Duranalysis: “Too Much Information”

This band is perfect, just don’t scratch the surface…


The video for “Too Much Information”, the third single off of Duran Duran’s 1993 Wedding Album, was directed by Julien Temple, who also directed the band’s lovely and stylish video for “Come Undone”. More importantly, though, he helmed the 1988 sci-fi musical comedy Earth Girls Are Easy; “Come Undone” is swell, but Earth Girls Are Easy is a classic. Despite consisting mostly of performance footage, “Too Much Information” still manages to be a raucous good time. Let’s hit it:

The video was filmed on the enormous, elaborate, multilevel set Duran Duran used during their 1993 Dilate Your Mind tour. The set, described by Nick as a “cross between Flash Gordon and Kafka”, is a large-scale pastiche of pop-culture ephemera created by legendary English National Opera stage designer Stefano Lazaridis; it required six trucks to move it from venue to venue and ended up being too huge and unwieldy to fit on several of their stages (a scheduled performance at the Hollywood Bowl, for instance, was ultimately shifted to the LA Forum). If you think about it, this sort of works as a metaphor for the entire Duran Duran experience: larger than life, faintly ludicrous, and bursting at the seams with too much awesomeness to be contained by the Hollywood Bowl.



The set was all Nick’s idea, obviously.

Nick refers to “Too Much Information” as “one of Simon's great lyrics”, and he’s probably right; if Simon’s ever written a catchier or more Duran-appropriate opening salvo than Destroyed by MTV, I hate to bite the hand that feeds me, I don’t know what it is. The video features a rapid-fire onslaught of split-second images from news stories and television shows, intercut with ephemeral shots of the band performing. Duran Duran falls back on performance videos far too often for my tastes—given any choice, I’ll always prefer story-based videos—but this one gets the job done. It’s effective.

Simon leaps down from a gigantic television set and cavorts across the stage while wearing a gray newsprint-style suit emblazoned with random words (“VOODOO” over his heart, “EURO” on a sleeve, “WINONA” on his abs), thus virtually transforming him into a singing, dancing gossip rag. Because a star of Simon’s magnitude should not be confined to only one outfit, at other moments in the video he’s dressed in a hot pink vest over silver lamé pants.


There are also flickering, fleeting, fragmentary moments in which Simon scampers around the set clad only in his boxers. We never get a full, unhampered look at him in this state, which lends the proceedings a voyeuristic feel, like we’re intruding on him in an unprotected moment. That could very well be the point—it would certainly be keeping with the song’s theme of relentless media overexposure. Or maybe the director thought no one would be interested in seeing Simon in his undies and thus tried to keep the footage where he’s nearly naked to a minimum.


If that’s the case, the director would be wrong. Feel free to waltz nude around my television screen all you want, Simon. Get comfortable. You have my blessing.

Warren Cuccurullo also appears shirtless in this video. I probably didn’t even have to say that, did I? Of course he does. For Warren, going shirtless onstage is second nature, like breathing, or playing the guitar, or spouting off-putting conspiracy theories


At other points in the video, Warren appears to be wearing the skinned hide of Cookie Monster. I can’t argue with that choice. Looks cozy.


Lovely John Taylor, meanwhile, blossoms forth in an exquisitely tailored velvet suit in brilliant clown colors paired with vibrant cherry locks. He looks simultaneously über-stylish and ridiculous, like he showed up to Comic Con dressed as Ultra-Glamorous Rock Star Ronald McDonald.


The hair color—Clairol Ultress in Cherry Kool-Aid™, I believe—should be a disaster, but John looks good. Elegant, even. That bone structure doesn’t quit.


Hey, Nick! Just take a gander at everybody’s favorite magical pixie there, what with his fancy satin suit in color-blocked pastels and his brilliant purple hair. As Nick’s ex-wife Julie Anne Rhodes explains it in her consistently entertaining blog, the first she heard of her ex’s foray into tonsorial mayhem was when their very young daughter Tatjana called her up to giggle about his purple hair. In the background, Julie Anne heard Nick calling out, “It’s lilac, Tatjana, lilac!” It’s lilac. Of course.


Since Duran Duran had no drummer throughout most of the nineties, the Average White Band’s Steve Ferrone supplied the drums for “Too Much Information” in the studio. For the tour, however, British percussionist Fergus Garrand performed with the band; he also appeared in the video. Clearly, Fergus refused to surrender to the sartorial madness surrounding him on all sides. Ten bucks says Nick tried to wheedle him into donning, say, a bottle-green velvet frock coat and a fuchsia fright wig, just to blend in with the Durans.


In a recentish interview about the Wedding Album, Nick weighed in on “Too Much Information”, waxing philosophic about the dangers of being a public figure in the internet age: “[Y]ou can give away too much. You lose your mysticism. I think when I was a kid and we were growing up listening to David Bowie or Roxy Music, you didn’t know so much about them. You’d read possibly everything you could or see new photos that would come out. But you didn’t have a Twitter feed where you’d find out what they were having for lunch.” This probably explains why Nick still isn’t on Twitter, which: blast it, Nick, get with the program! Mysticism be damned—I for one would love to know what Nick eats for lunch every day, because I’m sure it’s weird and fabulous. (I was giddy when someone recently pointed me at this 2015 Guardian piece, which documents what Nick and journalist Elizabeth Day dined on during the interview in gloriously fetishistic detail: Zucchine fritte, £5; tuna and borlotti bean salad, £15.50; chargrilled mackerel, £24.50; selection of three pastas, £24, £17 and £20; Spumante Ca’ Del Bosco, £16 a glass; Librandi Ciro Bianco, £6.50 a glass; green tea, £4. This is valuable and necessary information.)

Per Nick, the inspiration for “Too Much Information” came from the then-unprecedented round-the-clock coverage of the Gulf War on CNN: “It was all so glamorized and sick … It had become like a sport. It had a profound effect on the way we were thinking ... so we put ourselves in that position ... ‘a Cola manufacturer is sponsoring the war,’ the lyrics say. Which wasn’t exactly true. But it was like that.”


That quote from Nick, by the way, comes from a blistering article by longtime New Zealand Herald music critic Graham Reid, who wrote up his thoughts on a 1993 press conference the band gave during the Dilate Your Mind tour; just FYI, Reid’s article is titled Duran Duran: Spoiled, Rude, and Stupid, so if you’re feeling especially defensive or protective of the Durans, maybe give it a pass. Still, it’s an interesting piece, streaming vitriol and all. Some of Reid’s punches land: Just as the Durans are often effervescent, charming, and quick-witted in interviews, they’re equally capable of seeming spoiled, rude, and… well, stupid is far too harsh. I’ll put it like this: The various Durans are, at times, each possessed of a certain wildly entertaining Spinal Tap-ian cluelessness, as befitting a gaggle of guys who’ve lived in the sheltering, distorting bubble of mega-fame their entire adult lives. The press conference fails to capture them at their shining best; at one point, Nick gives a blithely vapid assessment of apartheid—“It’s the music lovers in South Africa who have suffered most”—that would make even the most seasoned publicist head straight for the bar to brace herself with a stiff martini before diving in to do damage control. As other interviews have shown, Nick is an intelligent and knowledgeable lecturer on a number of subjects—music, art, film, fashion, freakishly high-tech skincare regimens—but if I ever find myself in the happy position of indulging in cocktail party chitchat with him, I’ll probably determinedly steer the conversation away from global events. That’s just good sense.

I have quibbles with Reid’s piece, but for the most part he makes his case. He does, however, fall into the trap of getting bizarrely catty on the subject of Duran Duran’s well-documented pulchritude (for instance, he refers to both Simon and Nick as “paunchy”). In doing so, he climbs onto a still-rolling bandwagon that first gathered momentum in 1984 when James Henke kicked off his Rolling Stone cover story on the boys with a discourse about how Simon doesn’t look all that good naked (“…slightly chubby legs, a little bit of a gut”). Male journalists who dislike Duran Duran will invariably punctuate their argument with jabs at their physical appearance—“They’re crappy musicians, and they’re not even that pretty!”—as though acting upon some spiteful urge to chip away at the band from all directions. Start looking for this trend in interviews, and you’ll never be able to un-see it.

Hey, on the subject of “paunchy”, what do we think Nick weighed in 1993, anyway? One-fifteen, one-twenty? Dude was itty-bitty throughout the nineties, like he spent the decade subsisting on dewdrops and the occasional sip of Armand de Brignac.


If you’re feeling a bit raw after reading Reid’s excoriating piece, I recommend a soothing elixir: A more gracious assessment comes from novelist/journalist Michael Bracewell, whose lengthy profile of the band during the Dilate Your Mind tour is recounted in his collected essays, When Surface Was Depth: Death by Cappuccino and Other Reflections on Music and Culture in the 1990's. Here’s an excerpt, in which the Durans assemble for a record signing in New York: “At the center of this throng, dressed in a scarlet satin jacket and Vivienne Westwood bondage trousers, his hair dyed platinum-lilac, was Nick Rhodes—the effortlessly photogenic keyboard player of Duran Duran. [… ] Duran Duran look frail and glamorous: they are all fashionably skinny; Taylor has scarlet hair, Cucurullo is wearing a gold lamé biker jacket. Le Bon looks curiously like the young Iggy Pop. You cannot help but be impressed. The group are good-natured, too, smiling and joking with what seems to be an endless procession of tearful, hyperventilating or downright vampiric girls.”

If I haven’t been talking about the video itself, it’s because not all that much really happens. Here, Simon and John grope and nuzzle each other onstage a bit, as they do on a semi-regular basis during performances, because Duran Duran has a comprehensive and finely-honed understanding of the importance of fanservice. Thanks, boys. Much obliged.


And then Simon throws open a vault leading to the outside world, a place presumably free from the relentless assault of the media, only to be attacked by Warren and John. They club him in the gut with the necks of their guitars and drive him back onto the stage, the rat bastards.


There’s a nice interlude in which we’re treated to a rapid-fire barrage of extreme close-ups of John and Nick, both of whom look like a zillion bucks.



Nick should consider switching back to purple (‘scuse me, lilac). It suits him surprisingly well, though his then-girlfriend Madeleine Farley did complain, “It was like waking up with Mrs. Slocombe every morning.”


The video winds down with poor Simon on the receiving end of the full Clockwork Orange treatment: strapped down to a chair, eyeballs pried open, wires running into his body, assaulted with an unending stream of stimuli, a clear victim of, yep, too much information.


Beautiful. The song fizzled on the US charts upon release in 1993, back when the Web was still in the embryonic stages; almost a quarter of a century later, its ominous depiction of toxic media overload seems eerily prescient. Nice work, boys.




Comments

Sarah said…
Somehow, I don't remember this video at all! Odd. You're right...the lilac really suits Nick!
Morgan Richter said…
Sarah -- I wasn't aware of this video at all when it came out, probably because the song didn't do all that well on release. It's a fun video anyway. I'm a big fan of Nick's lilac hair -- somehow, the color really works well on him.

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