, and this is a fantastic song. But you probably knew that already.
This is not so true for Hold Back the Rain – there’s a decent chorus here, but there’s also a good chance that by this point, half way through the album already, you might be starting to tire of Simon Le Bon‘s inimitable (well, it’s probably very imitable, actually) vocal style.
Side B opens with New Religion, a slightly more subdued piece, which is slightly overshadowed by the other singles on here, but if it hadn’t have been for them, it would have been an entirely competent lead single by itself. I’ve no idea what the lyrics are supposed to be about, but then that’s true for a lot of the songs on here.
Last Chance on the Stairway follows, a catchy album track which surely merits a mention for its xylophone solo at the half way point, if nothing else. And then we’re on to Save a Prayer, which might not be seem quite as enormous as Rio (although it was a much bigger chart hit) but for the first time on here – perhaps the first time ever – Duran Duran really captured a haunting quality with the combination of vocals and synth sounds. When you think what else was floating around on the charts in 1982, this album really was a long way ahead of its time – even if that might have to some degree been the result of money as much as vision.
Then we’re on to the final track already, The Chauffeur, a great song driven by a haunting arpeggio and some very creative percussive synth sounds. You’ll be tapping your feet in no time.
If you’re going to buy a Duran Duran album, this is the one to go for – it’s an accomplished piece of early eighties pop. It has its less good moments, of course, but nearly fifty percent of tracks on here were enormous hit singles, and that wasn’t purely because of the videos or the singers’ good looks or tight clothes. They really had something for a while, and this is the album where they had it.
Various versions of Rio are available, but unless you want endless versions of the same nine tracks, you might as well just go with the remastered original.