Review: Duran Duran's 'Red Carpet' run
BY GLENN GAMBOA
November 6, 2007
It all felt like a bit of a bluff.
Duran Duran's decision to launch its new album "Red Carpet Massacre" (Epic) with a two-week Broadway run, to perform it in its entirety as if it's some serious masterwork, its new racy video, even keeping the crowd out in the cold less than 30 minutes before the scheduled showtime - it all seemed designed to generate smoke because there is no fire.
Sure, the band's penchant for extravagance extends all the way back to its '80s breakthrough, with its exotic video locations and high-profile extracurricular activities. But back then, the style accentuated the band's substance. Now? Well, after the Warren Cuccurullo years and clunkers such as 2000's "Pop Trash," let's just say it's fair to question.
It turns out, though, that the worries were unfounded. "Red Carpet Massacre" is easily the band's best album since 1986's "Notorious," featuring several songs that could spark a major comeback, from the first single "Falling Down," which sounds a bit like collaborator Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River," to the Timbaland-aided "Skin Divers," which will likely charge up the charts next.
In a different context, those songs, along with the bringing-sexy-back "Nite-Runner," could fit easily next to the sleek pop-funk of the band's funkier classics "Notorious" and "I Don't Want Your Love."
The biggest problem of the evening turned out to be its structure. By playing "Red Carpet Massacre" in its entirety, the band made the album's weak second half even more obvious, building in what seemed previously impossible - a lull in the Duran Duran live show.
Luckily, that became easy to forget. After the intermission, the four original Durans - singer Simon LeBon, synth wizard Nick Rhodes, bassist John Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor - delivered a stripped-down medley of electro-influenced reworkings of "Last Chance on the Stairway" and "Skin Trade," not to mention a grand cover of The Normal's "Warm Leatherette." Only playing keyboards and electronic drums, the quartet impressed with their minimalist, obvious nod to Kraftwerk.
It also made the more traditional Duran show that followed seem all the more fiery, ripping through "Notorious" and "The Reflex." When they kicked into high gear on "Planet Earth" and the finale "Girls on Film," they left the crowd wanting much, much more.
Those songs showed what the band seems to have forgotten. Their strength lies in LeBon's still-boyish charm and distinctive vocals, in John Taylor's stellar bass playing, in Roger Taylor's aggressive drumming, and in Rhodes' lush synth grooves.
Those unique elements pile up well, as they did in the pretty "Ordinary World" and the spiky "A View to a Kill." They don't need Timbaland or Timberlake for that.
All the contemporary modifications Duran Duran makes on "Red Carpet Massacre" and the pre-release gamesmanship are essentially unnecessary. What they need are more great songs, not pretending that good ones are more important than they are.
DURAN DURAN. The '80s New Wavers hit Broadway in search of new raves for their "Red Carpet Massacre." At the Barrymore Theater through Nov. 13. Seen Friday.