It shouldn't come as a surprise that Killing Joke draws fans from the heavy metal coterie or that Duran Duran has made lots of friends in suburban discos. Both of these British bands are considered New Wave, but in England nowadays, all that label guarantees is a certain novelty value and a marketable image. Innumerable groups, including these two, have used punk's credos of innovation and individuality as a pretense for hopping bandwagons, going from one trend or style to another in a quest for Old Wave-style success.
Killing Joke, which performs at the 9:30 club on Saturday, incorporates a great deal of the vision and sound of '70s hard rock into the "prog-punk" (progressive punk) format. The group's stance is violent, macho and anti-sentimental, the same sort of pose that the likes of Black Sabbath employ.
Almost every number on "Revelations" (Editions E.G./ Malicious Damage, EGMD 3), Killing Joke's most recent LP, is an overwrought, near-impenetrable mess. The basic elements are definitely derived from punk, but something about the context, the delivery and the intent has gone horribly wrong.
Time after time the group goes after sensationalistic effects, readily achieved bits of cheap theater. "Chop Chop" is a rumbling menace, Geordie's bombastic guitars, a dully throbbing rhythm section and Jaz Coleman's bellowing vocalese all battering the ears. They saddled "Dregs," already a weak tune, with a ponderous, leaden tempo and sloppy disco mix -- more failed atmospherics. Killing Joke attempts repeatedly to imbue this material with an aura of power and profundity. Instead it sounds overbearing and pretentious.
The results are overwhelmingly tedious and trite. It's about as politically enlightening, or even threatening, as watching Japanese sci-fi flicks on a Saturday afternoon. Never mind that the radiation-induced boogie monsters -- or worse -- are a real possibility. No sincere emotions are exposed, no substantial points made. Killing Joke nearly plays to its audience's morbid preconceptions. This probably explains the group's popularity among adolescent would-be psychopaths. It offers easy answers, a vulgar reduction of more complex realities.
Duran Duran, which opens for Blondie at Merriweather Post Pavilion Monday, performs a similar disservice for dance-floor dilettantes. The New Romantic movement the group emerged from was a wry, knowing adaptation of disco and glitter conventions in opposition to punk's elitism of ugliness.
From the word go, Duran Duran was a packaging concept. The moment the group was signed, its record company hired Roxy Music's haberdasher to dress them, Magazine's graphic designer to do their record sleeve art work and the engineer from David Bowie's "Heroes" sessions to produce. In fact, everything except showing the band how to write, play or sing properly was done for them.
"Rio" (Harvest, ST-12211) is tepid, anonymous electro-pop slop. The tunes are flat and nondescript and, even worse, awkward. The title cut stumbles back and forth between ill-suited chorus and verse sections. "Hungry Like a Wolf" tries to propel a terribly plain melody with a thumping stodgy beat to no avail. Throughout, the musicianship is pedestrian and the singing bland--and very wisely buried in the mix.
Any bright points on "Rio" should be credited to producer Colin Thurston. He's dressed up drab tracks like "Last Chance on the Stairway" with a legion of tasteful flourishes, a tinkling splash of vibes in this case. Elsewhere there are sudden bursts of percussion, subtle tonal variations. "Hold Back the Rain," the most brazen Roxy pop here, benefits greatly from his sly manipulation of timbre and texture. Thurston almost renders this stuff listenable.