Duran Duran built their career on New Wave pop and ‘70s funk, the sounds of both Roxy Music and Chic pervading their style.
Throughout their 40-plus year career, the band has dabbled in bass-heavy thickness (1986’s “Notorious”), electronica (1997’s “Medazzaland”), sublime pop (2004’s “Astronaut”) and a messy stew of sounds (2007’s “Red Carpet Massacre”).
For “Danse Macabre,” their 16th release out Oct. 27, Duran Duran is going old-school, new-school and covers-school, stacking 13 songs with the through line of eeriness.
Inspired by their 2022 Halloween show in Las Vegas, the album is an intriguing compilation of reimagined classics (“Super Lonely Freak,” a marriage of their “Lonely in Your Nightmare” and Rick James’ “Super Freak” is especially juicy); covers (Billie Eilish’s “Bury a Friend” benefits from amplified instruments and a snappy arrangement); and new songs (the title track somehow blends camp and industrial goth to perfect effect).
The original quartet of singer Simon Le Bon, bassist John Taylor, keyboardist Nick Rhodes and drummer Roger Taylor enlisted some familiar and fresh names to join them on this curious joyride.
Original guitarist Andy Taylor – in the news lately because of his battle with prostate cancer and new solo album – returns on several songs, as does former longtime guitarist Warren Cuccurullo.
Longtime friend Nile Rodgers adds his signature splash to “Black Moonlight” and “Supernature” and new pal Victoria De Angelis of Måneskin – who shares an affinity for Talking Heads’ bassist Tina Weymouth with John Taylor – gives an assist on the album as well.
Here are some of the standouts.
‘Black Moonlight’ is the best new Duran Duran song in a decade
When Mark Ronson teamed with the band for 2010’s “All You Need is Now,” the result was predictably fantastic. This was a producer who understood their legacy and knew how to elevate their sound while retaining their signatures. The title track aches with Duran-iness and longtime fans agreed that Ronson tapped into a classic vein.
On “Black Moonlight,” the magic is back. The song lopes with a characteristic groove, Rodgers’ jangly guitar marries seamlessly with Andy Taylor’s textured undercurrents and Rhodes’ keyboard squiggles sound like bits of a B-52s cut.
It’s a party song laced with simple lyrics (“We’re going out tonight, move ‘til we’re out of sight, into the black moonlight”) contrary to Le Bon’s usual arcane contributions.
There is also a “Thriller” vibe as the song shimmers with a spooky tenor (you almost expect a Vincent Price overdub to appear) and swoops through its catchy bridge.
If this is the last we hear of the original quintet, it’s a perfect happy ending.
‘Psycho Killer’ proves an ideal cover for Duran Duran
Fans who still shudder when thinking about the band’s 1995 “Thank You” album - their ill-advised (save for their spectacular version of Grandmaster Melle Mel’s “White Lines (Don’t Do It)”) homage to artists who inspired them - can exhale.
While not every choice on “Danse Macabre” works (Duran’s rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It, Black” is more theatrical than sinister), their remake of The Talking Heads’ quirky 1977 song is an ideal marriage between band and song.
It’s faithful, but funkier, likely due to the double bass production of John Taylor and Måneskin’s De Angelis.
De Angelis told USA TODAY in a recent interview that the pair wrote the bass lines together in the studio – “He’s an incredible bassist,” she said – and Taylor offered some sage advice to the young musician.
“He told me to always keep my own style. He wrote the first bass line (for ‘Psycho Killer’) and then let me redo it in my own way. He really gave me space to be myself,” De Angelis said.
In addition to its musical anchor, the song also features prominent cymbals and percussion as well as Le Bon unleashing his flair for the dramatic in his vocal delivery.
‘Nightboat’ shimmers as a reimagined classic
Prior to their recent Future Past tour, it had been two decades since the band performed the murky song from their 1981 self-titled debut with any regularity.
Longtime Duranies will recall with amusement the low-budget zombie video that accompanied its release (Le Bon muttering the Queen Mab speech from “Romeo and Juliet” remains awesome for many reasons).
But as one of Duran Duran’s most overlooked songs, it’s refreshing to see the band reclaim it. It’s denser, lusher, obviously performed with a deeper vocal – Le Bon’s boyish yelps are, sadly, matured – and hard to shake.
The song creeps up on you – no pun intended – as the guitars slash harder and the drums build to a climax.
If you’re crafting an album with the theme of shadowy strangeness, “Nightboat” is the ultimate no brainer.
Courtesy USA Today
Photo Courtesy Gavin Elder