Duran Duran still hungry like the wolf

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Duran Duran still hungry like the wolf
MTV's earliest wild boys are back, and bringing new songs and old hits to SLC
By Dan Nailen
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune

It's easy for the cynical to dismiss Duran Duran's reunion, especially for those who cringe at the memory of '80s pop music, whether it's the poofy hair, inexplicable fashions, synthesizer-heavy sounds or MTV-induced style dominating musical substance that rubs them the wrong way.

For fans of the band who were dubbed "The Fab Five" by the music media at the time - so fast and widespread was Duran Duran's early '80s success - the re-emergence of the five original members for the first time since 1983's "Seven and the Ragged Tiger" album is cause for celebration. Back then, the quintet merged several musical styles with platinum success thanks to the members' love of glammy romantics like Roxy Music, art-rockers like David Bowie and American funksters like Chic, and they took advantage of the then-new medium of music video to become arguably the biggest beneficiaries of MTV's birth in 1981.

After dwindling to only two original members by the end of the 1990s, the original Duran Duran - singer Simon LeBon, bassist John Taylor, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, guitarist Andy Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor - is back with a new album, "Astronaut," and a massive U.S. tour stopping in Salt Lake City on Saturday, the first time the original quintet has ever visited Utah.

"We love what we do," John Taylor said in an interview from his Los Angeles home before the tour launched. "We love it as much as we ever loved it. We're not just dragging our asses around, trying to make a buck here. We're trying to turn ourselves on, and everyone else at the same time."

Taylor said the decision to regroup came incrementally. He was touring as a solo act around 2000 when LeBon joined him onstage in New York for a few songs. After they "tore the roof off the place," they convened in Los Angeles with Rhodes, who said he was up for a reunion of the original band, but only if a new Duran Duran album was part of the deal.

After a few phone calls, the three unrelated Taylors gathered with Rhodes and LeBon and recorded "Astronaut," a 12-song collection that sounds like Duran Duran without sounding outdated, a club-ready, groove-heavy set built for 2005.

Simply reuniting for a cash-in tour a la The Eagles would have been a lot easier, but Taylor said the process of writing new music was vital to the reunion's success.

"It's not like once we all signed on there were no second thoughts; there were as many second thoughts as otherwise," Taylor said. "There was a lot of arguing and fighting, but then there were moments when we just blew our own minds. We started spending time together, started hanging out together, enjoying each other's company, writing new material together and enjoying that process. And we just sort of dug in with each other, and nobody quit. There were so many opportunities for people to quit, and there were a lot of threats, but nobody did. I guess it has to be said that somehow what we were doing together was worthwhile, or at least better than what we were all doing on our own."

Recording an album is one thing, and selling millions of copies like the Duran Duran albums of two decades ago is quite another. "Astronaut" has been a slow-burn in terms of sales, but the U.S. tour will undoubtedly give it a bump. Taylor said the band was not expecting any miracles on its current go-round, especially considering the state of the music industry now versus the early '80s when, as Taylor puts it, Duran Duran was "the favorite pet of the record company."

"Who knows what's going to be a hit?" Taylor asked rhetorically. "Nobody's got the answers. But we've had enough over the years that we can feel reasonably good about who we are as people. I'm not going to sweat it. At the same time, I'm prepared to put my best foot forward and go out on tour for six months in the hopes that at this time next year I've got a platinum album. But it's not just going to magic itself into being. We've got a lot of work to do."

For now, that work is throwing down a live show that will remind people of the impressive catalog of hits Duran Duran created over the past 25 years, from the early tracks like "Planet Earth" and "Hungry Like the Wolf" to later hits like "Come Undone" or "Notorious." Mix those classic cuts with the new work from "Astronaut" and, Taylor said, you get a show that is vital in 2005, not just a greatest-hits showcase. But those hits will be there in abundance as well.

"You don't invite people into your house and then not feed them," Taylor said. "They're here for a reason. They're here because they love 'The Reflex' and they love 'Ordinary World' and they love 'Save a Prayer' and 'Girls on Film.' But they don't love them any more than I love them."

Five Duran Duran videos to remember:

Duran Duran is arguably the ultimate music-video band, treating the three-minute promo films as an opportunity to do something artistic, shooting videos in exotic locales or using cutting edge special effects when many acts simply filmed themselves performing onstage (think Van Halen's "Jump" video). Here are five Duran Duran vids worth revisiting, all of them available on a recent DVD release of the band's greatest video hits:

1. "Girls on Film," 1981. Sexy, violent and edited to be played on MTV, it might be the best video to ever combine flash photography, naughty nurses and sumo wrestling.

2. "Rio," 1982. Splashy bright colors, gorgeous beaches and beautiful models - the template for "Miami Vice" fashion and visual style.

3. "New Moon on Monday," 1983. An over-the-top mini-drama involving something about a revolution and French mimes that was 18 minutes before its MTV edit.

4. "Wild Boys," 1984. Singer LeBon almost drowned during the filming of this campy sci-fi monstrosity.

5. "A View to a Kill," 1985. The original lineup's final song before re-forming last year, the video for this James Bond theme was filmed at the Eiffel Tower and let the boys play spy for a few minutes.

Courtesy Salt Lake Tribune