Duran Duran regroups with new material

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Duran Duran regroups with new material
MTV stars as a boy band in the'80s, they're parents now, but still funky
Friday, April 08, 2005

Duran Duran personified Reagan Era excess with its hair glop, swank suits and ebullient pop. Riding the influx of New Wave bands in the early'80s, the Birmingham Brits became a smash via then-fledgling MTV. Their hits -- "Planet Earth," "Rio," "Girls on Film" -- were fueled by analog synthesizers, not guitars.

Duran Duran was dismissed as a mere boy band in its heyday for its deceptively simple, inexorable dance music. But pop musicians today are building on its legacy. You can trace neo-New Wave acts like The Faint, The Killers and VHS or Beta directly to Duran Duran. Pop queen Gwen Stefani, too, borrows from Duran Duran's electro sound.

Now in their 40s, the more maturely attired band -- they wear matching black suits these days -- has weathered lineup changes, substance abuse and 15 years of mostly forgettable material. When the original members regrouped in 2001 and packed reunion concerts, they decided to write new songs.

"Astronaut" (Sony/Epic, 2004), the first recording with all-original members in 21 years, summons the exuberance of the early hits. It's a faithful, subtly updated version of the band's trademark mix of electropop, mid-tempo dance-rock and mild funk. Simon LeBon's voice is still clear and sexy, a combo of swagger and fey vocal dramatics.

"We stuck pretty true to our original roots," keyboardist Nick Rhodes said from the tour in Chicago. "When we got back together, we didn't all sit in a room and think, 'Goodness, how do we reinvent ourselves?' We just thought, 'Let's go and write really good songs.'"

Duran Duran, which plays The Borgata in Atlantic City on Sunday, was known for its lewd lyrics and controversial videos that verged on soft porn. Banned on MTV and the BBC, "Girls on Film" featured topless women mud wrestling and overt depictions of sex fetishes. "Astronaut" adds continuity to their fascination with sexual taboo. The cut "Bedroom Toys" is indeed about sex toys.

The album also reflects on 9/11 and terrorism in contrast to the post-Cold War bliss and general incautiousness of the band's salad days.

"A lot of things are very different this time around," Rhodes said. "Everyone has a lot more responsibility now than when we were touring when we were teenagers. We've got kids in school."

The industry terrain also has changed. Some 220,000 copies of "Astronaut" have been bought in the United States, a paltry number compared to the millions Duran Duran once sold, but respectable given the new age of Internet downloads.

There are evidently enough thirty- and fortysomethings who remember Duran Duran to have taken "What Happens Tomorrow," with its flypaper-sticky melody and arena-rock swells, to the Top 20 on the Adult Contemporary charts.

The high-octane, instantly addictive "(Reach up for the) Sunrise," topped the dance charts. Young club-hoppers were lured by the band's replication of today's de rigueur electronic sound -- the very one Duran Duran conceived in 1980.

"Certainly, it's brought a smile to our faces," Rhodes said. "And, when we came back, we received awards -- not that it was anything we went chasing after. To think, they've finally come round to our way of seeing things."

Courtesy New Jersey Star-Ledger