Truth be told, discussions of Duran Duran's renewed relevance are becoming a bit tiresome. In either the context of their impact on the now-impotent electroclash movement or the reunion shows the band is currently undertaking, every hipster journal in the nation has some allusion to days of backpack buttons gone by. The real story of Duran Duran is what they actually were some two decades ago -- not what we want to remember they were -- and, to a lesser degree, what the music industry has become since their star faded. There was a strange window in time back in the mid-'80s that allowed Duran Duran to soar beyond the top of the charts and into a Beatlemaniacal frenzy machine. And that window has been sealed shut by first-week sales figures and corporate synergy.
They say you're not big unless the kids like you. Well, the kids liked Duran Duran, and by the cold and crass comparison of demographic impact, they were the boyband of their moment. Only they played their instruments. And wrote their songs. In other words, they weren't a boyband at all. Duran Duran was Cold War and cocaine, and for a while, they were on top of the world.
Duran's jet-set heyday is captured on "Greatest" (EMI), a two-DVD version of a previously released VHS compilation, expanded by virtue of "Easter eggs" into a comprehensive career retrospective that even lightly documents the group's sometimes-entertaining decline. It's an ambitious and demanding package, too, coming as it does with invisible-ink liner notes and no real instruction how to access the copious extra material. But obscurantism was always part of the Duran Duran game, anyway: "Shake at the picture/ the lizard mixture," and all.
Disc One boasts the expected early career rise of the original five (Simon LeBon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Andy Taylor, Roger Taylor, Niki Taylor, Taylor Hanson, whatever), beginning with the electro-cool of "Planet Earth" and ending note-perfect with their chart-topping Bond theme, "A View to a Kill." (You know: Eiffel Tower, Grace Jones, "Bon ... Simon LeBon.") In between, there are such fantastic indulgences as the painted jungle girl in "Hungry Like the Wolf" and the whole "¡Viva la Revolution!" feel of "New Moon on Monday." T o this day, the extended version of "Girls on Film" -- with its poles of shaving cream and ice around the nipples -- is enough to make you never want to leave the house again.
But the real joy of the first disc is in the hidden bits. After a series of remote-control finger-wringings (which you have to go to www.duranduran.com to figure out), out pops the original disco-fied demo of "Planet Earth," in which the Blitz kids of London's early '80s are swaying and preening in a mirrored nightclub: pure glamour. A featurette titled "A Day in the Life" follows the boys through their pre-"Rio" promotional duties of photo sessions and youthful abandon. Interviews surrounding the releases of "Wild Boys" and "A View to a Kill" are also present, although a little draining in that elderly British TV-host kind of way.
Disc Two's videos and extras present a much more bizarre affair, kicking off with the funk-lite of "Notorious" and wending through minor "Big Thing" hits. It then presents the never-heard Liberty single, "Violence of Summer" (which Easter-eggs to an electronic press kit rife with lots of "We're better than we've ever been," comments that surely feel a little embarrassing now), videos from the eponymous comeback album ("Ordinary World," "Come Undone") and the simply bizarre clip for the anti-hit "Electric Barbarella." All interesting fare, sure, but clearly the ascent had given way to something a little more like hanging on.
Still, by painting such an accurate picture of exactly what Duran was about -- and when they were about it -- "Greatest makes" it easy to admire how much the band has changed, how much they never will and how classy they are about all of it. Carry on, wild boys.