Arcadia’s 1985 hit single “Election Day” had a galvanizing effect on me, compelling me to purchase the Duran Duran spin-off’s sole album So Red the Rose. This slinky, sexy, utterly captivating pop song was the album’s lead off track. I haven’t forgotten the bitter disappointment that slowly settled in upon listening to the remaining eight songs. Now available as an expanded reissue, So Red the Rose (Special Edition) has allowed me the chance to relive that experience a quarter century later. The remastered album is found on disc one, along with numerous bonus tracks. Disc two is loaded with alternate, mostly superfluous, mixes. The third disc is a DVD containing The Making of Arcadia, a documentary originally released on VHS back in 1987.
Fans of Duran Duran will be justifiably happy to see this deluxe treatment. During a break from their schedule, the group’s frontman Simon Le Bon, along with drummer Roger Taylor and keyboardist Nick Rhodes, formed this one-off group. With Duran Duran being among the biggest acts of the time, Arcadia was nearly guaranteed a huge hit. So Red the Rose went platinum, the trio resumed work with their normal gig, and Arcadia faded as a footnote of ’80s pop.
The question is: does this album hold any value for those not already enamored of Duran Duran? The problem, to my ears anyway, with so much music from this era is the garish production so commonly applied to otherwise decent pop. It’s not that the songs on So Red the Rose are especially bad. But to say they’re generally overproduced is an understatement. The layers of synths and electronic percussion simply doesn’t do the music any favors. There are good hooks all over this album, as is the case with the best Duran Duran releases. Too bad even the most appealing tracks are often drowned by so many unnecessary bells and whistles.
Aside from “Election Day,” still an astoundingly seductive piece of pop songcraft, much of the album sounds depressingly uninspired. “Keep Me In the Dark” and “Goodbye Is Forever” provide hope early on, as they are relatively sturdy tunes. But it’s a fairly steep downhill slide from there, with ballads that go nowhere (“Missing,” “Lady Ice”) and lengthy filler (“The Promise”). “El Diablo” rescues the album late in the game, with a strong hook and nice use of pan pipes (or maybe synth pan pipes?). Of the bonus tracks, a contribution to the film Playing For Keeps is the highlight, with “Say the Word” appearing in both its 7″ edit and also the longer soundtrack version. The remaining five bonus tracks found on disc one are remixes that are likely to appeal only to hardcore enthusiasts.
The obscure alternate mixes and extended versions of disc two are a collector’s dream, but overkill for most anyone else. “Election Day” appears three more times (in addition to the pair of remixes on disc one), the most interesting being the “Early Rough Mix.” The brief snippet from the regular album, “Rose Arcana,” turns up in a full five and a half minute version. Depending on your level of devotion to all things Duran Duran-related, these remixes might be fascinating to analyze. But in addition to the gaudy, robotic production techniques, the ’80s pop scene was marred by the trend of issuing endless dance remixes. The entirety of disc two is for completists and obsessives.
The Making of Arcadia contains five relatively elaborate music videos, interspersed with behind-the-scenes segments detailing the production of said videos. The hour long program is vaguely entertaining because of how seriously the band members were taking themselves. It’s all a bit over the top and pretentious, but that’s not to say such attitudes were unique to Arcadia (or Duran Duran in general). The music video was viewed by many prominent artists of that decade as a natural and necessary extension of the music itself. These guys can hardly be blamed for staging such detailed productions given that the budget was obviously fairly high. The making-of segments lean toward the tedious, but the videos themselves are entertaining and well made.
So Red the Rose (Special Edition) is a fittingly excessive documentation of an excessive era in pop music. The remastered sound hurts my ears if I don’t tweak the treble (the high end borders on grating at times). But overall this is a carefully produced deluxe reissue that should please fans. Give me “Election Day” all by itself, and I’m satisfied. But for those who need it all, this will do the trick.