The return of the wild boys
By Gareth Gorman
21 April 2004
Fle-fle-flex. Duran Duran are back. GARETH GORMAN gets some careless memories out of John Talyor's head.
In John Taylor's head, if 'Duran Duran The Movie' was made, Uma Thurman and/or Warren Beatty would be filling his shoes whilst John Cusack would become Mr LeBon. Things have always been glamorous with John Taylor, the unabashed Bond fanatic who got to make a Bond theme tune (A View To A Kill) and with it, the only Bond tune to go to number one. You read that right Sir Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Lulu and Madonna may have had a crack at it, but Duran rule supreme.
Taking their name from a character in the Barbarella film who invented the Orgasmatron, right from the off, love 'em or hate 'em, you just knew that they'd be a band to watch. And what a band to watch totally flaunting it in lush videos filmed aboard luxurious yachts in verdant, exotic climes a band that totally took to the MTV dawn like the strutting peacocks they so naturally were.
The early to mid-80s were also simpler times. You could go one of three Smash Hits! ways, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet or, if you were keen to be a misfit, The Smiths. With even Spandau's bass player and former EastEnder Martin Kemp admitting in his autobiography that Duran Duran were the coolest band, they're probably back to being one of the coolest bands on the planet. On top of that, they also have validity in the shape of an Outstanding Contribution To Music Brit presented to them by no less than Justin Timberlake who confessed that they were the only reason he came along.
They've sold 70million records to date and it looks like things are going to get hot for them all over again. Could the last great British pop phenomenon be the ones that give British music a chance for global domination again?
Let's face it, Duran Duran were the 80s. The songs, the videos, the dating of supermodels, the champagne and alleged copious drug-taking the undiluted, gleeful excess of it all.
"I guess we did kind of straddle the decade," recalls John 'JT' Taylor, "I can't remember if our first appearance on Top Of The Pops was 1980. I can't remember if Planet Earth came out in 1980 or '81. Oh, '81 was it? OK, so I don't know... I don't really see the decade as one thing. If anything, we maybe typified the decade for the first half. I'd have to say that U2 typified the second half. If we're talking in terms of bands of musicians that's how I'd view it.
"There was definitely a before-Live Aid and post-Live Aid feel to popular music. I felt that after Live Aid it all went a bit pear-shaped for us and it became a real struggle for us to keep our foot in the door, which we didn't do until The Wedding Album, which straddled a new decade, and that's a difficult thing for any artist to do."
At the time, Duran Duran weren't one of the critic's favourites. When Taylor went off with Duran's Andy Taylor, Chic's Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson, plus Robert Palmer on vocals, for The Power Station project, one critic surmised, "John Taylor has finally proved himself to be the vain, arrogant, shitball we always thought he was." But in today's music industry where the UK is producing pop poppets who are nothing but Stepford droids for their record company honchos, Duran's self-sufficiency seems positively glowing. Heck, they were so grown-up they were allowed to play their own instruments, write their own songs, choose their own producers and their own video directors. Basically, THEY told the record company what to do and the record company would listen and then say yes.
Fittingly, bands such as The Dandy Warhols are worshipping at the Duran shrine Nick Rhodes and Simon LeBon were both drafted in to help out on their latest, acclaimed, Welcome To The Monkeyhouse album. In a more blatant pop vein, Girls Aloud formidably covered Girls On Film, while the biggest surprise comes from heavy Welsh rockers Lostprophets who are named after a Duran Duran bootleg.
Two years ago, Duran were also treated to the tribute album courtesy of Australian artists like Kylie Minogue and Powderfinger. On top of that, they've been sampled by Puff Daddy and the Blur single, which basically launched Britpop, Girls & Boys sounds like the missing Duran single that should have come out between Planet Earth and Girls On Film. That's a whole load of respect for the band who were once considered the nadir of the British music scene.
"Yeah, well I think we were the kind of band that kids would see and say, 'Wow that looks fun that's what I want.' I know that when I listen to the Beatles I hear musical ideas and innovation and harmony, but when I was a kid I looked at them and saw travel and chicks and I thought, 'That's what I want. I want to be in a band like the Beatles because they get to travel and they get lots of chicks. We made it look like fun to be in a band."
But whenever things were going well with Duran Duran, they'd manage to shoot themselves expertly in the foot or, in LeBon's case, sink a yacht. Frankly, they didn't seem to have a harness on what it was that made them good and because of that they made as many gaffes as goods. After time, this has only made them more endearing.
"Albums like Notorious and Big Thing, I don't think were fully-realised affairs. We were struggling to maintain an identity to grow with the times. With Notorious, in particular, we'd lost our key musical guy, Andy, and we were quickly trying to cover over any gaps and at the same time stay relevant.
"I love some of the songs but as an album it's not successful, and I say the exact same thing with Big Thing. Again, we were going through a period of self-evaluation and trying to define ourselves. The following album, Liberty, has its problems too. I'm fully satisfied with four of the albums the first three and The Wedding Album."
He's also justifiably happy with that Power Station album an album with a distinctive 80s bass-and-drum routine if ever there was one.
"Yeah, it's a ball-buster and I'm very proud of it."
Taylor mentions the defection of Andy Taylor as a major blow toDuran's musicality.
"Andy was feeling very frustrated and held back. He felt that there was nothing the band could do that he couldn't do and he just wanted to rock."
Strangely enough, both Taylor boys spent some of their Duran wilderness years playing and making music with Sex Pistol, Steve Jones. Taylor's project, which also featured members of Guns n' Roses, was very LA-down-and-dirty, big, dumb, rock and roll.
"I really like the idea of being able to do whatever I want. I don't see age as having anything to do with it. It was a great opportunity to work with Steve. He's a legend and very influential on me."
That Duran Duran are back together without any of the legal sourness that's ruled out the chances of any Spandau reunion totally blows John Taylor's mind.
"I wanted to make it to Madison Square Gardens that was my mountain top and once we got there, I really wasn't sure where to go from there. It's taken me a while to really address my passion and take it seriously as an occupation."
Until 2003, it was a long time since all five original Duran men had spent time in the same room. In 1984, they semi-split, with Andy and John Taylor forming Power Station. Meanwhile, Nick talked Simon into doing a more esoteric project, Arcadia. Roger Taylor worked on both but suffered something of a nervous breakdown when they regrouped for that number one, A View To A Kill. Andy then departed to be replaced by Warren Cuccurullo. A frosty tension between Andy and Nick put off a full reunion until last year, although they managed four out of five for the Thankyou covers album which featured that no-no-Notorious version of White Lines in 1993. John then left Nick and Simon to it for a few years after walking out on both sessions for Duran's Medazzaland and a dreadful Power Station reunion which probably only music critics have heard. He claims he was having loads of personal problems himself at the time but, frankly, I'm not going to question the sanity of the man who walks out on Amanda De Cadenet and two appalling albums. That he next resurfaced in a project called Neurotic Outsiders, showed he's lost none of his roguish charm or humour. But that was then and this is now, and a certain Mr Taylor is just thankful that they finally got their shit together whilst they've still got hair and not much of a gut.
"Within Duran, we get along like any good dysfunctional family should. Our creative existence comes from us having relied on each other for so long. Now we've got some validation and honour, plus a whole load of great bands openly saying how much we inspired them well it just seems cool again after a whole load of tough times.
"It's funny, because we were accused, no, written off as being a fashion band, but we always thought of ourselves as a band of the people. We've had some time away from the people but it seems that they want us back, and we're only too glad to be here for them."