Duran Duran glad to be back where it started
By Roman Gokhman
Posted: 04/08/2011 01:00:00 AM PDT
Many musicians who have lasted a decade or more try to reinvent themselves to stay fresh.
Not Duran Duran.
The seminal British new wave band, celebrating the 30th anniversary of its debut album, has been busy trying to find its way back to the sound that made it one of the most successful bands of the early '80s. Band members believe they found that sound with the help of British DJ Mark Ronson, a producer about 20 years their junior, who collaborated with Duran Duran on its 13th album, "All You Need Is Now," released digitally in December and on disc in March.
"He's brought us back to basics in a way," bassist John Taylor said. "He brought us back to our own sound, instead of looking for a way to update the sound. "... I don't know what it was when we did it in 1981, but it feels like we're still kind of doing it now."
On several previous albums, Duran Duran had tried to update its sound; Taylor says that was a mistake.
"It's happened to a lot of artists over the years," he said. "You go out, out, out -- but then you've got to come back in.
The band was certainly in in the early 1980s, quickly becoming one of the most successful bands of the second British Invasion of America.
With hits such as "Rio," "Girls On Film," "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "The Reflex" -- as well as groundbreaking videos that portrayed the band members as stylish playboys on the new Music Television -- all five members became heartthrobs.
Princess Diana called Duran Duran her favorite band.
By the time the band broke big with a lineup of singer Simon Le Bon, bassist Taylor, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Andy Taylor (none of the Taylors are related), it already had gone through several lineup incarnations.
Unlike contemporaries such as Spandau Ballet and Culture Club, Duran Duran endured by dropping the ruffled shirts and expanding into new dance rock territory. But by the latter part of the decade, band members' decadent lifestyles and the heavy drug and alcohol consumption of several members, including John Taylor, complicated matters. And there were the band members' many side projects and departures, at various times, of all three Taylors.
"We're all quite ambitious and passionate about what we do," Taylor said when asked why the band persevered. "We are really fortunate, and we really do appreciate the opportunity that we have. We just want to make the best of our lives. We're not slackers, any of us."
Duran Duran reformed in 2000 to record "Astronaut." Led by the single "(Reach Up for the) Sunrise," the album was hailed as the band's best work since the mid-'80s. The lineup would not last, however, as Andy Taylor left for a second time when a rift formed between him and the band's management.
The remaining members went into the studio with collaborators Timbaland, Nate "Danja" Hills and Justin Timberlake. The result was 2007's "Red Carpet Massacre," slammed by critics.
Duran Duran had lost its fan base, Taylor said. That had to be remedied.
Enter producer Ronson, 35, who had produced a Grammy-winning Amy Winehouse record, and who knew the band members because his socialite parents were friends of the band. He brought with him a back-to-basics mentality that eschewed trendy recording techniques.
"He said Duran Duran should not have sampled looping and hip-hop bass drums," said Taylor. "He said the keyboards should be analog."
The result was a classic Duran Duran album.
"We tried to come up with the kind of pop that we would have come up with back then," Taylor said. "It's very difficult to do that."
Taylor said the band had to act as if bands such as Coldplay, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Radiohead, as well as the entire hip-hop genre, did not exist yet.
"I had to pretend like none of those influences had never come into my brain in the last 20 years, like the kid that I was in 1982," he said.
Duran Duran spent 18 months recording "All You Need is Now," then put forth even more effort to promote it and spent more than a year touring behind it, Taylor said. So much for being decadent playboys.
"You've got to feel good about that product," he said. "It's a tremendous feeling when you have something that you feel good about."
WHEN: April 16, 9 p.m.
WHERE: The Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., S.F.
TICKETS: $72; www.livenation.com
Courtesy Oakland Tribune