Past aside, Duran Duran catches a newer wave

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Past aside, Duran Duran catches a newer wave
By Joan Anderman, Globe Staff | April 1, 2005

It's hard to believe that all those stylish videos, smash hits, and hair highlights amounted to a mere four years of world domination for British new wave sensations Duran Duran. The band rocketed to stardom during the early '80s with hits such as ''Rio" and ''Hungry Like the Wolf," but the fall was equally swift. In 1985 the group fragmented into two side projects -- John Taylor and Andy Taylor formed Power Station and Nick Rhodes, Simon LeBon, and Roger Taylor formed Arcadia.

Duran Duran hobbled into the '90s in skeletal form, unable to reclaim its lineup or its glory until the Fab Five reunited to release last year's comeback CD, ''Astronaut," which peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard charts. The band plays a sold-out show at Agganis Arena tonight, and we spoke recently with keyboardist Rhodes about breaking up, middle age, and the joys of independent wealth.

Q. What did you expect going into this, and has the warm reception exceeded your expectations?

A. I never expect much, to be honest, because when you expect something you're just setting yourself up for disappointment. We tried to make the band as strong as we could and pick the right venues and see what happens. I'll say it's gone remarkably well.

Q. Prior to ''Astronaut," the original Duran Duran lineup last played together 20 years ago. Why crank it up again now?

A. This started back in 2000, when Simon and I were on tour with the ''Pop Trash" album. Simon was not happy. He said, 'I really believe this has reached a natural conclusion.' Deep down I'd been feeling the same thing. Soon after, we were in LA and went over to visit John Taylor and got to talking, and when John realized that we were going to draw this to a close, he said, 'Why don't we look at putting the original lineup together?' Within 24 hours everyone had agreed. It took 15 years to make the phone call and a day to put it together.

Q. Lots of old bands are reuniting, most to pay the mortgage. Is Duran Duran doing it for the money?

A. Quite to the contrary. We were very lucky. We've written a lot of songs that have been popular, and nobody needed money. We went out and spent our own money funding the project until we got the deal we wanted.

Q. How did the record labels react when you approached them?

A. The entire business was in turmoil. There used to be 30 or 40 places you could look and now there are five. It was the end of 2001; not a good time in the world. We'd talk to people and think it looked good and then the CEO got fired or moved to another company. We were very disheartened. We'd just spent two years and a lot of money making a new Duran Duran album. So at that point we modified our big game plan and decided to go play some shows in Japan, and we were good. After that all the labels came running.

Q. The band never officially broke up. Why did you stop playing together?

A. We fell apart at the seams after Live Aid in 1985. We'd been on a roller coaster for five years, literally hadn't stopped, and we were surrounded by a lot of greedy people -- managers, labels, publishers -- who had lost sight of what the band was about. They wanted us to churn out hits and we wanted to assess what we were doing musically. So we split into two sections, Arcadia and Power Station. We'd planned to come back together a year or so later to make the fourth Duran Duran album, but Roger had run off to a farm after realizing how hideous the music business was and Andy was into his solo thing. So the other three went off.

Q. Did the friendships fall apart?

A. We didn't have screaming matches, but there was disappointment. I'd been working with Simon all the way through, and John too. But Roger isolated himself and we didn't speak to him for a few years. I saw Andy for an hour at the beginning of the '90s.

Q. Were you apprehensive after all this time about being in the same room, let alone making a record?

A. We jumped into the deep end. We went to the south of France and rented a lovely house and lived ''Big Brother"-style with somebody filming. [The footage will be included in a live DVD/CD package to be released next month.] We filled it with gear and wrote new music for seven days, and on the seventh day [we played] ''Hungry Like the Wolf." It made us all smile; the new stuff fit absolutely beautifully. Funnily enough, I don't think anyone's changed. If anything, our characters and quirks are more amplified. Everybody fights until they're happy, and that's how we end up with the best material.

Q. You must have anticipated that the new material would be compared with Duran Duran's early work. Did that weigh heavily on the band?

A. Every one of us knew that there was more than a possibility that that would happen. We didn't want to make a retro album, but at the same time we wanted to stay true to our sound. I think it's the identifying parts that have enabled us to continue.

Q. What do you bring to Duran Duran as grown men that wasn't there 25 years ago?

A. The main thing is experience. You don't get worse at songwriting the older you get. Lyrically you've got more to write about. When you've survived 25 years in this business, people aren't as quick to put it down. We were mavericks at the beginning and it took a long time for a lot of people to see what we were trying to achieve. Jean Cocteau said, 'First they ban you. Then they put you in a museum.' For the first time people are giving us awards.

Courtesy Boston Globe