Duran Duran still hungry like the wolf
Amy O'Brian/Vancouver Sun
At the time of Duran Duran's big-haired '80s heyday, video was doing a thorough job of killing the radio star. Plenty of bands were guilty of having bloody hands and pretty faces, but the boys from Birmingham were among the guiltiest of them all.
Their melodramatic glam videos are almost laughable today, but at the time, they were cinematic marvels that generated millions of lusty teenage fans and gave the band an indelible association with eyeliner, lip gloss, coiffed hair and pouffy shirts.
Duran Duran is still making videos, still making albums and still touring. Their latest show touches down at GM Place Tuesday night.
But just as video killed the radio star, YouTube and other online video-sharing websites are rapidly killing the relevance of the televised music video.
"I haven't actually purposely watched MTV in more than a decade," said Nick Rhodes, Duran Duran's keyboard player and founding member, over the phone from Costa Rica earlier this week.
"It's just not really of any interest to me. I don't think MTV has any relevance any more to music - except for the award show."
There was a time - more than 20 years ago - when MTV had the power to dictate which artists were relevant and worthy simply by playing their videos. Duran Duran was an easy favourite, with sexy cinematic fare to accompany perfect pop tunes such as Girls on Film, Hungry Like the Wolf, and Rio.
Girls in bikinis combined with pretty boys in suits turned out to be an enduring formula for video, making Duran Duran iconic figures of the MTV age.
But as much as the band revelled in their '80s glory, their continuing willingness to tour is not based solely on nostalgia (although it's a safe bet that the vast majority of their screaming female fans show up mostly for the nostalgia factor).
Rhodes, along with singer Simon Le Bon and a rotating line-up of men sharing the last name Taylor - none of whom is related - have produced a steady stream of albums over the decades. The band has never matched the success it had in the '80s, but they have continued to write new material, which they proudly showcase on tour. (The same cannot be said for other nostalgia acts such as the Police and Van Halen.)
Most recently, the band released Red Carpet Massacre, an album of new material that includes collaborations with Justin Timberlake and Timbaland - the current 'It'-duo of the music world.
Le Bon's voice still rings with emotion and the first single, Falling Down, is catchy enough to worm its way into memory. But it's unlikely fans will be singing along the way they will with Rio and Girls on Film. Those songs mark an irretrievable era of pop romanticism and fantasy that can be revisited only through song and perhaps, fashion.
But the band - which now consists of Rhodes, Le Bon, John Taylor and Roger Taylor - is resisting any temptation to re-visit that era through the power of their videos, which could easily be thrown onto the jumbo screens around them during the show for an added flashback.
"You can go see those on YouTube any time you want," Rhodes said, a bit brusquely.
"We took the view that most shows are sort of video-driven and we've certainly done a lot of that, so we decided to remove that element and turn it into the most spectacular lighting show.
"In a way, it's really focusing things much more on the music. It's very dramatic looking."
The band started its tour last month in New Zealand and Australia, moved through Japan and Korea, then endured a painfully long trip to Costa Rica, where they played a giant music festival.
"They were one of the best audiences we've had in a while.
"They're very unspoiled, of course, because this is a fairly new thing here so they have that sort of naivete and excitement of it not being a regular occurrence as it would be in London or New York."
But while Rhodes appreciates the southern fans, he said the band's northern fans have always been good to them. He recalled playing a show at Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition with Blondie, back in '82 or '83.
"It was one of the first places we ever got an encore in front of 50,000 people. And there's a lot of really important things to us about Canada, aside from the fact you still have the Queen's head on the stamp," he said.
Rhodes, 45, is disgusted by what he calls the current cult of celebrity.
Red Carpet Massacre plays off that idea, commenting on the changes the band has witnessed in the world of pop culture since they started out in the early '80s.
"Every time you turn on the television now there's a red carpet, there's somebody standing there in a backless dress looking over their shoulder and smiling for all these cameras. It just somehow seemed appealing to take a little tongue-and-cheek jab at that," he said.
Along with the current trend of celebrity obsession has come a grave loss of individual expression and individuality that includes plastic surgery and tooth whitening, making everyone look the same.
"I find that absolutely loathsome. The one thing about the '80s when we were all starting out that I think was awe-inspiring was that everybody - whether it was in fashion or art or music or cinema - everyone was trying to do something new, something innovative, something individual."
For Rhodes, wearing make-up and changing his hair style and colour as often as he liked was one way to express himself. He still wears make-up - when the spirit moves him.
"It depends what I feel like when I wake up in the morning. You often need it as the years advance - the poly-filler, just put a bit more in."
Rhodes is critical of the path the music industry has taken in the past decade - calling most mainstream music "homogenized mush" - but he sees hope and possibility in acts such as Amy Winehouse, the Killers and the Klaxons.
To hear him speak though, it's clear that Rhodes believes the '80s were a golden age for music.
"If you look at all the bands that came out of the '80s - the Cure, the Smiths, Depeche Mode, U2, Prince and Madonna, and obviously Duran Duran - they're all so different, so unique and everyone had their own sound. And that for me, was what disappeared after Nirvana, really.
"So the more we get back to people trying to do something different and not being afraid of experimenting, the better."
Courtesy Vancouver Sun