Dressed for the occasion with their faces painted like the vampish undead and a cobwebbed stage set like a haunted house slasher set, Duran Duran played Encore Theater in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Halloween night in 2022. Already planted in the U.S. for the band’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction that November, the band wanted to play a few warm-up gigs, and signed up for two nights in Vegas with the second show landing on Halloween.
“I said, ‘This is irresistible,’” keyboardist Nick Rhodes tells American Songwriter. “The first night was a completely regular show, and then the second night, we changed everything, which involved an enormous amount of rehearsals because we had to learn 12 or 14 new songs, things we hadn’t played for years like ‘Shadows On Your Side’ and ‘Secret Oktober’ and ‘[Waiting for the] Night Boat,’ and we all rose to the occasion.”
All Hallows’ Eve was their theme, and the band revisited a macabre blend of covers, including the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” and Siouxsie and the Banshees‘ “Spellbound” and even a mash-up of their Rio track “Lonely in Your Nightmare” with Rick James‘ 1981 hit “Super Freak.”
“Sometimes you just have to do things and say, ‘Let’s have a bit of fun,’” adds Rhodes, who said the band spent hours looking for stage props and making sure they had “suitable outfits.” Initially, they considered releasing the elaborately darker show as a live album, before it mutated into the band’s 16th album Danse Macabre (October 27).
“It just sort of metamorphosed in a very natural way,” says Rhodes of the album. “I don’t think any of us were quite sure what it was we were even making. We knew it was roughly Halloween-themed. ‘Were all these songs going to work together?’ Well, the truth of the matter is it was easier than we thought because once we played them it sounded like us.”
Produced by the band, Mr Hudson—who previously co-wrote and co-produced Duran Duran’s 2015 album Paper Gods—and Josh Blair, the 13 tracks of Danse Macabre were originally inspired by Halloween and songs that inspired the band from their earlier days and through the present.
“We just took what we had went into the studio and recorded new versions,” says Rhodes. “That’s when we added [Billie Eilish’s] ‘Bury a Friend,’ and different versions of Duran songs like ‘Secret Oktober’ [from 1983 album Seven and the Ragged Tiger], which we played as the original live but decided to orchestrate and change completely for the album.”
Pulling songs from the 2022 Vegas set for Danse Macabre, “Secret Oktober” became “Secret Oktober 31st,” along with their James-Rio mashup “Super Lonely Freak,” and “Love Voodoo”—originally released on the band’s 1993 self-titled album and transformed into “Love Voudou.”
Rising for a breath of breeding and drowns / Stillness overcomes me in the night / Listen to the rising water moan, croons Simon Le Bon on the opening “Nightboat,” a newer take on the band’s “Night Boat” (also known as “Waiting for the Night Boat”), off their eponymous 1981 debut. “I suppose it was one of the Duran Duran songs that fit it into the darker side of things, which qualified it for a ‘Halloween’ album,” says Le Bon of the oldest Duran track on the Danse Macabre, which they hadn’t performed live since 2005 before the recent Vegas show.
For Rhodes, covering Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Spellbound” was essential since punk rock was something he and bassist John Taylor tapped into in their younger years. “We wouldn’t exist without punk rock,” says Rhodes. “There’s no question punk rock liberated us because before that you had things like glam rock … and prog rock. We thought it was years of training to get into a band but then we started to realize with punk, 50 percent of it was attitude,” he laughs, “and that was something we weren’t as worried about.”
Schoolmates Taylor and Rhodes would go to punk shows just as it began penetrating England and, specifically within the Birmingham scene, during the mid to late-’70s. “We used to go and see Siouxsie and the Banshees in this tiny club in Birmingham, Rebecca’s, and then there was Barbarella’s, where we saw most of the greatest punk bands. Later on, there was the Birmingham Odeon. We watched them [Siouxsie and the Banshees] from being a true street punk band and playing to maybe 30 or 40 people to filling the Birmingham Odeon and having an amazing career, and that was really significant to us.”
Rhodes adds, “I’ve always loved Siouxsie and the Banshees. They’re great songwriters. They made some fantastic records, and ‘Spellbound’ always stuck with us. All we did was a Duran Duran version of those songs, particularly with ‘Spellbound.’ It’s fairly faithful to the original with some synthesizers, but we didn’t feel like we needed to change it.”
Unlike the band’s 1995 covers album Thank You, Danse Macabre delivers some of the songs that were more woven into the fibers of Duran Duran. “I think the songs [covers] we chose were a little bizarre for us because we were trying to cover too many things, but there wasn’t enough of our roots in some of it,” shares Rhodes of Thank You. “Our roots really come out of electronic music, and we probably should have done a Kraftwerk song or something that Giorgio Moroder worked on. We should have done some punk songs, some disco songs, and that probably would have informed people a bit more about where we came from and what the band was all about, rather Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin—which are amazing songs.”
Within the remaining covers is a dancier spin to the Specials’ two-toned “Ghost Town,” and a mostly faithful “Psycho Killer,” featuring Måneskin‘s Victoria De Angelis, while the band’s cover of Marc Cerrone’s 1977 hit “Supernature,” originally written by Cerrone, Lene Lovich, and Alain Wisniak, breaks from its disco-drenched original.
“I remember it from the ’70s, and I liked it a lot,” shares Le Bon of Cerrone’s No. 1 hit. “I always envisioned Grace Jones doing it, so I did my version of Grace Jones doing a Cerrone song. It’s more EDM.”
Le Bon said it was also necessary to leave room to shift vocals and melodies on particular covers, including their take on The Rolling Stones’ 1966 hit “Paint It Black.”
“For a singer, the difficult thing about doing cover versions is finding a different approach to the vocal so you can own it a little bit without disregarding the important aspects of the song,” says Le Bon. “It’s still got to be the song, so there are things I changed a lot like ‘Paint It Black.’ I tried to go as far away from the original version as I could, vocally, because otherwise if you’re singing the same melody as Mick [Jagger] sang, I could not have made it my own at all.”
The band also delivers an accelerated twist to Billie Eilish’s 2019 “Bury a Friend,” a song that left Le Bon a little intimidated when he first heard it. “I thought, ‘How on earth am I going to make this different from Billie?’” he says. “It’s a work of genius. That particular song is an absolute genius song and I didn’t want to trash it in order to make it mine, but I didn’t want to do an impersonation of Billie Eilish.”
Rhodes adds, “I love Billie’s version, but it’s the one track that radically shifted because we all felt that was the right thing to do with a Billie Eilish song. The other ones [covers], we just wanted to introduce to a new generation, and our audience, who, I imagine, know these songs anyway.”
With the exception of the more ghoulishly spun title track, the other two new songs—“Black Moonlight,” featuring Nile Rodgers and former Duran guitarist Andy Taylor, and the closing “Confession in the Afterlife” could have fit on any of their other albums. “The only song that is truly a Halloween song is the title track,” says Rhodes. “The other songs would fit anywhere at any time since ‘Psycho Killer’ was never written as a Halloween song. We just adopted for this wonderful time of the year.”
Former Duran Duran guitarist, Warren Cuccurullo, who was with the band from Notorious in 1986 through their 10th album Pop Trash in 2000, is also featured on the title track and “Love Voudou,” which he originally co-wrote with the band.
“For me, Warren Cuccurullo’s songs are some of my favorites on the album,” shares Rhodes. “I love the way Warren plays. He’s so unpredictable as a musician, and that’s the sort of thing that excites me most. He’s got the most abstract way of looking at a song sometimes. I can listen to something and think of guitar parts, melodic parts, or chords, but Warren treats his guitar almost like a synthesizer. And the things he can do with it—the loops that he makes and the sounds that he designs—he’s meticulous.”
Rhodes adds, “And of course, Andy [Taylor]. With Andy, you know what you’re getting. He’s a great guitarist. He’s got really good taste. He chooses his notes very, very carefully, and he’s got an edginess to his playing that I’ve always loved, and Nile [Rodgers] is quite simply the greatest rhythm guitarist on the planet.”
Writing the three new tracks on Danse Macabre moved like a “train,” says Le Bon, since the band had three to four days to write and record everything. “It was just a train that went,” he says. By the end, Danse Macabre is a glimpse at Duran Duran behind a musical curtain, and signs off on a closing confessional “Confession in the Afterlife,” which was led by Rhodes and Le Bon.
“We had that organ-y sound, and Nick really was the initiator,” says Le Bon. “I had the microphone in the control room and I just started singing this really soft wavy sort of vocal, and I think I came up with the title, which is rare for me.”
He continues, “I had this idea of something in the afterlife. What would it be like to be just to be dead but still have some kind of consciousness? I don’t believe in the afterlife. I think this is it, but I thought, ‘What if there’s no guilt in the afterlife?’ You can just be completely honest. You can tell all the things, the bad things you’ve done, and nobody’s going to be hurt. Nobody will say, ‘Oh you bad person.’ If you’re dead, you can just absolve yourself. It’s the idea that nothing matters anymore.”
Courtesy American Songwriter