Duran Duran’s Rhodes Cites Groups Growth Since 80’s

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By Brad Kava Mercury News

Ask Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes about his favorite song with the band, and you are in for a surprise.

It's not ``Hungry Like the Wolf,'' or ``Rio'' or ``Girls on Film'' or any of the hits that made this British quintet ubiquitous on MTV in the early 1980s.

It's 1993's subtle, quiet ``Ordinary World,'' which established the group's first comeback, after seven years without a hit.

``Sometimes with songs you just hit on something,'' Rhodes says from New York, as the band prepares for the 40-city U.S. tour, its largest ever, that brings it to HP Pavilion on Wednesday. ``It's an incredible combination -- melody, lyrics, sound, rhythm. They all collide at the right point.''

The choice of that song says a lot for the maturing of a band that, at its peak, was as big a teeny-bopper sensation as the Beatles or 'N Sync in their day, swarming with girls, yachts, expensive clothes -- a lifestyle not unlike the band's videos.

``I think we've taken a view today that is much more focused,'' says the 41-year-old who founded the band along with guitarist John Taylor (who soon switched to bass). ``We are much more patient with each other. Everyone is more accommodating. We really want this to work, but it's not something anyone had to do.''

That attitude is quite a contrast to the band's start, in 1978, when, ``you don't have anything, and you just want to win to make your mark. It's important to be seen. You wave a flag, and it's pretty frantic.''

Rhodes says none of the Duran-ites needs to tour. They are all financially set.

``But Duran Duran was the most important thing to happen for all five of us.''

Unlike most groups, this one writes all of its songs together.

``It's chaos,'' says Rhodes, who had a big success as a producer in 2003 with the Dandy Warhols' disc ``Welcome to the Monkey House.'' ``We get in a room and plug in. We gravitate toward the same key, F sharp minor. Eventually we get a groove and a phrase to latch onto. We are an unusual case, because we are all pushing and pulling in different directions. It's quite gratifying to get something out of all of it.''

It's no wonder that the latest Duran Duran album, ``Astronaut,'' was three years in the making.

``We got together in the South of France in 2001 and shucked a lot of stuff. Three of those songs ended up on `Astronaut.' Then we wrote solidly on and off for a three-year period.''

Does Rhodes think any of the songs will dominate pop radio, as the band did in its infancy?

``We're rather hoping,'' he says. ``To me, it's the weirdest science in the world, your American radio. Every time I think I'm beginning to understand, they split the atom again and again. Why is that one being played?''

Rhodes says he was happy with every Duran album, except one: 1989's ``Liberty.''

``Music had changed so much,'' he notes. ``We weren't grunge. We weren't electronica, trance or dance. We were Duran Duran trying to make a slightly more rock album. There wasn't a place for it in the new world.''

Rhodes says there's a blandness on the airwaves and in the music scene, in general, today. He prefers the 1980s.

``The '80s was about trying to do something different, standing out. The '90s was about everyone trying to fit in. After Nirvana, not that much caught my ear. All that crunchy guitar.''

As for now, Rhodes has mixed feelings about radio's dominant form, hip-hop.

``I love the best of it,'' he says. ``Eminem's new one is very clever. . . . I'm not into that heavy rap. It has to be more melodic.''

Rhodes is happy to have heard his own music recycled in hip-hop. P. Diddy used ``Notorious'' and ``Save a Prayer.''

``They really found new ways of doing something,'' says Rhodes, ``people nicking bits and making new things from them, like Eminem did with `Toy Soldiers.' I would never have thought to use that sample, of all things.''

Live on Duran Duran's current tour, Rhodes and crew have been changing songs nightly, sandwiching personal favorites among the hits demanded by the audience.

The tour has been selling strongly across the country.

Rhodes says he is trying to produce music like the 1993 self-titled comeback.

``It's almost inexplicable when you write a song just right: That song does that? It has an emotional effect. If you can get it right, it's the most powerful thing.''

Duran Duran

Where: HP Pavilion at San Jose, 525 W. Santa Clara St.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday

Tickets: $35-$75

Call: (408) 998-8497, or see www.ticketmaster.com

Courtesy MercuryNews.com