At 30, Duran Duran: 'Now' and then
Originally published: October 20, 2011 2:15 PM
Updated: October 22, 2011 2:02 PM
By GLENN GAMBOA [email protected]
Duran Duran isn't a band that looks back very often.
The Brits could easily have made a ton of cash this year by celebrating the 30th anniversary of their eponymous new-wave debut, the album that introduced the world to "Girls on Film" and "Planet Earth." Instead, four of the five original members -- singer Simon LeBon, synthesizer wiz Nick Rhodes, bassist John Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor -- are supporting an all-new album, "All You Need Is Now" (S-Curve).
"It wouldn't be fun for us just playing the same old songs all the time," says LeBon, calling from a tour stop in West Palm Beach, Fla. "We're capable of writing new songs, and if you don't exercise that skill, you lose it."
Few of Duran Duran's contemporaries can match the band's hit-making longevity or its wide range of styles, from pure synth-pop to funk to its recent flirtation with contemporary R&B, working with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake on 2007's "Red Carpet Massacre." After their string of hits in the '80s, they landed Top 10 smashes with "Come Undone" and "Ordinary World" in the '90s and a No. 1 dance hit with "(Reach Out for the) Sunrise" in the '00s, and they are poised for another hit this decade from "All You Need Is Now."
"You can't really determine which will work," LeBon says. "I've got hopes for a lot of them. But only time will tell."
The creation of "All You Need Is Now" was actually a rare nod to the band's past, as it worked with producer Mark Ronson, of Amy Winehouse fame. Ronson, a longtime Duran Duran fan, has said he wanted the album to sound like the follow-up to the classic "Rio."
However, LeBon says "All You Need Is Now" is far from "Rio Part 2." "That was kind of a glib statement on his part," LeBon says of Ronson. "It doesn't really tell the whole story. It also kind of gives the wrong impression that 'Seven and the Ragged Tiger' wasn't a viable follow-up, which it was. What he was saying was that until 'Rio,' Duran Duran was an experimental, edgy, avant-garde band, and right after that, we started going more towards the middle. He wanted a return to that kind of attitude out of us."
LeBon says that Ronson took a practical approach to bringing back the "Rio" sound, encouraging the band to return to using the analog synthesizers it used in its early days. "It really had a huge effect on the sound," LeBon says. "It pushed us much further and those synthesizers are much easier to work with. Nick is a master at using those to create the exact sounds he wants. It was amazing."
The result was a collection of songs that had a bit of the sound of the '80s but still sound forward-looking. LeBon says he has high hopes that the current single, "Leave a Light On," will catch on with fans. "It's one of our softer songs," he says, "but it's anthemic and has a very heartfelt lyric. The kids already sing along with it in concert."
If that shouldn't click, however, the band is ready with a secret weapon that it has used successfully before -- a flashy, star-studded music video.
"The video for 'Girl Panic' will blow your mind," LeBon says, adding that the clip will likely be released next month. "It's five of the original supermodels -- Cindy Crawford, Helena Christensen, Eva Herzigova, Naomi Campbell and Yasmin LeBon -- and they each have a romp with one of the members of the band. It's shot in reportage style. It looks incredible."
The clip -- directed by Jonas Akerlund, best known for helming Madonna's "Ray of Light," Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" and Lady Gaga's "Telephone" videos -- will kick off the push for "All You Need Is Now's" catchiest track. It's part of a renewed campaign to get attention for the album, after the first one was delayed by LeBon's loss of his voice this spring.
"It was a pretty horrible experience," he says of the health scare, which caused him to lose the upper range of his voice for two months. "It took the doctors an hour and a half to tell me three things: We don't really know what's wrong. We don't really know how to treat it. And we don't know how long it's going to last."
What LeBon eventually learned was that only he could judge whether the situation was improving. "I'm fully back to my previous voice," he says, adding that the current tour has been going well. "This band is like a rocket -- nothing can stop us."
He says he is looking forward to the group's Madison Square Garden show Tuesday. "We've played there a lot," he says. "But each time is special. You never get tired of getting on that stage."
LeBon says the Garden show will also serve as an early celebration of his birthday (he turns 53 Thursday). "My wife is coming to town and it will be a great party," he says, laughing. "There's plenty to celebrate."
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