Album Review: Duran Duran Gets Risky with ‘Paper Gods’

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By Ryan Carter, San Bernardino Sun

"Paper Gods" album cover

Duran Duran

Rating: ★★★★

Album: “Paper Gods”

Genre: Pop

Label: Warner Bros. Records

Duran Duran once said it wanted to be the band that people were dancing to when the bomb dropped.

Well, minus the Cold War reference, “Paper Gods,” which will be released Sept. 11 on Warner Bros. Records, would be a good selection if you’re looking to dance into an apocalypse.

The band’s 14th studio album is a bold collection of pop songs, with help from a range of artists from Kanye West/Jay Z collaborator Ben “Mr” Hudson to former Red Hot Chili Pepper John Frusciante and Chic’s Nile Rodgers, an early influencer and producer of some of the band’s ’80s hits.

In an age of on-demand digital song consumption, “Paper Gods” is a bit of a journey — and that’s a good thing — from an indignant Simon Le Bon in the slow grooves of the 7-minute-long title track to a grand melancholy finale called “Universe Alone.”

But if you’re looking for something like Duran’s classic 1982 “Rio” album here, you may be disappointed. This album is even a definite departure from 2011’s “All You Need Is Now,” where producer Mark Ronson steered the band back to a more “Rio”-like sound to the delight of fans and critics at the time.

In 2015, we find Duran Duran in a dark, funky mood. With Hudson’s help, there’s a sheen that plays up the electro-sounding drums, thumping beats, shimmering synths and funky guitar riffs. It’s kind of pre-“Rio,” tapping into when the band was experimenting with electronic sounds and creating a certain fusion between a Bowie-inspired dark side, punk irreverence and the sounds of Chic.

It’s shiny. Electric. Not acoustic. Most importantly, it’s consistent and it holds on to a strong sense of melody and the rhythmic chemistry that has always buoyed this group.

I have to admit, as a fan, it took me some time to process the less “acoustic” sound.

The band’s drummer, Roger Taylor, gave me some insight.

“The last album was very much about going back to the early days and re-creating the early Duran Duran sound. That was what Mark Ronson was really looking for with that record,” he said. “But I think we’ve allowed ourselves to be very modern and contemporary on this record.”

In it, we hear a bold title track, where lead singer Le Bon sings about obsession with money and material things. There’s the first single, “Pressure Off,” where Nile Rodgers’ classic infectious funky riff — reminiscent of his riff in Duran Duran’s 1986 hit “Notorious” — gives way to a chorus that reaches for the rafters. And there’s “Danceophobia,” a playful track on which Lindsay Lohan’s speaking part offers up a diagnosis — and a cure. (That’s right. Lindsay Lohan.)

“What Are the Chances?,” the albums’s ballad, soars with harmony and lush synth textures overlayed by Frusciante’s lead, which could be a song unto it’s own. Again, there’s something bold here, with some risk of at least raising some Duran purists’ brows.

“We’ve always been a band that has not been afraid of risk,” said Taylor, as he and the group geared up for a tour that will stop at the Hollywood Bowl in October. “We’ve never tried to make the same album twice.”

Courtesy San Bernardino Sun