'80s "Five" still "Fab"

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'80s "Five" still "Fab" ALAN K. STOUT MUSIC ON THE MENU
Duran Duran has new music, new show coming here

DURING THE GOLDEN age of MTV in the mid-'80s, no band was bigger than Duran Duran. The British quintet seemed to have it all: instantly memorable and catchy pop songs, poster-boy good looks and highly innovative music videos that helped turn the medium into a true art form. With fame also came plenty of milestones, including selling 70 million records, playing Live Aid, scoring several No. 1 hits and getting dubbed "The Fab Five" by Rolling Stone magazine.

It was an incredible run of commercial success, and songs like "Hungry Like The Wolf," "The Wild Boys," "Is There Something I Should Know" and "The Reflex" helped serve as the musical backdrop to a decade remembered best for its decadence.

With success, however, also came a few personnel changes, and though the band, due at the Wachovia Arena tomorrow night, continued on into the '90s and enjoyed a brief comeback with 1993's "Ordinary World," it wasn't until 2001 that the original line-up of Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Andy Taylor and Roger Taylor played together again for the first time in 15 years.

The result is "Astronaut," a very cohesive and a very good pop album released last year and recorded over a three-year period. It's a fresh and modern-sounding record that easily helps the band step into the new millennium, yet there's also familiarity: heavy hooks, memorable melodies and plenty of sing-along choruses.

"We rented out a house in the south of France, in true Duran Duran style, and we just set up the instruments and just played, solidly, for two weeks," drummer Roger Taylor says. "It was all new material, and we got quite a few songs out of that session."

Taylor says the group then took a break from the mini-reunion, did some touring and continued to write and record even more songs. All the while, it was negotiating a new record deal, and -- with eyes on another comeback -- eventually signed with Epic.

"We knew we had to come out with all guns firing, with a major label, so I guess we were being pretty choosy," Taylor says. "It was like trying to tread through a minefield, but we got the deal we wanted in the end."

Taylor says all the wheeling and dealing and time spent writing and reworking songs may have helped make "Astronaut" a better album. Still, he says it was those initial spirited jams of four years ago that reminded the group of its special chemistry.

"It was incredible," he says. "Within 10 minutes, we knew we'd gotten something really special back. We just looked at each other and thought, 'Wow. This is it. This is the real Duran Duran. Nobody else makes a sound like this.'"

Duran Duran's history is an unusual one. Despite status as pop stars and pin-up boys who graced the covers of every teen magazine of the '80s, they also were vastly different than the "boy bands" of today. They wrote their own songs. They were excellent musicians.

In addition to musical credibility, the band is credited as pioneers of music video. The group's clips were shot in exotic locations with lots of quick edits and plenty of fashion. To Duran Duran, a music video was not simply a promotional tool for a new song but a piece of art.

"The band was always into aesthetics," Taylor says. "We always wanted to be a visual band, so it was an easy fit for us when video came along. There were a lot of other people that were saying 'God, we're not going to do music videos. That's not for bands. That's not us.' But we kind of grasped it, and there was a lot of creative talent around, because it was the birth of a new art form.

Taylor names "Save a Prayer" and "Rio" among the classic Duran Duran songs he still enjoys playing most. He also has a soft spot for "A View To A Kill," which hit No. 1 on the charts and appeared on the soundtrack to the James Bond film of the same name. For five British kids, he says, it was a dream come true.

(Even Paul McCartney once said scoring a Bond film was an honor for any Brit.)

"It's almost like being knighted because it's such a successful and glamorous part of British society," Taylor says.

"You're sitting in your house on a cold, English, kind of damp winter afternoon, and the Bond thing is the only thing that brings glamour into your life. It was something to aspire to, and that was all very much part of our upbringing. We had to go meet the queen, and the royal family and Roger Moore. It was probably the high point of the '80s."

Duran Duran has been on tour for two months and will stay on the road throughout the year. Future stops include Europe and Asia. Taylor says the show is more than two hours long and includes all the big hits from the '80s and '90s, lots of video and about a half a dozen new songs from the new album.

Courtesy Times Leader