Duran Duran still hungry
DURAN Duran knew they had to pull something special out of the bag. Their comeback album Astronaut had stormed the charts in 2004, but nostalgia can only sell so many albums.
"Without the 'comeback' bonus, we have to be even better," keyboardist Nick Rhodes says.
So they called in the big guns – Justin Timberlake and producer Timbaland.
The result – a new single and album out this month – will have everyone talking, with Timberlake co-writing the song Falling Down, which seems to reference his former flame Britney Spears's very public meltdown.
The video for Falling Down, released two weeks ago shows a Britney look-alike checking into a rehabilitation clinic populated by models and other starlets.
Along with the obvious Britney reference, Kate Moss also springs to mind among the ward full of waifs.
"Well, put it this way," Rhodes says laughing, "she doesn't appear in the video, but she and Lindsay (Lohan) and Britney and Amy (Winehouse) have all provided us with inspiration.
"Falling Down is a satirical, social, pop-cultural commentary.
"Isn't it funny that these stars suddenly disappear in a clinic and you don't hear from them any more?"
Well, apart from Lohan, I remind him, who managed to make headlines from inside rehab when she apparently bedded another client in a stairwell. "It looks like we can't keep up with reality any more," Rhodes says. "This girl is clearly wilder than our wildest dreams."
Although to be fair, when Duran Duran were at the height of their success they weren't exactly known for their sensible behaviour and moderation either. Bass player John Taylor battled a cocaine addiction in the early '90s and Rhodes admits they were spared the level of scrutiny stars are subjected to these days.
"Today there would definitely be mobile phone photos of us testing the cocaine at some party or other," he says.
"We are happy that we didn't have to go through all that back then. We were a huge teenie phenomena, our bad sides would probably have been the death of us commercially."
Their hard-partying ways were no secret in the industry.
"We had a really bad reputation back then," Rhodes says. "If we were out drinking the night before we were fit for nothing the next day. We were a bit unreliable.
"At some point, when you are older, you realise that in the long run it's not good to take substances just to get through a bad day.
"Thankfully we never overdid things to the point where we ended up burnt-out wrecks."
Today, Rhodes says, they are an entirely more sensible bunch who worry about their daughters running into the young men they used to be.
"You know, recently I was discussing with our singer Simon (Le Bon) whether we should tell our kids what it was like with the drugs."
Rhodes has a 21-year-old daughter, while Le Bon's three daughters are 13, 16 and 18.
The keyboardist says he's decided against being too tolerant.
"The worst parents of all are those that roll a joint in front of their children and then smoke it with them."
Rhodes seems genuinely worried about the way some aspects of society are headed.
The obsession with celebrities (in particular, an obsession with seeing them fall from grace) is the focus of their new album Red Carpet Massacre, out on November 17.
The title is pretty self-explanatory, Rhodes says.
"Every day when you turn on the television you see a VIP who is having a breakdown or flipping out.
"I ask myself what is happening to our society?
"Clearly people are only interested in the surface, in the most trivial of the trivial.
"We were recently in America for the Emmy awards. For a whole week all that the TV stations were discussing was what the women would be wearing. Then there was the show and the next day the word was 'My god, how could she wear those disgusting earrings?'
"Every supposed fashion mistake was analysed down to the last detail. That's sick."
But surely Duran Duran – hailed by Queer Eye for the Straight Guy as the world's first "metrosexuals" – have helped contribute to a culture that values image above all else?
They were, after all, one of the first bands to realise the value of a controversial film clip (Girls on Film).
And they were one of the first bands to introduce video screens at their live shows.
"We always had style," counters Rhodes, who founded the band with his art school buddy John Taylor in 1978. "But we are not responsible for this crazy VIP culture, this obscenity.
"We wanted to record a record and play concerts. But today show business culture revolves around people who grew up simply wanting to be famous.
"For whatever reason, no matter how trivial.
"Naturally that is very unhealthy and one of the reasons why the VIPs are always falling to pieces. They don't have anything apart from their VIP existence, no substance."
Rhodes says the title Red Carpet Massacre references the way the media "build someone up and then shoot them down".
"Britney Spears is the perfect example," he says. "She can't escape the treadmill.
"She is obviously a complete wreck, but what does the record company do? It quickly cobbles together a new album in order to profit from her misery. What the woman really needs is time out from the business, a couple of years on a ranch in Kansas to find her peace of mind – and then come back.
"The girl is a soap opera on two legs, although she also has to take some responsibility for this. I think she is frightened that she will be forgotten if she isn't in the news every couple of days. If she was a real artist, it wouldn't make any difference to her."
So, did Rhodes discuss Spears with Timberlake at all?
"No, not at all. We got to know Justin as an extremely polite and decent character. He is not going to go around telling stories about his ex-girlfriend."
Timberlake – a longtime Duran Duran fan – not only co-wrote and sang on the ballad Falling Down, he also helped pen the track Nite Runner, which some have compared to the hit SexyBack.
"Doesn't bother me. SexyBack is a fantastic song," Rhodes says. "By the way, I think that Justin's latest album as well as Nelly Furtado's record, both produced by Timbaland, sound a lot like Duran Duran."
Rhodes said the decision to call on hip-hop producer Timbaland to help out on the new album was – "let's be honest about it" – a bit of bandwagon-jumping and as well as a desire to collaborate with someone who would push them in a different direction.
Before approaching Timbaland, the band had already recorded enough tracks for a new album but scrapped the lot after guitarist Andy Taylor walked out on the project.
"Initially we recorded a whole album which we liked, but we didn't think was interesting enough," he says. "Then last (northern) summer our guitarist Andy (Taylor) left us again so we simply decided to start again from the beginning again.
"We got together with Timbaland and realised, hey, this is a lot more exciting. So over the last 12 months we recorded a completely new album."
Rhodes says he believes working with Timbaland was almost logical for the '80s pioneers.
"Our sound is not that far removed from disco and electronic music. It was also helpful that Justin was with us. He was a bit like the glue that bonded us and Timbaland together."
It seems Duran Duran and Timbaland also bonded over automotive "bling".
"It was the first time we had been in a studio with someone like that," Rhodes says. "There were Ferraris, Lamborghinis and a Porsche in the car park. We felt at home right away."
While the '80s icons may have turned to modern day maestros Timbaland to give them an edge, they are well aware of their own place in history as art rock pioneers. Everyone from OutKast and the Scissor Sisters to The Killers and Coldplay have named Duran Duran as a major influence, although many critics dismissed them as "pretty boys" early in their careers.
"The teeny hysteria turned a lot of people off our band. But we always had more depth on our records, a dark side that a lot of people didn't see because they were blinded by our pastel coloured suits on the videos," Rhodes says, laughing.
"We combined dance and rock and art and the charts. A lot of people rejected that at the start. The '80s were a lot more creative than they are given credit for."
Next year the band will mark 30 years of making music and they plan to celebrate in a rather novel way, Rhodes reveals.
"First of all we are going to New York, on Broadway, where we will be playing every night for two weeks. Simply because it has been a dream of ours to appear on Broadway."
Courtesy Courier Mail Australia