Wild Boys!: Duran Duran is back

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Wild Boys!: Duran Duran is back

Friday, May 23, 2008 - 07:31 AM

Duran Duran plays Merriweather Post Pavilion on Tuesday, May 27, 2008.

If you go
Who: Duran Duran with Your Vegas
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Merriweather Post Pavilion (Columbia, Md.)
Tickets: $40-$125
Info: www.ticketmaster.com, www.merriweathermusic.com and (804) 262-8100

By Melissa Ruggieri
Times-Dispatch Staff Writer

Say this for Duran Duran, they’re always up for a challenge.

The band has existed – in various forms of members and levels of acrimony – for nearly 30 years. That doesn’t happen unless you’re willing to bend artistically.

The group, which has sold more than 80 million albums worldwide, will never shake its ‘80s stigma, even though that period found the English lads crafting lush, keyboard-driven pop that has aged quite well.

But for their latest album, “Red Carpet Massacre,” the original foursome of Simon LeBon (vocals), John Taylor (bass), Nick Rhodes (keyboards) and Roger Taylor (drums) tried to enhance the coolness factor by enlisting Justin Timberlake – a longtime admirer of the guys – and ubiquitous producer Timbaland.

The move toward a slicker pop sound is what reportedly drove guitarist Andy Taylor – who always leaned toward grittier compositions – to leave the Duran family. But even though the album contains a swaying R&B-tinged ballad (“Falling Down”) and some lite-funk background rapping from Timbaland (“Skin Divers”), many of the album’s songs, including the frenzied title track, showcase some of Duran’s edgiest work.

The band has extended its desire to morph and remain innovative to its live shows, too.

On Wednesday at the lovely Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, N.C., Duran Duran whisked through a two-hour set that included ambitious runs of this new, even more multi-tracked than usual, material, their well-worn hits and some older album cuts that instantly transported many in the crowd of about 4,000 back to 1984.

The highlight of the show was a segment that the band first experimented with during its unique two-week stand on Broadway last fall.

Dressed in black and wearing headsets, the foursome lined up at the front of the stage in front of a setup of keyboards and electronic drums for an electro-clash set that reiterated their position as masters of clubby pop tunes.

“All She Wants Is” and “I Don’t Want Your Love” were perfectly suited to this danceteria environment, while “Last Chance on the Stairway,” a “Rio” album track, glistened under its sultry electronica sheen.

This current tour – which stops at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., on Tuesday – will keep the band on the road through the end of the year, hopping countries and spreading the word of the existence of a new album.

A couple of weeks ago, Rhodes called from Los Angeles to talk about “Red Carpet Massacre,” but also spoke freely about the band’s current relationship with Andy Taylor and whether or not we’ll ever hear another Arcadia song.

Q. Whose idea was it to wear matching outfits with the "Red Carpet Massacre" motif onstage?

It was my and John’s idea. We hooked up with Juicy Couture – we have an in there – [Taylor’s wife, Gela Nash, co-founded the apparel line] and they helped us put together a design. We wanted it be like a uniform, which was sort of right for this project. If you think about bands who have worn the same things, well, The Beatles come to mind, so that’s a fabulous inspiration.

Q. Why do you think the album hasn’t taken off commercially ["Red Carpet Massacre" was released in November and has sold about 100,000 copies]? You've got the youth appeal with Justin Timberlake and Timbaland, but do you think maybe that scared away some of your longtime fans?

In some countries it’s done spectacularly well. In America, it simply hasn’t. You never know with these things. It’s a very different market now, and you know, a lot more people have the music than bought the album. You can see half the audience singing along, so they’ve heard these songs somewhere.

Maybe some people were a little afraid that the sound might be too electronic or Timbaland influenced, but it’s very much a Duran Duran album. But still, we had absolutely no radio support on it. We don’t think anyone out there outside our die-hard fans have actually heard it. Record companies are quite useless now; satellite radio is the future. There’s a much better choice of everything and they actually play things that are interesting.

Q. The album's title is sort of a tongue in cheek jab at celebrity. You guys certainly suffered through your share of being followed by the paparazzi and all of the hysteria, but these days, celebrity culture is even more pervasive. Do you sympathize with people like Lindsay Lohan and Britney or feel as if they court this attention?

When you see what happens to people now, with the video cameras and telemobile phones, everything is on the Internet seconds later. But that said, you have to be careful what you wish for. I think when people are really talented and really do something special and work hard and get hounded, I have some sympathy. But people who set out to be famous for the sake of being famous, then no, not really.

Q. Do you think the tracks do you did for "Reportage" [the album the band recorded with original guitarist Andy Taylor and then scrapped] will ever be released in some form?

I hope so. At the moment, it’s sitting in a vat of dry ice somewhere. It was a really strong album. It was never quite finished, so we’d need to do some cosmetic work on it. But the songs are intact.

What happened [with ‘Red Carpet Massacre’]was by accident, not by design. We thought we’d do a couple of extra tracks [for ‘Reportage’] with Timbaland and we ended up with another album worth of material that seemed very fresh. The other album is much more an indie rock record. It took us a good year of our lives to make it, so it would be a pity to let it go unheard. I’d like it to surface one day.

Q. What is the band's relationship with Andy Taylor these days? Do you talk at all?

Sadly no. It’s like a divorce case. It’s one of those things where common sense doesn’t always seem to prevail and you have to deal with whatever through the lawyers.

Q. What are your thoughts on the book he's working on [Taylor’s "Wild Boy" is due in August]? Do you see it as unnecessarily airing dirty laundry or as a story that you think people should hear?

I don‘t know what he’s writing, but I just hope it’s all the truth. I wouldn’t have a problem with any of it if it’s true. But if it isn’t, well, that will mean more lawyers!

Q. Do you think we’ll ever hear anything else from Arcadia [the side band of Rhodes, LeBon and Roger Taylor, which released one album, "So Red the Rose," in 1985]?

There’s not much unreleased stuff. There’s one instrumental song that didn’t make it to the album, so that needs to be mixed and restored. There are a couple of things we should restore it to their full length and put out a disc of the remixes with lots of photos that we’ve never used. It’s funny because record labels, they’re trying to cut down on packaging. But I’d like to make it something glorious.

Q. Having seen you live five or six times since you got back together, it appears that everyone is having fun on stage. Obviously, financially, you don't have to keep doing this, so is it more of a feeling of, we'll keep doing this until we hate it, sort of like the Rolling Stones or U2?

We’re having more fun than we’ve actually ever had – the confidence in the show itself, the way things have been going with the audiences. We went through Australia and New Zealand, Korea and Japan, and those shows were amazing.

Then we went to Costa Rica and played this massive festival, that was just amazing. It was one of my favorite shows that we’ve ever played…the shows have all just been great. Everyone is in a really good mood, the band is sounding better than ever and we’ve taken out the most beautiful lighting show.

I love screens and I’m sure we’ll use them in the future, but we thought, wouldn’t it be fun to focus everybody’s energy on the stage and the music and not have everyone’s necks turned to a screen? We used up our budget on the most incredible lighting rig to create as many different moods as we could.

Q. What's the plan for the year? Will there be another single from “Red Carpet”? Where will tour go after the July dates in England?

Because everybody seems very confused about what to do with the record, all we want to do is get more people to hear it. We’re on a bit of a campaign, so we’ll look at it and see what the best thing to do is. We’ve got some terrific dance versions of some of those songs for clubs. I’d love to go to radio with something, but we need to go from a position of some strength.

But we’ll continue the tour until mid-August, then reconvene in September for a South American tour. We might come back and do some more North America dates and then it will be December. We’re going to look again at China for next year and then it’s time for a new album.

We like touring … We’re lucky to have a lot of hits, but we still see ourselves as an art school project. Yeah this album has all these groovy names that people mention all the times, like Timbaland, but we’ve made a record that’s very cohesive. We never woke up thinking this will be a worldwide smash … We love having hits, but our priority is to just make the records we can and go out there and put together the best live show possible.

Courtesy Richmond Time Dispatch