Duran Duran, Coming to Bethlehem, Remains ‘Hungry like the Wolf’

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When Duran Duran's new album "Paper Gods" has been around long enough for people to look at it in context with the British new wave band's catalog, it's going to have a distinct place, bass guitarist and co-founder John Taylor says.

The disc, which was released in September and became Duran Duran's first Top 10 in the United States in more than 20 years, will be viewed as the moment during which the band opened itself to collaborations.

The disc has guest performers that include six-time Grammy Award nominee Janelle Monáe, dance music upstart Kiesza and even actress Lindsay Lohan on the cut "Danceophobia," and guest players such as former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante on three songs.

It also had multiple producers, including Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers, Mark Ronson and Mr Hudson.

They all helped Duran Duran reclaim a vitality to its sound, with songs such as the first single "Pressure Off."

"I think that when we look back on when this album is, like, really like within the catalog of Duran albums, we'll look back on it and that's what's gonna define this album, really," Taylor says in a telephone call before the band headed out on a tour that stops Tuesday at Sands Bethlehem Event Center.

"This is the album that was as much defined by the collaborators as it was by anything else."

Taylor says that's a good thing, even for a band that was among the best-selling acts of the 1980s, with five Top 25 albums — all of which went platinum or gold — and 14 Top 25 hit songs, and which set the standard for high-quality and boundary-pushing videos in the infancy of MTV.

"In this world, in the world of art and music, you need to shake things up," he says. "And you need to keep the edge and you can't get too comfortable. So we have to … we just have to spice things up now and again, you know?"

Taylor says that started with the new album when Frusciante approached him about playing on the disc.

"I'd gone to his home studio — his wife at the time had a band, and she asked me to play on her album," Taylor says. He says he and Frusciante got talking about music, especially English music, "and he said, When I was a kid, I hadn't started playing guitar, and I loved [the 1982 single] 'Save a Prayer,' and I thought, If I was a musician, that's the kind of song I'd like to write.

"And I just thought that was such a generous thing for him to say. He's an extraordinary guy."

About six months into Duran Duran's work on the new disc, Taylor says Frusciante emailed him out of the blue, saying, "Hey man, you know, I haven't been playing any guitar for a few years; I've just been going on about electronic music. I'm starting to get back into playing guitar again, and I'd really like to play on your new record if you'd like me to.

"And we were kind of, Wow, that's kind of a knockout." Taylor says Duran Duran has had a guitar player, Don Brown, for a long time, but told him, "Sorry, Don, but we can't say no" to Frusciante.

Taylor says the first song the group sent Frusciante, the ballad "What Are the Chances," was a song that "hadn't entirely defined itself … And John just nailed it. I mean, anybody that's reading this that knows his work knows what a giant he is. And we then went on and he played on several other songs."

Taylor says the experience with Duran Duran also helped Frusciante rediscover the guitar. "Toward the end of the album, there was another song that we had and I took it to him and said, 'You know, how'd you feel it?' And he said, 'Man, thank you, it's been a great experience, but I've moved on; my playing has moved on.'

"So we represented a step for him. We were like part of his rehab — guitar rehab."

But the experience with Frusciante "kind of set a bar … he also kind of opened up our minds to collaborators. And so from John Frusciante to Lindsay Lohan."

"Then it was almost like an open-door policy, and we realized it every time somebody — like Janelle or Nile gave something to the album. The album just grew, you know, it just got wider.

"I mean everybody's bringing, you know, something to the table. You've got a lot of chefs in the kitchen, and they're all super talented.

"So the sense is, and our sense has always been, we've always been our best sort of A&R [artists and repertoire] committee, in a way, 'cause it's not just like one guy. You've got a lot of guys and they all need to be happy," Taylor says. They all need to feel that the music is right.

"And we feel that for a song to get through out process, to make it, complete it, to the finishing line — that is, the finished album — it's got to have something. You know, there's got to be some quality that works, and then, hopefully, listeners are going to hear that in the music, too."

In addition to having a new album that caught the public's ear again, Taylor says Duran Duran's stage show is among its best ever, with its first "really visually integrated show," with every song accompanied by an "interpretive kind of visual."

The band unveiled that at its headlining show at Bethlehem's Musikfest in August. Taylor says since then "we developed the show considerably more for the U.K. tour, and that's the show that we're gonna be bringing back this year.

"The visual material is all fresh, so it doesn't matter whether you're playing 'Paper Gods' or 'Hungry Like the Wolf,'" he says. "And that kind of puts everything on the same visual plane."

Moreover, Taylor credits modern technology — especially the Internet — for changing the way people listen to music and making newer listeners aware of its older music.

"I criticize technology a lot usually, but I think that's one thing that we really have the Internet to be grateful for — there's been a real, sort of democratizing process that has happened to music. First with iTunes shuffle, and now to Spotify, where, really, all music is equal."

He says that in the 1970s and '80s, "radio would play a song but it always defined it by an era — 'Hey, we're going back to the '60s; all the way back to '75, blah, blah, blah, blah. Let's go back to the '80s.' Music always was defined on radio by its time.

"I remember in the '70s, when I was a teenager, and a song would come on from the '60s, a Motown song, and a DJ would announce it. In a way, it was like an … antique! And it felt old. But no … that's gone away, and most of us don't listen to our music that way."

Taylor says the reception to "Paper Gods" has been "beyond our wildest dreams, really." And during recent shows, he says, he's seen a change in audiences reacting positively to the new material.

"One of the things you really hope for is you're gonna produce an album that is really going to revitalize the stage show," he says. "Because obviously, most people are coming to hear 'Hungry Like the Wolf,' "Ordinary World,' those songs. But for us, nobody wants to think of themselves as a legacy act. On the one hand, of course, we have to embrace certain aspects of that. But you still want to feel that you've got it. You know, that you can produce music that's got some kind of currency."

One thing Taylor doesn't have an interest in doing is another solo disc, he says. He's done nearly a dozen, but his last was 2002's "MetaFour."

"I love to write songs," he says, "but in terms of seeing myself near center stage singing the songs, I don't see myself in that way."

He says he's got a few projects outside the band, including a project he's working in with Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes that "I can't get into … I can't really talk about. But I've always got little things going on. Little things cooking away. Little side distractions, you know?"

It's now been 15 years since Duran Duran reunited after a break in the late 1990s, though Taylor points out that it's only four of the five original members — guitarist Andy Taylor left again in 2007. "We did a reunion album and tour and then four of the five of us felt that this was for life and we wanted to keep going. And that wasn't the case for him."

"I think that it is what it is," Taylor says. "I think that there's a lot to be grateful for, to feel good about. About working with people that you know so well.

"I think equally, you have to find ways to freshen things up — hence the amount of new faces and collaborators that are on this album. I think … we have a good, steady relationship with each other. You know, we've worked hard. We're like a marriage —we've been through all the bull and we found a peaceful dynamic.

"But having said that, it is comfortable but it's also not comfortable. There's quite a bit of confrontation that goes on in the studio."

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the release of Duran Duran's platinum self-titled debut album and its breakthrough hit "Girls on Film." Will the band do anything to mark the anniversary?

"I don't think. It gets to a point where you really don't like being reminded of anniversaries. We've got a gal who runs our website — there's always something, every other week, there's like, 'this is the 30th anniversary of the first No. 1.' I'm not big on anniversaries, actually — in or out of the band," he says with a laugh.

"I think that you've got to stay focused on the present. And although it's entirely natural to get drawn backward and it's entirely natural to feed your trip, you really got to stay present as much as possible. I think all those anniversaries and all those reminders don't really serve the greater good.

"The best thing we could do to celebrate any kind of anniversary is just be the best Duran Duran we can be. Which is really about being present."


•When: 8 p.m. April 5

•Where: Sands Bethlehem Event Center, 77 Sands Blvd., Bethlehem

•How much: $64.50 general admission standing

•Set list: In recent shows, it played hits such as "The Wild Boys," "Hungry Like the Wolf," "Girls on Film" and "Rio," as well as cuts from its latest disc, "Paper Gods," including the title track, "Danceophobia" and the first single, "Pressure Off."

•Info: www.sandseventcenter.com, 800-745-3000


Twitter @johnjmoser


Courtesy Morning Call