Side-and-Splinter-Project Albums from the Lost and Found (Part 2): So Red the Rose

by Jeff Fiedler

Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.

Younger or more casual fans of Duran Duran might not realize just how much time the band spent at the height of their commercial powers doing extracurricular work. The British quintet had just scored their second American Number One hit in the title theme from the James Bond film A View to a Kill when the band members mutually agreed to go on hiatus for a while, Andy and John Taylor having already formed the successful side-project band The Power Station with Robert Palmer and Chic’s Tony Thompson before embarking on solo careers and taking up soundtrack work, John scoring a Top 40 hit with the 9 ½ Weeks theme “I Do What I Do …” and Andy scoring a Top 40 hit of his own with the American Anthem theme “Take It Easy.” Simon LeBon, Nick Rhodes, and Roger Taylor, meanwhile, would stick together as a trio to form the side project Arcadia, releasing their first (and, ultimately, only) album in 1986 with So Red the Rose.

It’s not as obviously commercial as your average Duran Duran album and is distinctly more epic and adventurous in its scope (LeBon even jokingly described the disc as “the most pretentious album ever made”), but So Red the Rose nonetheless yielded two Top 40 hits. The first of these, the slinky art-soul of the album-opening “Election Day” (featuring a spoken cameo from singer/actress Grace Jones – who’d ironically just co-starred in A View to a Kill – and Roxy Music’s Andy Mackay on saxophone) even reached the Top Ten; it’s more self-consciously arty than your average Duran Duran A-side, but it’s musically quite similar to “Union of the Snake” – and arguably even superior to that single – and might have actually fit in quite well on Seven and the Ragged Tiger, as would the album’s second cut, “Keep Me in the Dark.” The album’s second Top 40, “Goodbye Is Forever,” foreshadows the funkier direction that Duran Duran would take on its next album (Notorious) and its parent singles “Notorious” and “Skin Trade.”

The disc takes a distinct turn towards more abstract and less commercial territory in its back half, beginning with the first side closer “Missing,” but it never ceases to be wildly entertaining, and the second-side standout “The Promise” boasts cameos from a pair of musical giants: Sting and jazz legend Herbie Hancock. [So Red the Rose is quite the all-star affair, actually, also sporting several guitar contributions from legendary Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, while session greats Carlos Alomar (best known for working with David Bowie and co-writing the Thin White Duke’s hits “Fame” and “Never Let Me Down”) and Steve Jordan (who would later serve as producer/drummer for John Mayer) also get in on the action.] The album’s haunting closing epic “Lady Ice” might rank as the single-most grandiose cut ever attempted by the members of Duran Duran under any billing.

As to why there was no second Arcadia album, there may be a simple answer: following So Red the Rose, an exhausted Roger Taylor opted to leave Duran Duran entirely and took an extended sabbatical from the world of music, though he would return to the band full-time in 2001. Arcadia fans could take solace, however, in the introduction of “Election Day” into Duran Duran’s stage repertoire (the song getting much exposure on the Notorious tour) and the release of the leftover Arcadia cut “Say the Word” on both 45 and as a donation to the soundtrack to Playing for Keeps.