The pretty boys of pop find their edge
By ADRIAN THRILLS
Duran Duran: All you need is now (Tapemodern/ iTunes)
Rating: 4/5 stars
Verdict: Still hungry after all these years
When Mark Ronson was promoting his third solo album, Record Collection, he spent as much time enthusing about the songs he was finishing with Duran Duran as he did talking up his own prospects.
According to the producer, Simon Le Bon’s New Romantic veterans were never given the credit they deserved: their brilliance as pop craftsmen in the Eighties was overlooked simply because they were ‘annoyingly good looking’ and dated supermodels.
‘I was a huge fan,’ Ronson said. ‘Their album Rio was a classic. But because Duran sold 80 million albums, they are written off.’
The group and new producer Ronson are out to right the perceived wrong. The band’s 13th album, their first with Ronson, is much better than most of us could have anticipated.
Ronson has taken Duran Duran back to basics to recapture the carefree spirit of the days when Le Bon and his frilly-shirted cohorts were Princess Diana’s favourite band.
The notion of pop veterans collaborating with a hip, youngish producer isn’t new. Take That hooked up with Stuart Price — who’s collaborated with everyone from Coldplay to The Killers — to great effect on last year’s Progress. U2 worked with the Black Eyed Peas’ Will.i.am in 2009.
But the union of Duran and Ronson was a risky one. Since striking gold with Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, the Anglo-American hasn’t exactly hit the heights as a producer. But this is different — the band and their producer are a perfect musical fit.
So what has Ronson added? For starters, he has used his position as one of the most well-connected men in pop. The nine new songs benefit from a diverse cast of special guests.
Ana Matronic of the Scissor Sisters adds a seductive rap on Safe (In The Heat Of The Moment). New York soul diva Kelis impresses on The Man Who Stole A Leopard.
But if Ronson’s input provides a creative spark, the most impressive thing is Duran Duran’s return to form as songwriters. The band — now a four-piece of Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, bassist John Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor — are still in thrall to the Seventies (Bowie and Roxy) and the Eighties (American funk and disco).
But, as in their heyday, they use their reference points well.
Of course, no Duran Duran album would be complete without a touch of silliness, and thanks to some absurd Le Bon lyrics, All You Need Is Now also ticks that particular box.
The frontman, to his credit, also supplies some wonderful, multi-tracked vocal harmonies, superbly augmented by Rhodes’ clever electronic prompts and the urgent grooves of the rhythm section. The opening numbers set a celebratory tone, with the robust title track harking back to Save A Prayer and Being Followed adding guitars to the mix, with unofficial fifth member Dom Brown’s choppy riffs making light of the absence of original guitarist Andy Taylor, who left in 2006.
In addition to serving as a reminder that pop music should be fun, All You Need Is Now is long overdue. And with electronic dance music riding high once again, the time is surely right for Duran Duran to reclaim a little of their legacy.
All You Need Is Now is available on iTunes. A CD release follows next month.
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