The '80s strike back

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The '80s strike back

Two iconic groups of the Decade of Excess - Duran Druan and Motley Crue - have reunited and both hit Sunrise this week.

BY HOWARD COHEN

hcohen@herald.com

John Taylor, the (still) good-looking member of Duran Duran says he's ''loud and proud'' on the band's CD, Astronaut, this reunited incarnation's first full album together since 1983's Seven and the Ragged Tiger.

'We all walked away from the album [Astronaut] saying, `Yeah! We did it!' We were high-fiving hands,'' Taylor, 44, said from his home in Los Angeles. 'Every bassline I love to play. I think it was what I lost over the years. On those early records I'm this kid -- `Listen to me play, this is me!' -- who [eventually] lost his edge, confidence, and by [1983's] Wedding Album there was a [feeling of] 'Where's John?' A lot of personalities got dissipated and on this record I'm loud and proud and I feel everybody is. . . . It's not a record you have to be embarrassed by.''

Taylor is going to need every ounce of juice he can muster on his bass tonight when he and his partners -- singer Simon LeBon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Andy Taylor (none of the Taylors are related) -- open their North American reunion tour from Sunrise's Office Depot Center.

That's because the arena promises to be ground zero for an '80s invasion of two defining, yet polar opposite, reunited acts of the era this week: the Double D tonight, and the considerably louder Motley Crue Thursday.

It would seem the only thing these groups shared was a penchant for wearing makeup in their prime. Duran Duran epitomized '80s fashion excess, sparked the briefly popular New Romantic movement, and gave then-fledgling MTV some of its most memorable images thanks to globe-trotting, exotic videos like Hungry Like the Wolf, Rio and Wild Boys.

Motley Crue, in turn, celebrated the sleazy side of '80s life on Hollywood Boulevard with pop-metal trash classics such as Girls, Girls, Girls, Dr. Feelgood, She Goes Down and the obligatory Satan-referencing Shout at the Devil.

At the height of its popularity, Motley Crue's bassist Nikki Sixx overdosed (but was revived). The reunited hard rock band has just released another greatest hits package, this one entitled Red, White & Crue, and it boasts three new songs. Drummer and gossip page magnet Tommy Lee has been quoted as saying these new tracks may be ``lame.''

No point arguing with Tommy. There is no maybe about it. They are awful. Motley Crue's screeching cover of The Rolling Stones' Street Fighting Man strips it of meaning and ranks as one of the worst cover songs in history. Motley's '80s rockers like Live Wire, Looks That Kill and Wild Side retain their kick, however.

Meanwhile, at the height of its popularity, Duran Duran did what any self-respecting British pop group would do: record a theme song for a James Bond movie, A View to a Kill in 1985.

This would be the last time the original Fab Five played together until reblasting off with Astronaut.

''The first couple years were so great. Those first two albums were so honest,'' Taylor says. ``We were kids, so well-meaning, doing our own thing. We got caught up in the bull- - - - of trying to be something other than what we are. All of a sudden we wrote a dozen hits without trying, then you start trying to write hits and can't do it . . . and you're not trying to look like a sex symbol but you've become one and then MTV stops playing you and you can't be a sex symbol [anymore.]''

Duran Duran soldiered on anyway, notching a few hits with replacement players (Come Undone, Ordinary World were the highlights) but by the time of 2000's commercial fizzle, Pop Trash, the group was down to a trio, and '90s guitarist Warren Cuccurullo was becoming better known for peddling a plastic replica of his penis on a sex-themed website.

Things were not looking good.

Taylor was gone before that indignity, having left in the middle of recording sessions for 1997's techno-leaning Medazzaland. He didn't spend a lot of time pondering what the other guys were doing at the time. ''I wasn't interested in thinking about Duran Duran. That's why I left,'' he says. ``I was too busy trying to assert my own identity.''

Unlike fellow Brits, Genesis' Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins or The Police's Sting, for example, Taylor, who also played in the '80s side-project group The Power Station with the late Robert Palmer, couldn't make the transition from team player to solo star. (He did land one minor Top 40 hit on his own, I Do What I Do, from the 1986 movie 9 ? Weeks).

''Maybe I'm just a lightweight,'' Taylor says. He believes he functions better as a group member. ``I had a band of my own and was playing clubs and Simon [LeBon] came and sang with me and it was unbelievable. We tore the roof off the place. So much fun. We were both thinking if we could get the five of us back together how amazing would that be? There's some musical history out there and we can play these songs the way they were meant to be played.''

So far, though, Astronaut's sales have been disappointing. Perhaps the first single, (Reach Up for the) Sunrise, was the wrong initial calling card, Taylor believes. A different mix of the song had appeared eight months earlier on the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy compilation CD and felt stale by the time of Astronaut's October release. He thinks the current single, What Happens Tomorrow, is the better choice. The tour may help bring attention to the project.

Nevertheless, reforming the original band and releasing what is, arguably, Duran Duran's best overall album (on par with Rio) coincides with Taylor's maturation as an adult.

''Life is so different for me now,'' he says. Taylor and his wife live in L.A. with their blended family of three kids. ``I don't drink now, don't get high. It's been that way for quite a few years. How the music business has changed I can barely notice because all I can think of is how I've changed for the better.''

If anything has changed for Duran Duran it could be critical opinion. Dismissed by hipper-than-thou music critics in its heyday, Duran Duran's dance-pop sound serves as the obvious blueprint for new acclaimed rock acts such as Britain's Franz Ferdinand and Las Vegas' The Killers.

Taylor praises the younger bands, especially the rising crop of British rock acts, but isn't sure what to make of reviewers' viewpoints. ''You want to stay in the zeitgeist and sometimes people recognize you in articles and sometimes you're not mentioned in an article on the history of [music in] 1982. And sometimes we'll get an article where we get all this credit we don't deserve,'' he says.

More than 20 years removed from the Duran Duran mania of the early '80s, Taylor says he has learned one key thing.

''You've got to pace yourself,'' he says. ``I learned as much from athletes. These days you have got to be smart, be prepared and keep an open mind.''

Courtesy Miami Herald

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