***** (5 out of 5 stars)
Duran Duran have been about the present since the beginning. Never afraid to trek into sonic territory where others feared to tread, this charismatic British outfit soon racked up an impressive run of hits that soundtracked an era.
But better still—the band routinely put their best foot forward with every album released; this ensured that their material could thrive outside the period of its genesis. Despite this, Duran Duran are continually pestered to take up the stale nostalgia of their MTV salad days thanks to a segment of general record buyers and a specific sect of the music press.
Refusing to be defined by those ghosts of yesteryear, the group has continued to create audaciously. Critical and commercial favor was the occasional cost paid for such fearlessness, but a diverse and expansive catalog has proven to be all the reward needed for these gentlemen.
Now, forty-one years removed from the New Romantic epoch that spawned them, Duran Duran are still here. For those who once tried to shunt the quartet into one part of popular music lore, they’re finally catching on to what their adoring public have known for decades: Duran Duran are vital, timely and relevant. Underestimate them at your peril. As such, the title of their fifteenth studio outing FUTURE PAST—dually hosted on their own Tape Modern imprint and BMG Records—couldn’t be more apt.
Erol Alkan, Giorgio Moroder, Graham Coxon (of Blur renown), Mark Ronson, Joshua Blair—they’re some of the co-writing/co-production tunesmiths recruited by the foursome to task over this collection, which is to say nothing of the eclectic features asked along too: Tove Lo, Ivorian Doll, Chai, Mike Garson.
All of these assembled guests bring their unique gifts to bear throughout FUTURE PAST, but it is done in service to Duran Duran’s overall vision for the project: to craft an immersive album that will flourish now but endure later. Numbering fifteen cuts in its deluxe configuration and twelve tracks in its standard iteration, Simon Le Bon (vocals), Nick Rhodes (keyboards, programming, synthesizers), John Taylor (bass guitar) and Roger Taylor (drums/percussion) are in keen form throughout FUTURE PAST as musicians, producers and songwriters.
Whether it’s a sprawling balladic cut like the title track or a clubby floorfiller à la “TONIGHT UNITED”—every piece on FUTURE PAST is linked by an underlying rhythmic fluidity owed to both Taylors playing at full tilt. Their instrumentalist chemistry gives FUTURE PAST a synchronal blend of beat and groove, the perfect set-up for Rhodes, ever the mad genre scientist, to build atop that foundation with his own specificities. From the angular synth excursion of “INVISIBLE,” to the layered electronic soul of “GIVE IT ALL UP,” right on up to the art-rock paradiso of “VELVET NEWTON,” Rhodes’ ear for detail remains infinite and unmatched.
Only the shrewdest Duran Duran devotee will detect any overlapping compositional particulars repurposed from the group’s anterior sets active on this album. But FUTURE PAST is anything but a redux for these aesthetes. Duran Duran may utilize a few familiar tricks in their arsenal on this long player, but only in the freshest fashion.
Then there is Le Bon—the ultimate stylist with technical chops; his voice is an undiminished treasure. He takes flight to soar beautifully on the chorus of “ANNIVERSARY,” he seductively beckons via “HAMMERHEAD” (with hip-hop chanteuse Ivorian Doll) before segueing into “INVOCATION.” Once ensconced in said selection, he simply revels in that unmistakable, mesmeric tone.
The tradition of Duran Duran splitting writing duties amongst themselves (and whomever they’re collaborating with) is upheld on FUTURE PAST, but it’s Le Bon who continues to determine the thematic pulse for the band’s lyrics. This makes sense given that, as a vocalist, he must have an affinity for what he sings. His predilection for compelling, if occasionally abstract scripts hasn’t left him. FUTURE PAST is well stocked with these lush, strange pieces where he explores unrestrained desire (“WING”) and the dangers of modern living (“BEAUTIFUL LIES”) unflinchingly. However, Le Bon is also interested in how people connect with situations bigger than us as evinced on “NOTHING LESS” and “LAUGHING BOY.”
Taken in total, FUTURE PAST comfortably sits next to any of its fourteen predecessors regarding its superlative sense of pop experimentation. And just like any of those previous affairs, FUTURE PAST is the right Duran Duran record for this moment. One can safely assume that time will be kind to this accomplished effort and that its spark will continue to burn long after today has receded from view.
Notable Tracks: “ANNIVERSARY” | “FUTURE PAST” | “GIVE IT ALL UP” | “INVOCATION”