The New Duran Duran
30 Years After Start, The Band Reinvents Itself With A Concept Album And A Gig On Broadway
By ERIC R. DANTON
Courant Rock Critic
October 25, 2007
After 30 years together, dozens of hit songs and more than 85 million records sold worldwide, there's not much Duran Duran hasn't done.
Except Broadway, that is.
That changes next month when the '80s pop juggernaut plays a 10-night run at the Barrymore Theatre on 47th Street in New York, culminating in the Nov. 13 release of the band's 12th album, "Red Carpet Massacre."
Before that, though, Duran Duran performs a pair of warm-up shows Sunday and Monday in Wallingford to prepare for its Broadway debut.
"We've talked about playing on Broadway for many, many years," keyboardist Nick Rhodes says by phone from London, where the band is rehearsing. "It's been one of those things on our must-do-this list. I always thought it would be a lot fun for us and great for as well as the audience, the idea of almost doing a residency. It's usually been impossible to do it, because on Broadway, theaters are in ridiculous demand and as soon as one play or production finishes, another one moves in. They're booked literally years in advance."
The group managed to wedge itself in between productions at the newly refurbished Barrymore, where the band will do something not often done by acts with back catalogs as deep as theirs: Duran Duran will perform "Red Carpet Massacre" in its entirety each night, followed by an "electro-set" (picture the opposite of an acoustic set) and a tour through some of the hits.
"It'll be a different kind of show, because people won't be familiar with hardly any of the material, apart from a couple of songs streamed on the Web," Rhodes says. "I think it's rather exciting. When you go to a Broadway performance of any kind, you don't know what you're going to deal with for the whole evening, unless you've seen it before. It's a different way of doing things, and especially for us, it's going to be quite inspiring."
It's not a risk-free gambit, though. When Iron Maiden performed all of its new album last year in concert, it proved controversial among fans who wanted to hear more of their old favorites. Rhodes says there's a key difference to Duran Duran's approach.
"We've warned everyone in advance that we're doing the entire new album," he says with a chuckle.
It's an album aimed at keeping the band squarely in the zeitgeist. Produced by Timbaland and up-and-comer Nate "Danja" Hills, and featuring contributions from Justin Timberlake, "Red Carpet Massacre" has a sleek modern feel on songs packed with jittery rhythms and dark zooming synthesizers, topped with Simon LeBon iconic voice. It's Duran Duran, re-imagined for the 21st century.
"We'd never collaborated to that level before, where all the songs are co-written on the album," Rhodes says. "It was us trying to merge our sound with the greatest pop and urban producers out there right now. It was important for all of us to get something that we were excited by again and not just something that was another one of their productions. ... Timbaland's got such a huge list under his belt already that he didn't want to make a record with Duran Duran and have it be so-so. It needed to be special. And he really made the effort to do that."
The band brought in Timbaland when the project it had been working on, a more political-minded record tentatively titled "Reportage," didn't quite have the energy the musicians wanted to capture.
"We thought we'd record a couple of new songs to try and balance it out, and we went into the studio with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake joined those sessions, too, for the first day," Rhodes says. "In that week working with Timbaland, we got three songs, which were all very different and felt so new that we were all inspired and excited by it, which for us is the goal. So we came out of there and we said, 'Let's put all that other stuff on ice for the moment, and let's continue and see if we can make a whole album like this.'"
The burst of inspiration was nothing new: Duran Duran has always been a forward-looking band, from the way it took electronic music into the mainstream with its pioneering use of synthesizers, to its stylish, stylized music videos, which helped MTV in its infancy as much as they helped the band. In fact, it's not a stretch to credit Duran Duran with making music videos a crucial promotional tool for every pop act that followed. "Red Carpet Massacre," then, is merely the band's latest push forward.
"I was trying to think of other bands or solo artists outside of Madonna who actually continually try to reinvent themselves, particularly so far into their career," Rhodes says. "Most people, I have to say, I think they make similar albums. They've got their brand and their sound but we've never really loved doing that. This one was an exceptional gamble that we took, but for all the right reasons."
DURAN DURAN performs Sunday and Monday at Chevrolet Theatre, 95 S. Turnpike Road, Wallingford. Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. shows are $55 and $35. Information: 203-265-1501.
Copyright © 2007, The Hartford Courant