All systems go for Duran Duran

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All systems go for Duran Duran

With the original members all onboard, 'Astronaut,' puts Duran Duran back in orbit

Thursday, October 7, 2004

By MARIO TARRADELL / The Dallas Morning News

Musical reunions may be passe, especially when it's some half-baked get-together by aging rockers desperately trying to revive their have-been careers. None of that applies to Duran Duran. The English lads are hot again, folks. And it's not just nostalgia.

• A fall 2003 tour reuniting the original five members – Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Andy Taylor and Roger Taylor (all unrelated) – celebrating the 25th anniversary of the group's formation proves a sell-out success, including a November show at the Majestic Theatre. A summer 2004 trek also drew sold-out crowds and rave reviews.

• They get their props. First, a lifetime-achievement award presented by MTV honoring the group's groundbreaking videos, from early clips such as "Girls on Film" to latter-day ones such as "Come Undone." Then, a slew of celebrities sing their praises, including Justin Timberlake, the Dandy Warhols, Debbie Harry, Christy Turlington, Edward Burns, the Donnas, Macy Gray and Adrien Brody.

• The band scores a contract with powerhouse Epic Records. Their first album for the label, Astronaut, arrives in stores Tuesday. It boasts three hip producers, R&B knob turner Dallas Austin, rock's Don Gilmore (Linkin Park) and Nile Rodgers (Chic, David Bowie).

Astronaut sounds like the work of a revitalized quintet eager to prove it still has the grooves, the hooks and the chops. The record leaps out of the speakers from the get-go. It merges the band's signature dance style with dreamy melodies, rock guitars and potent drum work. Tracks such as "Sunrise," the inaugural single, "Want You More" and "Taste of Summer" seem ripe for club remixes. Moodier numbers such as "Chains" and "Still Breathing" capture the sweeping, new-romantic vibe of classic Duran Duran.

"We feel as though we hit the vein of inspiration," says drummer Roger Taylor by phone from his home in London. "We think it's one of the best albums we've done. It's not one of those albums where you put two songs and the others are not that good. They are all strong and we made sure of that."

With a timeless body of work behind them – hits such as "Hungry Like the Wolf," "Rio," "Wild Boys" and "Union of the Snake" – Roger and company knew they had to create new standards that could stand next to the vintage material.

Mark Goodman, MTV video jockey from 1981 to 1988 when the nascent cable channel and the band were synergistically feeding off each other, agrees.

"I really believe that this could be the best record that this band has ever done," says Mr. Goodman, now an on-air personality with Sirius Satellite Radio, by phone from Los Angeles. "It's not a great record because I remember the '80s. It's a great record, period. They've come together and found whatever they needed to find within them to pull it off in the studio and deliver a record that's all there. The sound is great, there's dancey stuff on there, there's real guitars on there. It doesn't sound dated."

The journey to Astronaut began early in 2000 when Roger Taylor got a call from John Taylor to reconvene the original lineup. For Roger, who hadn't performed with Duran Duran since the Live Aid concert in 1985, it was simply the right time.

"I was just ready for it," he says. "We all were. We all hit that stage in life when the past didn't seem quite as bad as it seemed when we broke up."

When Roger left Duran Duran, he'd had enough of the constant touring, the screaming fanatics, and the increasing restlessness among five friends who felt like commodities instead of pals making music.

"The spirit of the band had been broken. We were not the same. We were in separate parts of the universe as people. Everybody was tired of each other after so much intense time together. For me, we were doing it for the wrong reasons. We started because we loved music and wanted to play together, and it became all about expectations, projections. I just didn't want to carry on with that anymore. I bought myself a farm in the countryside and just stayed here for a few years."

Duran Duran carried on through the late '80s and '90s, first without Roger and Andy Taylor, and then without John Taylor as well. By the time 2000's ill fated Pop Trash was released, only Mr. Le Bon and Mr. Rhodes were left as original members. The magic was clearly missing.

Yet the group never completely lost its cachet. Records, from 1986's Notorious to 1995's covers album Thank You, regularly sold between 500,000 and 1 million copies. Even sales disappointments Medazzaland and Pop Trash managed to make a dent on the charts. So the furor of the reunion might not seem so strange, especially in an era where everything old can be new again.

"Whether it was fashionable or unfashionable, we would have still done it," says Roger. "It's what we felt we wanted to do in our lives right now. But the world seems to be in the same state of mind. People are really ready for us. It's been like that ever since we started, a snowball effect."

Mr. Goodman isn't surprised by the massive reception to the reunion.

"Duran Duran has one of the most rabid followings of any band, and that following continues today," he says. "Through all our time at MTV they were huge but that following continues now. They have an amazing fan base. It's gigantic. I've worked on radio for many, many years and they are hugely requested."

For a band that banked on clothing, make-up and the power of visuals to promote its sound, the bottom line remains the songs. Duran Duran tunes merge dance and rock, R&B and punk to create music that's liberating and invigorating. That's why Roger Taylor comes back to the tunes on Astronaut. A sold-out reunion tour is great, but the true test of artistic longevity will always hinge on the ability to make resonant music again.

"If you deliver something substandard you're over," he says. "It's gone. Everybody compares it to your best stuff. That's what drove us. We didn't want to be in our own shadow."

Courtesy Dallas Morning News