GOOD HAIR DAYS
They lost popularity but the locks stayed. Now the kings of '80s glam pop, Duran Duran, are back.
Simon LeBon is reclining, slightly provocatively, in front of a female interviewer on a leather sofa in a bar at King Street Wharf, Darling Harbour. Then Nick Rhodes, the perennial Warhol wannabe, steps into the room from its balcony, shades still on (obviously) but a fair amount of make-up still visible on his face.
One-time pin-ups and chart deities Duran Duran are in Sydney to pimp their forthcoming album, Astronaut. But this is not Just Another Duran Album. After all, singer LeBon and keyboardist Rhodes have never stopped making music under the name of the scientist from Barbarella.
No, the reason every female fan of '80s pop, and a fair few male ones, might get excited about Astronaut is that it's the first album to be made by the "classic" Duran Duran line-up since 1983's Seven and the Ragged Tiger.
Not only have I just spotted the man voted "most fanciable male" seven times by readers of Smash Hits (UK) - the returning bass player John Taylor - but he looks like he's just stepped off the yacht from the Rio film clip, with his white suit jacket and bleach-blond hair. (Cue screams of girlish excitement.)
The bassist stuck by LeBon and Rhodes long after their mid-'80s peak, eventually leaving in 1996. Thus the two returning Duran members with officially the most explaining to do are guitarist Andy Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor (no relation to each other or John), who left, with their dignity, soon after the band's performance at the charity concert extravaganza Live Aid in 1985. Reuniting so long after one's peak smacks of one thing: cash-in.
"We've been doing this three years," counters Andy Taylor, 43 - curiously still the Duran member with the worst haircut despite a continuing 22-year marriage to one-time band hairstylist Tracey Wilson. "If we were doing it for the f---in' cash, we would have been out on the road doing the Eagles, baby.
"It's actually about something more than that to us. We realised that we had something, even at 40 years old, so unique and special. And we were lucky - we're all alive, healthy, firing on all pistons, and we could make records again. We could actually still write songs. We didn't wear ourselves out; we didn't f---in' kill ourselves."
He looks over at Roger Taylor, then laughs. "We had the '90s off! We had the '80s bangin'. We had the '90s off and now we're back for the good bit!"
"Nothing I was doing was quite taking off," admits Roger, who at 44 has aged remarkably well - he no longer looks like Freddie Mercury without the moustache. "I was kinda getting back into music again, so it felt quite natural when the call came - 'Yeah. Actually, yeah, great idea!'
"Y'know, what's the worst-case scenario? We can try it and, if it don't work, leave it."
"I think it's a combination of certain people," Andy says. "And particularly when you've been away from it and you've done your journeyman bit and you realise that nothing has been quite as potent or passionate or even got you out of bed in quite the same way.
"[When we reunited] no one turned up with a f---in' sitar. Everyone turned up with their instruments and it's, like, there's the five slices of the pizza; bang, fits together."
Rhodes and John Taylor originally formed Duran Duran in 1978 but only settled on this, er, pizza recipe in 1980. The quintet spent the next couple of years making some of the decade's defining pop records and, it must be said, video clips: from their eponymous debut album's Planet Earth and Girls on Film to Hungry Like the Wolf and its parent album's title track, Rio.
"Y'know, irrespective of the dressing and the wrapping when we were younger, we were a band," emphasises Andy. "We used to play together every day, rehearse, write tunes . . . I think a lot of that got missed first time by the marketing, the video thing and just the whole hype. But, actually, we did what the Beatles didn't do: we wrote every song on our first album."
With Astronaut spearheading a wholehearted attempt to relaunch the band, Duran Duran now find themselves in a position similar to that during their formative years.
"You really have to go and address everything again," the guitarist says. "Everything's gotta be built from scratch: just a whole industry of making a band and videos and records and everything that goes with that. And then you've got to get people to believe again."
Helping the rebirth of Duran Duran along were a couple of 25th-anniversary shows supporting Robbie Williams at Aussie Stadium last year. Roger Taylor describes the gigs as "a learning experience".
Huh? "Cause we'd never regularly played to stadium-sized crowds," the drummer explains. "It's like trying to move an elephant to get the crowd going. Well, actually, by the end of every show we would have everybody up on their feet - but it's certainly a different game that we had to really put some effort into learning."
Now, consolidating the reintroduction of Duran Duran to the public psyche, comes the first single from the new album, (Reach Up for the) Sunrise. It's already lodging itself in the nation's heads thanks to a jubilant, typically infectious chorus and the fact the song is now the soundtrack for the breakfast television show that shares its title.
But Andy Taylor seems most proud of the fact there's a lot more to Astronaut than that track and Duran Duran are still driven by ambition.
"There's so few artists now trying to set benchmarks," he says. "Y'know, the Bowies and the Princes of this world - where are they?
"If there is a mission for me, it's to start making records again and say to people, 'An album goes from [track] one to 12, not one to two.' Y'know? Push yourself. Go to the edge and try and do something different and challenge the audience. Give them a reason to f---in' buy it and come back to you and invest."
"I think the [fans] that kind of deserted the ship in 1985, they're all coming back," Roger adds. "Return of the Duranoids, I call it. They're all kind of in caves, waiting to be reactivated."
(Reach Up for the) Sunrise is released on Monday, Astronaut on October 11.
Courtesy Sydney Morning Herald. www.smh.com.au/