DURAN DURAN – “The Chauffeur”

1. The Title: “The Chauffeur”. This song, you know, is going to be cod-elegant and faux-decadent and as icily pretentious as anyone could wish. You think, perhaps, of Pinter. You think, maybe, of Ballard. You think, why not, of Scott Walker’s “The Electrician”.
2. Which is apt, since this song is the exact halfway point between Walker’s cold torture-tronica and the embarrassed, serious, Europhilia of, oh, Ultravox. Halfway grand, halfway ridiculous.
3. Though you’ll like it more if you can admit to yourself that “Vienna” is grand like a politician, and that “The Electrician” is ridiculous like a uniform.
4. (Scott Walker was mobbed so often and so badly by teenage fans that he considered suicide, that he ran off to become a monk. Simon Le Bon would have dressed as a monk if the video required. Midge Ure surely did.)
5. Hear that? It’s started. Tiny high keyboard touches, with a little echo. At 0’15”-0’16” there’s the skronky sound of a guitar pretending to crack.
6. “Out on the tar planes, the glides are moving”: I looked those lyrics up because I thought they were so good. I think “tar planes” are meant to be roads, actually, and “glides” might be cars. Simon Le Bon sings with the absolute conviction allowed a man who is worth several thousand cars: so you can, if you like, convince yourself he’s singing about some future architecture of shattering elegance.
7. Meanwhile the bass rears, buzzes, purrs. Between 1’00” and 1’08” it glitches, too.
8. Simon Le Bon is singing about the front of a woman’s dress. Here, again, is a subject he knows about. Simon is for real in an airbrush world.
9. At 2’15” a synth-flute solo begins and the song becomes a march. It sounds rather like Jona Lewie’s “Stop The Cavalry”, with Lewie’s smackable downtrodden mateyness switched in favour of the art-rock aloof. A big favour, as it happens.
10. Here’s what you have to realize about “The Chauffeur”: it’s a dub record.
11. The bass drops out, the beats drop in, the skinny digital tick-tock start-stop of them is interweaved with found sounds (casino chips dropping, the creak of metal, looped and warped speech) and more beat hiss, the last two minutes bring the flute back, echo it.
12. (At the time, only Abba were making more ominous chart music.)
13. It’s finished, with a cursory fade. This song is dated, yes. There is no other time and place when it could have been made, when the big bad biz would have let it be made. Does that diminish it? Hardly. This is experimental exploitative peacock music, absurd but lovely. Right now, with authenticity and camp, art and pop so rigorously patrolled, it’s kept that rarest of qualities – the element of surprise.