Duran Duran recovers from the '80s

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Duran Duran recovers from the '80s

Kerry Gold Vancouver Sun

March 3, 2005

If any band encapsulated the '80s, it was Duran Duran -- the pretty boys with the poofy hair, the makeup and songs glisteningly upbeat as baubles about girls on film, wild boys, hungry wolves and Rio.

Between 1982 and 1985, the Birmingham boys were superstar teen idols who'd emerged from the British new romantic underground. Since their debut they sold 70 million records, becoming one of the biggest bands in the pop world.

Singer Simon LeBon and keyboardist Nick Rhodes were the band's highest-profile members, but talented bass player John Taylor was the male model of the bunch. Still is, it turns out, because the band's biggest party boy turned his life around and became the picture of clean living.

"I had to take myself right to the edge, but now I'm the farthest from the edge," he says of his self-preservation.

In 2001, the original lineup returned to the studio for the first time since 1983, with a new record released last year, Astronaut. They've set out on a 12-week North American tour that brings them to GM Place Friday night.

The hair is as intact as the ability to conjure a funky electro-pop sound, and it's an even better sound, because Duran Duran are finally being taken seriously, and judging from contemporary hard-hitting, dance-floor productions like Astronaut and Want You More, they're taking the job a lot more seriously too. If the critics were harsh back in the day, they'll be softening considerably.

In their 40s with 12 children among them and 25 years of both glorious fame and the bruising of has-been status behind them, Duran Duran is grateful they've got the chance again. Judging from recent shows, their audience may be in its 30s, but they're acting like giggly schoolkids to see the band playing old and new material.

"When we first got [back] together we were going to get the biggest deal, we thought it was going to happen like that and it didn't," says Taylor, sounding amused at their naivete.

"Every day there was an awakening. The first guy that we took on to manage us said, 'Listen, I think the most we can get is probably $2 million advance for the album.'

"Well, we'd just read that Robbie Williams got $40 million, so we fired him," he says, laughing.

"Two years later, we were like, "$1 million will do!"

Having signed a four-album deal with Sony, the band is still cautious this time around. Duran Duran has to prove itself, and as Taylor says: "It's all contingent on results."

Duran Duran may have been off the radar for a while, but it's not like the band has come out of retirement. The band members have mostly stayed working since the halcyon days of new wave. They haven't always worked together, but they've had solo and side projects to see them through.

But nothing ever so good as those early days, when even Diana, Princess of Wales, was gushing over her love of the band. For his part, it's not a moment that Taylor savours.

"My father has that picture on his wall," he says dryly.

Rhodes, Taylor and friends Simon Colley and Stephen Duffy formed the band in 1978, playing the Birmingham bar circuit. Duffy and Colley left within a year, and drummer Roger Taylor joined. Eventually, the band settled on guitarist Andy Taylor and former punk rocker and drama student LeBon as the singer, in 1980. By the end of that year, they were hugely popular in England at the forefront of the new romantics movement. A string of hits followed, including Girls on Film, Rio, Hungry Like the Wolf, Save a Prayer.

And today Taylor is the first to acknowledge the role that the then-fledgling music video played in boosting their career. Nobody at the time had such glamorous, sexy videos as Duran Duran.

"As far as the videos were concerned, we were definitely the right band in the right place at the right time, not any one of us had any foresight there.

"This guy, [videographer] Russell Mulcahy, he defined the visual image of the band for the next three years . . . he was one of the prime movers of the music video vernacular. Just about every '80s cliche was invented in our videos, really."

That was then, this is now. What middle-aged band occupies real estate on MTV or MuchMusic? Green Day aside, it's the domain of the under-30 set, and the Mulcahy-Duran Duran magic was of its time.

"It's tough now, it's tough," says Taylor. "I feel like I'd like to make that kind of time, that kind of collaboration again maybe, but I don't know that we can."

Their superfame was a party that seemed to last mere minutes. By the mid-'80s, the fuss was over, and Andy and John Taylor had formed the Power Station with Robert Palmer and Chic drummer Tony Thompson, enjoying hits Some Like It Hot and Get It On (Bang a Gong). Rhodes, LeBon and Roger Taylor formed Arcadia, and released a hit, Election Day. The band operated mostly as a trio for the next several years, releasing several albums with varying success.

In 1993, its funky adult contemporary sound struck a nerve, and Duran Duran was briefly back with surprise hit Ordinary World. Taylor rode the waves for as long as he could, but ultimately bailed.

"We just stuck it out, and we spent the second half of the '80s just trudging with our feet in the mud, gale force winds, Simon Nick and I just knuckling down, album after album, less and less interest, you know.

"And then, Bang. Ordinary World. Bang. Get back in the charts again, whoa. We're back in the game, the second decade, and all that that signifies.

"Then we kind of blew it really quickly. The covers album just didn't work out. And at this point I needed to get away.

"But I think there's as much pride of ownership in what we've done in this new album as anything any of us have done to this point. Because as individuals and in the last few years as a band we've worked very, very hard.

"Mind you, when you do what I do for a living it's not hard work, like holding on to a drill in the middle of the road. I know that there are a lot of people that work an awful lot harder than I do, that come home from work dog tired.

"But psychologically, it's demanding."

It's demanding in the sense that Taylor has seen little of his children or his wife since committing to this comeback. But it's different, too, this time around.

"It was just a blur back then," he remembers. "It was like being on an out-of-control horse. Now at least you feel you are kind of holding the reins, you have a little bit more control about how I'm going to feel tomorrow than I did in '82 or '83, because I had no idea how to live.

"Remember, my whole life was predicated on the idea that at 17, I wanted to be in a band. It wasn't like I went to college for seven years to study architecture. It was seeing bands on tv, and saying, 'Oh I want to do that.' That's the extent of my training.

"You're making it up as you go along.

"We're all students of what we do and we're still blown away by the achievements of our peers and we look with interest upon Justin Timberlake's solo career and U2's latest albums.

"I just have to look at where I'm at today and how I feel about myself and the guys.

"Sometimes you have to exhaust every alternative to realize you were on the right road in the beginning."

Duran Duran plays GM Place Friday.

Courtesy The Vancouver Sun 2005