Duranalysis: “Come Undone”

Like a radio tune I swear I’ve heard before…

“Come Undone” is the second single off of the band’s 1993 self-titled album, which is known far and wide as the Wedding Album, because Duran Duran had already released a self-titled album back in 1981 and life is plenty confusing as it is, thank you very much. The video was directed by Julien Temple, who also directed the classic 1988 comedy Earth Girls Are Easy. It’s a very pretty video (just look at all those bright, colorful, exotic fish! Just look at all those bright, colorful, exotic Durans!), but I’m correct in assuming we’d all rather be watching Earth Girls Are Easy, right?

Not that there aren’t obvious visual parallels between “Come Undone” and Earth Girls Are Easy:

This is a beautiful video, but it makes the grave strategic error of having all the Durans just hover around the London Aquarium, treating the sea creatures to a live performance and taking a backseat to the action while the actual storyline is carried out by actors. Which would you rather see: this pretty lady in chains thrashing around in a shark tank, or Simon Le Bon in chains thrashing around in a shark tank while getting his fancy, frilly Vivienne Westwood suit all soaked?

It’s a dumb question, right? Probably even the softest-hearted, most ardent Duranie would, on occasion, find the thought of seeing Simon Le Bon wrapped in chains and dropped into a tank of hungry sharks not entirely displeasing. Ditto for Nick and Andy. Maybe even John. (Not Roger, though. Nobody wants to see Roger eaten by sharks. That would be wrong.)

The video features short vignettes of people who are, indeed, in the process of coming undone, like the chained-up lady in the shark tank. An elderly couple finds themselves stranded on a bench amidst rising flood water; a frightened child hides under a bed. This nice lady in aerobics gear is adding a shot of hooch to her protein smoothie. Her facial expressions suggest she feels wracked with guilt and shame by her behavior. No shame here, lady! I can’t think of a better way to make powdered protein drinks palatable than by adding a healthy glug of vodka to the blender.

(In true Duran Duran style, there are at least two versions of this video out there: the original, and the version that aired on MTV, which featured a couple of very small alterations. In the original version, we see what scares the frightened child—she peeks into a bedroom and catches a glimpse of a shadowy couple mid-coitus—and we also see the label on the woman’s bottle of vodka. Those are the only changes I could catch. I’m working on a theory that during their peak MTV era, Duran Duran always deliberately tossed something into every video—bare breasts! silhouetted nipples!—that they knew would get yanked, just to keep MTV’s censors on their toes.)

There’s also footage of a man wearing boxing gloves whaling on a punching bag, intercut with lighting-quick snippets showing various items—a football, a doll, a meaty sandwich—getting blasted into pieces by bursts of water. Even meaty sandwiches come undone.

More people come undone: A straightlaced businessman in a stuffy suit rips off his coat and tie to reveal a bustier beneath his clothes. He then slips into a slinky red dress, sits in front of a mirror, and does a woefully inept job of applying lipstick. Pull Nick away from his keyboards and ask him to help you with that, sir. When it comes to makeup application, Nick’s a world-class pro. He’ll get you sorted.

This video had the dubious honor of being deconstructed by Beavis and Butt-head in the second season of their eponymous MTV series. Despite the high potential for catastrophe here, Beavis and Butt-head remained on good behavior while keeping up their running commentary on the video (sample observation: “We should start a band and call it ‘Butt-head Butt-head’”). You dodged a bullet there, Durans.

Here’s Simon talking about the genesis of the song on the BBC special Wild Boys: The Story of Duran Duran: “I wrote a song for Yasmin, and it was ‘Come Undone’… I actually wrote it on the 29th of October, which is her birthday, and that was my kind of, ‘Here, happy birthday to you’.” Okay, so Simon wrote a pretty song as a gift for his wife. Very nice! Never mind that “Come Undone” is a song about going all to pieces (“Can’t ever keep from falling apart at the seams…”), whereas Yasmin Le Bon has always seemed like the epitome of calm and cool. Key quote from Yasmin, taken from VH-1’s Behind the Music episode about the band, on how she deals with overly-aggressive groupies targeting her husband: “I would walk up behind him and just grab him by the balls and just stand there holding them like, ‘See these? They’re mine. Just remember.’” I like you, Yaz. You’ve got style.

Oh, hey, Warren. ‘Sup?

Like many Duran fans, I never quite know what to think about Warren Cuccurullo, or about Duran Duran’s Warren era in general. I mean, the band turned out some fantastic songs—“Electric Barbarella”, “Come Undone”, “Ordinary World”, “Out of My Mind”— during this time, which is certainly due in good part to Warren’s influence. Still, the presence of wild-card Warren always adds a weird precarious element to the videos from this era: You can’t help thinking the balance within the band might soon become unstable, like everything could burst apart into a cloud of smithereens and glitter at any moment.

(Smithereens and Glitter is a fabulous potential title for Nick Rhodes’s future memoir, which I fully plan on ghostwriting, whether Nick wants me involved or not. I’ve ghostwritten before; I’m not afraid to do it again. Call me, Nick—we’ll hash out the details.)

Speaking of Our Nick, here he is, looking all pale and lovely. He somehow manages to squeeze in a quick mid-video wardrobe change. He starts out looking elegant and faintly underfed in this dark suit and fancy patterned shirt.

By the end of the video, though, he’s clad in an iridescent green mock turtleneck. Look, the song is over four minutes long. You can’t expect him to wear the same outfit that entire time. He’s got standards.

This pair of mysterious drumstick-holding hands are almost certainly not attached to anyone who actually played drums on this track. The drums for “Come Undone” are credited to the album’s co-producer, John Jones; a key part of the drum line is sampled from the 1974 song “Ashley’s Roachclip” by The Soul Searchers.

The female vocals are provided by veteran backing vocalist Tessa Niles, who does not appear in this video. You know who does appear in this video? John Taylor! You know who didn’t actually perform on the track? John Taylor! Yeah, John was faffing about in Los Angeles whilst his band mates were writing and recording this song in London; the bass line on the album track comes courtesy of Nick’s synthesizers. At least John showed up in time to look willowy and inhumanly beautiful in the video.

Between the synth bass and the sampled drums, “Come Undone” could’ve turned into a chilly, soulless Frankensong. Instead, it’s lovely and melancholy, with a video to match.


DKoren said…
ROFL! I just love these. This was great and since life here is chaos, this was a much needed break for fun!

Things that made me laugh out loud: The line about not feeding Roger to the sharks, Nick's outfit change cuz he's got standards (damn right!), Smithereens and Glitter - which is a bloody brilliant title.

And yes... I do not want to see other people having adventures or doing crazy things in a video while our guys just play the music. I want them DOING the adventures and crazy things. Otherwise... why watch?
Morgan Richter said…
Heh. It's funny 'cause it's true: No one wants to see Roger be eaten by sharks.

Seriously, the more stuff the Durans do in a video, the better the video. Get Simon in that shark tank! It's not enough to just have them stand around posing and looking beautiful.

I hope the chaos settles down soon!

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