Wild boys put on red alert

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Wild boys put on red alert
Monday, October 29, 2007

For an outfit whose classic work captures everything that was acceptable in the 1980s – bombastic tunes, pin-up poses, heavy eyeliner – Duran Duran have stood the test of time remarkably well.

What makes them genuine pop icons isn't just the fact that they've attained the international fame many younger British rockers would die for. It's also because they're on splendid form in 2007, thanks to their punchy 13th album Red Carpet Massacre, produced by Nate 'Danja' Hills and Timbaland. It's an enjoyable update of

Duran Duran's distinctive new wave sound, including the moody latest single Falling Down (featuring Justin Timberlake), the thrusting rhythms of the title track and the heady electro-funk of Nite-Runner and Tempted.

'I don't think we've ever had a “comeback” as such,' says frontman Simon Le Bon, amiably.

'We've never tried to record the same album twice; we're an experimental band. When a new song emerges in the studio, it's like discovering a new country.'

There’s a competitive nature in this band that will never go away
In fact, Red Carpet Massacre was discovered en route to a different destination.

Two years ago, Duran Duran's original line-up – Le Bon, super-chic keyboardist Nick Rhodes, bassist John Taylor, drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Andy Taylor – began work on a surprisingly political indie rock album.

'We were aiming to slot in beside The Killers and Bloc Party; we felt we were part of the same family tree,' explains Le Bon.

Deciding to add more radio-friendly elements, the band eventually chose a producer – hip hop/pop don Timbaland, who, it transpired, was a fan. It's not the first time that Duran Duran have earned props from hip hop acts: LL Cool J, Dizzee Rascal and P Diddy have variously expressed admiration. Andy Taylor seemed less keen, however, and departed but, after the first recording session, the others realised they could create something anew.

'The day we walked into the studio with Timbaland, Justin Timberlake and Nate Hills, I thought: “If we can't make something fabulous happen between us, then something's wrong”,' recalls Rhodes.

'We were really excited by the first three tracks – Nite-Runner, Zoom In and Skin Divers; so we put the initial recording on ice. Why the title Red Carpet Massacre? We're surrounded by paparazzi meltdown – the thought of the celebrity doing battle was too irresistible.'

'The original idea was to make a very hard-edged album. But Red Carpet Massacre isn't fluff; it has bite to it,' says Le Bon.

Duran Duran have often been accused of favouring style over substance – a charge countered by their solid back catalogue.

They're unruffled by such gripes, and they've always seemed cool in grandiose settings. This summer, they played Wembley Stadium twice: by royal appointment at Princess Diana's tribute concert, then at Live Earth the following week, where their 1980 smash Planet Earth sounded strangely prescient.

'We live and breathe pop culture,' says Rhodes, who photographed the new album's sleeve. 'When John and I used to buy records as kids, we always judged them by the cover; it's people who make an effort that matter. When we formed Duran Duran, we wanted to work with the greatest fashion photographers and designers. We never figured out how to use architects… although I was talking to Daniel Libeskind about doing something in Second Life.'

Rhodes is keen to assert it's been hard work, too: 'People always ask what it was like making the Rio video in 1982 – that yacht made me incredibly seasick.'

What about the infamously raunchy video for Girls On Film? He pouts, thoughtfully: 'I don't think one could describe that as being that difficult.'

He feels a mix of confidence and naivety has also fuelled their success.

'There's not many bands who've been around for two decades that would work with 25-year-olds. If we were a new band, Red Carpet Massacre is the record I'd want to make as our debut.'

'There's a competitive nature in this band that will never go away,' adds Le Bon. 'Me and Nick fight like cat and dog, because we care about what we do. I think he's a pretentious prat, Nick thinks I'm a ham-fisted barbarian.'

'I actually treasure the flow of our career, because everything that's worked against us has also created the next step,' says Rhodes.

'For instance, our covers album [1995's Thank You] got dreadful reviews, but you've got to ride it through.' The next step is a fortnight's residency on Broadway from Thursday, where they'll be performing the new album in full alongside earlier repertoire – unlike many of their peers, they've never been consigned to the greatest hits circuit.

In December, they're planning a Red Carpet Massacre party in the West End, 'with Z-list celebrities, if we're lucky,' laughs Le Bon.

Duran Duran were conceived in an age of excess; can they ever have too much glamour? Rhodes smiles: 'I wonder that every day when I open my wardrobe.'

The single Falling Down (Epic) is out November 12. The album Red Carpet Massacre is out November 19.