Blame it on Rio
By TIM WILLIS
Last Updated: 7:55 AM, December 19, 2010
Posted: 10:42 PM, December 18, 2010
Say what you like about Duran Duran, but give credit where it’s due. More than 30 years after it burst onto the scene the band is still performing and — what’s truly remarkable — have become rather hip. Twentysomethings know the words to “Girls on Film.” Acts from Goldfrapp to Justin Timberlake acknowledge them as an influence and Mark Ronson, currently one of the coolest producers in pop music, has produced their latest offering.
A nine-song version of the group’s 13th album, “All You Need Is Now,” arrives in the iTunes store on Tuesday, and will be available as an expanded CD in February. “We still have one song that we’re putting the finishing touches to,” says keyboard player Nick Rhodes.
Ronson has called it the “imaginary follow-up to ‘Rio’ that never was,” referencing the breakthrough 1982 album that spawned massive hits such as “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Save a Prayer” and the title track. Even the untrained ear can hear a return to the brash, shiny rhythms that sold 80 million albums.
Singer Simon Le Bon may have the machismo and the model wife, bassist John Taylor may have the cheekbones and the fashion sense, but it’s Rhodes who’s got the brains. He’s an art collector, a photographer and high-society socialite.
And though his streaked blond hair is a little thinner and his waist a little thicker than when he started out, time hasn’t treated the 48-year-old badly. He is dressed in a black suit by Hans Ubbink, crisp white Dior shirt and a silvery Armani tie when we meet in London. He retains a trace of his Birmingham accent and has lost none of the charm that disarmed the press when he explained the Durans’ vision of yachts and cocktails all those years ago.
Is Rhodes at all embarrassed by his 18-year-old self?
“Not even slightly,” he says flatly. “Everything we ever created has been really honest and heartfelt. When we were teenagers, the world was pretty gray. There were strikes and power cuts and riots. But when you’re a kid and you’ve got your life ahead of you, you don’t want it all to be doom and gloom. You want something more exciting — to travel, to see what’s out there — and that’s what some of our earlier material was about.”
But if the band is known for reflecting the more frivolous side of life, it does have a serious side. “Even on the first album there was a song about impending nuclear war,” says Rhodes, “and ‘Girls on Film’ was about the exploitation of women.”
He wants to move the conversation along. “I’m really not into nostalgia. In a way that’s what’s behind the title of ‘All You Need Is Now.’ ”
But neither is he too keen on discussing aspects of the present. Apart from revealing that he is now single (his ex-wife, Julia Anne, and 24-year-old daughter Tatjana live in Los Angeles), he refuses to say whether he is dating at the moment.
Diplomatically, he won’t play up the Princess Diana connection. Duran Duran was her favorite band and at her sons’ request the Durans headlined two memorial concerts for her. “She clearly meant something to the nation, and she was part of our history, so we were happy to do that,” he says.
What does he think of the band’s new fame among a younger generation? “I’m very happy if there is an ’80s revival. There certainly seems to be one in fashion, and in both cases it’s because people take influences from things they didn’t experience the first time round and reinterpret them.”
That, he says, is what’s happened with Mark Ronson, a trans-Atlantic rich kid who is known for his collaborations with Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen and Boy George. He came into the Durans’ orbit in 2008. He worked with them in Paris on the invitation-only show with which they ended their last world tour — then stayed to do the album. One insider reports that “he’s completely starstruck when he’s with the band — it’s sweet, he’s like a fan.”
“Mark is not only super-sharp and very chic, he’s also a musical geek,” says Rhodes. “He loved the analog synthesizers that I brought into the studio — a different one every day for the first week and a half. He was so excited.”
Ronson was also delighted that the Durans agreed “the time was right for an album using a lot of synth sequences, electric guitars and dance beats. It’s like the way girls might decide it’s not the time to wear short skirts anymore. Well, maybe hip-hop beats are good for a while and then people say: ‘You know what? I’m ready for some disco beats now.’”
Enough musicians have quoted early Duran Duran as an inspiration, he points out, and many bands never move on from the style in which they found fame, “but we have. So now we felt quite comfortable taking inspiration from ourselves.”
In this they were aided and abetted by Ronson.
“Mark is not only a hugely talented musician who can pick up almost any instrument and play it well. He also has a huge musical knowledge.”
And, it turns out, an encyclopedic recall of the Durans’ back catalog. “He would say things like: ‘Do you remember the middle section on the B-side of this or that single? I want something like that.’ I think we’ve achieved something that we haven’t done in a very long time.”
After taking enormous pains over “each word, each intonation,” he thinks the album is “a very complete piece of work, in which everything seems to fit together like a jigsaw.”
It is also likely to put the band back out on the road, something Rhodes is looking forward to with unusual relish. His inspiration: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
“If you asked me in 2000 if we’d be performing 10 years later, I’d have said no. But on the strength of the new album I think we’ll still be at it in another 10. I mean, the Stones have set the bar and they still look pretty good as a unit.”
Courtesy New York Post