Duran Duran Meets Chic: One-Shot Supergroup
On February 16th, a major new supergroup unveiled itself on national television. Curiously, they claimed that their debut would also be their one and only performance. But for anyone who caught the Power Station on Saturday Night Live that evening, probably the first question that leapt to mind was, "What are these people doing on the same stage?'
The four members of the Power Station--British singer Robert Palmer, Andy Taylor and John Taylor of Duran Duran, and ex-Chic drummer Tony Thompson--made the oddest-looking combo this side of the P-Funk All-Stars. The dapper, well-groomed Palmer looked like he'd wandered over from Wall Street. His three-piece suit and Club Med suave contrasted sharply with the pop-star androgyny of the Taylors, who were wearing what appeared to be knee-length dresses. Add to this a black durmmer from Queens, New York, and you have the technofunk equivalent of Hungarian goulash: throw in a little bit of everything and stir.
The disparities within the Power Station extend even further, from their ages (at 36, Palmer is more than a decade older than John and Andy, both 24) to their divergent musical backgrounds. When the six main participants in the project--the four band members, plus producer Bernard Edwards (the former Chic bassist) and engineer and mixer Jason Corsaro--began working together during a Duran Duran layoff last fall, some of them barely knew who some of the others were. But despite the conceptual fuzziness and often chaotic circumstances surrounding the recording of the Power Station's eponymous LP, there was, they say, a method to their mishmash.
They must have done something right: the leadoff single, Some Like It Hot, is bulleted and heading for the Top Ten, and the album entered the Billboard chart at Number Sixty-four. And though they've all since gone back to their old jobs--Palmer to his solo career, Thompson to session work and the Taylors to their home port, Duran Duran--the Power Station seems like an attractive option. Indeed, it is difficult to digest their breathless superlatives on the subject of the album--"a knockout,' says Palmer; "a classic,' gushes John Taylor--and believe that they will not tour to promote it or record together again. The Power Station was John Taylor's idea. Following their 1984 world tour, Duran Duran took a four-month break. While Nick Phodes and Roger Taylor were busy getting married, John hatched the idea of collaborating on a single with the two former members of Chic, the late-Seventies disco band whose music had inspired him to form Duran Duran. His bassman's holiday quickly grew into a monster that consumed the better part of six months. "I take credit for the forethought,' says John, "but from that moment on, I don't think anybody knew just how it was gonna grow.'
For starters, they recorded an ultrafunk version of the old T. Rex hit Get It On (Bang a Gong). "We thought it sounded pretty good for a set of guys who hadn't worked together before,' says Andy. They worked up more material--mostly Andy's and John's, though Edwards threw in a tune (Lonely Tonight), and they also redid the Isley Brothers' Harvest for the World. But still they lacked a singer. The Taylors suggested Robert Palmer and met with resistance from the Chic contingent, who wanted to use a variety of guest vocalists. Tony Thompson, who'd just finished playing on Mick Jagger's solo album, had even approached the head Stone about singing a cut. But they agreed to give Palmer a shot, and he flew to New York to tackle Bang a Gong.
"Whew--"You're built like a car, you've got a hubcap diamond star halo' ?? give me a break,' says Palmer, laughing. "I tried several approches and thought, to hell with it, it's got to be all personality.' Whatever he did impressed the others. "He came in and blew everybody away,' says Thompson. "And we said, "Heck, we don't need anybody else. Jagger who?''
After settling on Palmer, the Power Station spent the next several months playing intercontinental hopscotch. The project was assembled in pieces: basic tracks were done in London; overdubs and embellishments at the Power Station in New York (from which they took their name); and most of the vocals in Nassau, where Palmer lives. Palmer wrote lyrics to fit the existing music, sometimes while jetting to the studio. Rarely were all four in the same studio at the same time.
If the musicians themselves sometimes had a hard time keeping track of the project, the other members of Duran Duran and their management were really in the dark. "About halfway through, we knew we were onto something, so we battened down the hatches and just kept it quiet,' says Palmer. "Their management thought we were just goofing off.' Not until they received a bill for the album cover did they realize how far things had gotten.
The project snowballed despite their relative ignorance of one another's work. The Taylors were Chic fanatics, but Andy says, "I've never been a big fan of Robert's. I've been more of an admirer.' Though Robert knew Duran Duran socially, he says that "they know I'm not a big fan of their music.' But somehow, it all worked out. "Our musical tastes clash,' says Palmer, "but when it came down to the overview, we were in total agreement.'
Already some lasting relationships heve been forged. Palmer has become "big buddies' with Edwards and Thompson, who are producing and playing on his next solo album. Edwards wound up producing Duran Duran's latest single, the theme song from the new James Bond movie, A View to a Kill. Thompson--who admits that "I had business reasons for doing [the Power Station]; I mean, it's not bad rubbing elbows with Duran Duran and Robert Palmer'--is presently up to his elbows in offers from the likes of Elton John, Ric Ocasek, Men at Work and Bonnie Tyler.
"I'm pleased at the way things are going, except my curtains need cleaning and I'm broke,' jokes Palmer, who hadn't had a hit in two years. The Taylors, for whom Duran Duran remains the main profit center, didn't need the career push that the others have gotten out of the Power Station. What Andy and John did get out of it, they admit, is new confidence in their ability as musicians. "Andy is born again,' says John. "This album has brought something out of him I don't think anybody ever considered he had.' To be sure, he takes a lot of flashy solos, which are verboten within Duran Duran.
John, for his part, got a priceless tutorial on the bass from his idol, Bernard Edwards, whose playing on the Chic hit Good Times had motivated Taylor to pick up the instrument. "I was shaking in my shoes,' John says of playing for Edwards, who was a stern taskmaster. But after the sessions, Edwards gave his young charge the bass he'd played on Good Times.
After such a heady experience, the two Taylors seem less than tickled about returning to Duran Duran. "The Bond single and all that entails--premieres, parties and things--is gonna be a real drag,' sighs John, sounding weary of the pop-star whirlwind he helped create. While he and Andy were off generating the Power Station, two other members of Duran Duran, Nick Rhodes and Simon Le Bon, have been working on a record of their own.
Currently, Duran Duran has reunited in Paris to make a video for A View to a Kill. Prior to that summit meeting, John Taylor intimated that things were not entirely rosy with the Fab Five. "We're gonna have to be very careful with each other, you know?' John confides, "We've gotta be very mature--which isn't very easy.'
Meanwhile, all concerned are taking pains to downplay the Power Station, lest the sideshow upstage the main attraction. They insist that the band's activities will not extend beyond their one album and a few videos. "To push it any further, to cut more tracks or to take it on the road, would be a contrivance,' says Palmer. "There are definitely no plans, because everybody has their own schedule.'
And nothing could induce them to reassemble? "It would be unfair to take advantage of the situation if it were successful,' says Andy Taylor, "because we'd never get the same spirit into the record. If we tried to formularize that-- the bizarre way it came together and the bizarre way we wrote it--it would never work completely.'
Tony Thompson, however, doesn't rule out further Power Station projects, "if things were done a little bit differently,' he says, evidently referring to the globe-trotting confusion that went into the current record.
Yet it is John Taylor's enthusiasm that suggests that the book on the Power Station is far from closed. "We're going through these throes at the moment,' he confides. "I'd had this bubble around the record. I thought, We did one record, we did one TV appearance, we did these videos, and we haven't really fucked up anything. Let's just keep it inside this bubble. But when I got hold of the album, I just flipped. It might take another three years for another Power Station, but then again, we might play a gig next month.'
Parke Puterbaugh (Rolling Stone - Mai 1985)