First developing my musical awareness in the late 70s & early 80s, it was impossible to avoid Duran Duran.
And why would you want to? Despite their pretty-boy image that had all the girls swooning over their Tiger Beat magazines, endlessly debating over which member was cuter, Duran Duran’s music actually holds up very well as the pinnacle of slick, futuristic New Wave funk, anchored by Andy Taylor’s sharp guitar riffs and John Taylor’s underrated and extremely active bass lines.
But a decade and a half of solid hit-making was followed by a fallow stretch beginning in the mid 90s. The band struggled to seem relevant, with misguided covers of rap classics “911 Is a Joke” and “White Lines,” as well as contrived collaborations with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake. It certainly seemed possible that Duran Duran’s legacy was to be that of a nostalgia act, a fondly-remember product of their times.
But this past year brought some interesting developments. First they appeared on a War Child tribute/charity record on the indie-cred-rich label Manimal Vinyl, covering David Bowie’s “Boys Keep Swinging” (certainly more in their wheelhouse than Public Enemy!) Then word came that Mark Ronson would be producing their next album. While such a move might seem like trying to ride the coattails of a hot young producer on the rise, Ronson is actually an inspired fit for the band, as he excels in celebrating retro sounds and styles without wallowing in mere nostalgia.
Could he bring the quintessential New Wavers into the new millennium with their mojo intact?
The answer is “yes,” as their new album, All You Need Is Now, is a worthy addition to their catalog. Clearly modeled after their 1982 high watermark, Rio, this new album puts a contemporary spin on their classic sound, and the original members (minus Andy, whose presence would have been the cherry on top, but who is ably spelled by frequent DD collaborator Dominic Brown) seem energized by sticking to the vibe they climbed the charts with: sexy, synth-sprinkled tales of excess and mild dystopia.
Vocalist Simon Le Bon croons his way through songs that subtly resemble favorites of yesteryear, with echoes of “The Chauffeur” and “Rio” heard throughout. Kelis and Owen Pallett make unlikely but welcome contributions (on the same track even!), but the record stands as a tribute to a band having a blast doing what they do best. Available now digitally, All You Need Is Now gets a physical release in late March (to capitalize on the 30th anniversary of their recording debut).
And lucky Coachella ticket holders will get to see Duran Duran at this year’s festival as well.
What’s your opinion? Is Duran Duran’s revival a welcome return, a desperate rehash or irrelevant because they were just a bunch of pretty boys in the first place? KCRW wants to know…
ERIC J. LAWRENCE