(Warner Bros ***)
Since the early-'00s reunion of its core members - singer Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, bassist John Taylor, and drummer Roger Taylor (no relation) - Duran Duran musicians have tried to find a niche for themselves and the retro-yet-cool New Wave synth-pop sound they helped invent in the 1980s. Their 2007 Timbaland-produced album Red Carpet Massacre did not work. But 2010's All You Need Is Now, with Mark Ronson, highlighted all that was glorious about Duran Duran while maintaining its grooving, melodic base. Ronson returns on Paper Gods with his patented uptown funk and brings producer/guitarist Nile Rodgers along for slick, soulful songs such as "Pressure Off," reminiscent of Rodgers' great band Chic.
There's help on Paper Gods (including Janelle Monáe and John Frusciante), but Duran doesn't need it. "Whatever happens, we're still here," croons Le Bon in that steely tone of his on the ruminative "Sunset Garage," one of the album's sweetest moments. There's a sweeping, epic sound in "The Universe Alone" - a genuine surprise. Duran Duran still focuses on its obsessions (big money, fashion, celebrity), yet during "Danceophobia" and the hypnotic title track, the members also throw it all away: "Bleeding from paper cuts,/ Money for headshots/Fools leading,/Who needs it."
- A.D. Amorosi