Duran Duran stays strong despite rift

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Duran Duran stays strong despite rift

01:00 AM EST on Wednesday, November 1, 2006

By Rick Massimo

Journal Pop Music Writer

It’s not every 25-year-old band that goes through a split due to ongoing creative differences, but that’s what happened with Duran Duran last week.

The group had never really left since their ’80s hits such as “Rio,” “Girls on Film” and “Hungry Like the Wolf,” though one or more of the original members — singer Simon LeBon, bassist John Taylor, guitarist Andy Taylor, drummer Roger Taylor and keyboardist Nick Rhodes — had been missing. But the original quintet got back together in 2001 and had been touring regularly, releasing the Astronaut album in 2004.

Then last week, Andy Taylor left the band in mid-tour. According to a statement from the group, “We have reached a point in our relationship with him where there is an unworkable gulf between us and we can no longer effectively function together.”

John Taylor says the split had been coming for some time.

“We’ve not really been on the same page for a while. And it’s been getting very testy most of this year, actually. And there’s just been a break coming. We’ve had different aims, different considerations, different loyalties.”

But the band, which comes to the Providence Performing Arts Center tomorrow night, is picking right up with guitarist Dominic Brown, who John Taylor says was “in the wings.” John Taylor points out that Andy Taylor had missed several shows over the past few years, including a VH1 concert film. Brown has already done between 12 and 15 shows, John Taylor says, and has been incorporated easily. “He’s someone we enjoy playing with tremendously, and who we think does the material justice.”

Andy Taylor was always the rocker in Duran Duran, and when the new recordings, some of which include work with Timbaland and guest vocals by Justin Timberlake, took a new direction, that was “really when the cracks started — it didn’t look like there was any turning back . . .

“It’s happened before; he’s left before,” John Taylor says of Andy Taylor. “And I think he’s probably struggled with the concept of Duran Duran, with the ethos of Duran Duran, whatever that is, more than any of us, and how he sees himself within it. And we had a good ride; the reunion was amazing.

“And life goes on. Four out of the five of us have rediscovered each other, and realized that we’re the best friends we’ve ever had. And we’re enormously grateful to have each other in our lives. And there’s nobody I’d rather make music with, and I can say the same for the other three. I don’t think I could say that for Andy.”

To have creative differences, a group must be creating, and unlike many in their market niche, Duran Duran is still doing that. On Astronaut, the tight, disco-influenced rhythm section of John Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor mix with the space-age sheen of keyboardist Nick Rhodes; Andy Taylor toggling between disco and heavy rock; and singer Simon LeBon, whose voice has added dimension compared to the top-of-his-range hits he belted through 25 years ago. Add vague but evocative lyrics and sleek production and you’ve got the classic Duran elements. (You’ve also got the elements of the first Killers album, but, well, that’s showbiz.)

It’s the sound of the future, whatever that means to the listener. And that’s the idea, John Taylor says.

“We’re quite self-consciously modern. . . . We were really the first generation of bands that didn’t play ‘Johnny B. Goode’ since Chuck Berry wrote it. . . . Breaking with the rock ’n’ roll/punk tradition, synthesizers, there was something very European about it.“We never got together and made a set of standards and then started writing a few of our own songs. So there’s a certain forward-facing ethos in that: ‘We’re not going to learn any Beatles songs or anything like that.’”

That’s evident from early synth-heavy stompers such as “Girls on Film” and “Planet Earth”; the group’s Live from London DVD, filmed last year, shows Duran Duran tearing through the hits with a classic-rock vigor missing from the early days, when the band more resembled exotic, perfectly-coiffed creatures.

As times change, John Taylor says, tastes change. “Maybe it’s about getting older, you start digging deeper into the past. And now I’ve become a real fan of rock ’n’ roll. And it’s giving what I do a new life. Maybe because now I’m looking at the tradition and where we live in the tradition. . . .

“I think we have this red light which starts flashing when we have lapses of any musical reference from before 1975. It’s usually Nick Rhodes going ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd!’ But it’s all about finding that balance. Because what good is it if it doesn’t speak to people?”

The group started working on a new record last year, including the tracks with Timbaland. Taylor says that there’s no release date set yet, and that the band will work on its own pace. “That’s one of the things about not being the latest thing — I don’t feel under any pressure to deliver.”

Astronaut was put together over three years, but the circumstances were different, because “we were trying to write ourselves into a record deal. When we got back together, I think we thought all we had to do was get back together, alert the media and they’ll be lining up to write us a check. And it didn’t happen like that. . . . We really needed to show [the industry] that we were serious. And the way to do that was to get out on the road and sell concert tickets.”

Besides, Taylor says, playing live is what it’s all about.

“We’re on the road right now, with two weeks of shows. Nothing is more important — well, there’s my wife — but nothing is more important than the next gig. Because that’s where it all comes together. Thank God we have the material that we have. But there’s nowhere to hide for that two hours on stage. The passion, the discipline — it all comes together for those two hours . . . . “That’s how I look at it, anyway. I think Nick is much more about the next record; I’m more about the next show.”

The Duran Duran hit list is extensive, but the set list can include some surprises — early singles such as “The Chauffeur” and “Night Boat” are on the live DVD, while the hit “Is There Something I Should Know?” isn’t. Taylor says he never looks at a set list as a to-do list.

“Songs definitely do tire, and sometimes we gleefully think ‘Yeah! Let’s not play “Hungry Like the Wolf” tonight!’ . . . We’ve got enough material that we should be able to not play a song like that, and people won’t miss it.”

So maybe the fairy-tale, all-original-members reunion is over, but John Taylor says the situation in the band is strong — and that enjoying this moment is what it’s all about.

“I think you just get wiser, so you’re less likely to make statements like ‘OK, this is how it’s gonna be forever,’ ” says Taylor, who himself left the band in 1996. “We just have a strong feeling in the band at the moment; we have a strong ethic. We’re enjoying the performing; we’re enjoying the recording. We’re all pretty happy where we’re at right now.”

Duran Duran plays at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence, tomorrow night at 8. Tickets are $37.50-$75; call (401) 421-2787.

Courtesy Providence Journal