Solo artists who successfully pilot decadeslong careers are impressive.
But bands that survive despite having to navigate varying temperaments, clashing opinions and individual quirks are practically miraculous.
Duran Duran is celebrating 40 years since the release of their “bop-bop-bop” debut single, “Planet Earth,” a delectable introduction to the band and its foppish New Wave glory, in the most satisfying manner: the release of their 15th studio album, “FUTURE PAST.”
The British outfit that helped define MTV with ’80s-era smashes including “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Rio,” “The Reflex” and their No. 1 James Bond theme, “A View to a Kill,” has endured plenty of fissures in their foundation including member defections and side projects, but persistence prevails.
“The fact that we have survived it and we’re still friends and can make records that are still contemporary says a lot about the individuals in the band," founding member and keyboardist Nick Rhodes tells USA TODAY. "We still have that determination to be better than anyone else – which is of course subjective – but you have to have that will. It’s the sort of merger of all of our personalities to make that one person that is Duran Duran.”
Perched on a wicker chair and looking suitably and blond-ly glam for a guy on the cusp of 60, Rhodes, in a Zoom call, is eager to discuss the new songs he’s created with mates John Taylor (bass), Simon Le Bon (vocals) and Roger Taylor (drums).
The band is joined by Blur guitarist Graham Coxon for several of the 15 tracks on the album (touring guitarist Dom Brown will still “always be there,” Rhodes says); Coxon's presence provided Duran Duran with an additional jolt in the studio.
“Having that element of live guitar in the room with us while we were writing brought back that Duran Duran sound of inventiveness and dance music,” Rhodes says. “Graham is just a sublime musician and so creative.”
Diehard Durannies will always yearn for another reunion with original guitarist Andy Taylor, who left the band in 1986 to work with John Taylor in The Power Station (“Some Like it Hot”) and focus on a solo career, and then returned for 2004’s “Astronaut” album and tour before exiting again. But Rhodes says while he “never says never in this life,” he doesn’t foresee another merger with the past.
“I feel very comfortable as the unit we are now,” Rhodes says. “In a way, Andy leaving gave us the latitude and space to be able to experiment more. We never would have made (2007’s) ‘Red Carpet Massacre,’ which might not have been one of our biggest commercial records, but artistically it was right to make at the time with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake. The opportunities we have had not having a permanent guitarist has changed the way the band creates things. And from Andy’s point of view, he probably feels the same. I don’t think he enjoyed the pressure of the tour and the shows, even though he always played great.”
The crux of “FUTURE PAST” – including its title – finds Duran Duran embracing the sound they pioneered while glazing it with modern overtones.
Current single “ANNIVERSARY,” with its delectable bass line and chorus (and fizzy-fun video), is “the most self-reverential thing we’ve ever done,” Rhodes acknowledges. “I suppose we’ve spent four decades trying to avoid doing the same thing. … But this time suddenly we fell into it and thought, this sounds really good.”
Classic disco (“ALL OF YOU”) and Prince-like electroclash (“INVISIBLE") highlight the album, which features production from the disparate duo of English DJ Erol Alkan (The Killers) and Euro-disco czar Giorgio Moroder (Blondie, Kylie Minogue). Mark Ronson, who helmed the band’s 2010 triumph, “All You Need is Now,” also gives an assist on guitar on the song “WING.”
“Erol is the only person I’ve met who would give Mark a run for his money knowing the history of music and being such a big fan of the band. John said it was like having this live, hallucinogenic drug in the room with you, in the most positive way. He would remember 12-inch mixes of our songs that I didn’t remember we had done and would say, ‘I love the snare on that song – Roger, can you do it again?’ or ‘How did you play bass on that song, John?’ I think we were rather fond of his obsessions with things because that’s what we’re like,” Rhodes says with a laugh.
Moroder, meanwhile, is one of Rhodes’ heroes. The opportunity to work with the man renowned for his touch on the bulk of Donna Summer’s catalog, as well as “Flashdance ... What a Feeling,” Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” and a trove of other hits, was enthralling.
“While Erol was all over the place, Giorgio is completely focused and knows exactly where he wants to guide a song. He’s so quick and precise and it was the entire opposite experience – but it was great having both of them,” Rhodes said.
Duran Duran is cautiously optimistic about taking the “FUTURE PAST” songs on the road in 2022 – likely summer – though as Rhodes notes, it’s been difficult for bands to get tour insurance because of the pandemic.
“There is no company that will cover COVID in any way, which makes things incredibly impractical,” he says. “The sooner we can come to a practical way to end this nightmare, the better.”
But even after four decades, the band’s intentions remain unchanged.
“We want to lift people’s spirits and make them smile," Rhodes says. "And maybe think a little bit."
Courtesy of USA Today