XS Noize ALBUM REVIEW: Duran Duran – Danse Macabre

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***** (out of 5) Stars
5.0 rating

Duran Duran has never been a band even momentarily to rest on their considerable laurels. Hot on the heels of the hugely successful Future Past tour comes Danse Macabre, a special Halloween interim project, and while the latest release may not strictly be viewed as the band’s new ‘proper’ studio album, there are brand new songs on offer amid a selection of creepy covers and spooky reinterpretations of Duran fan favourites.

The record begins with an artfully reimagined version of the debut album highlight, “Night Boat”, a version with which the band have been opening their recent live shows. This incarnation of the song features fresh, choppy guitar parts from Andy Taylor, along with clever use of the original sinister synth sounds by Nick Rhodes. It perfectly exemplifies the darker side of Duran Duran, which is a side I particularly enjoy (I’d go “Before the Rain” rather than “My Own Way” every time).

The Wedding Album’s “Love Voodoo” has also enjoyed a dramatic makeover and has evolved into “Love Voudou“,now boasting a more ‘love hangoverstyle groove thanks to a very cool, crisp new bassline from John Taylor. Warren Cuccurullo pops up on guitar duties, and as is the case throughout the record, the backing vocals from Rachael O’Connor and Anna Ross shine through impressively.

The best of the ‘self-covers’, in my opinion, however, is the haunting and elegant “Secret Oktober 31st.” The original “Union of the Snake” B side has been given a more precise date and transformed into a sumptuous and charming autumn soundtrack. “Lonely In Your Nightmare” from Rio also gets a spine-tingling rework in a monster mash-up with Rick James’ “Superfreak” – taking on the new shady identity of “Super Lonely Freak.”

Danse Macabre as a concept dates back to the late Middle Ages and the notion that on Halloween night, the spirits would rise and perform a terrifying yet liberating dance. The idea endured for centuries and fascinated poets, artists and composers alike, such as Henri Cazalis, Hans Holbein and Camille Saint Saens, who wrote his much revered Danse Macabre piece in 1874.

Fast forward to 2023, and the ghost dance begins again with Duran’s song of the same name, sounding mischievous and playful as this gothic romp unfolds. From the opening bars, the spooky scene is set (who knew a foghorn could sound so seductive) as an “All She Wants Is” type motif and relentless groove kick in with Simon Le Bon’s almost rapped verses leading us to a taunting, chanting chorus that is both unnerving and highly addictive. Lyrically, it’s a scattergun approach with zombies, nuns, Elvis, kamikaze stag dos, and cat’s pyjamas all getting a shout-out, as well as another Duran Duran lyrical reference to “Twist and Shout,” which previously popped up in “Friends of Mine” from the debut album.

“Black Moonlight” is a runaway groove track featuring the inimitable and irresistible ‘on demand’ funk guitar of Nile Rodgers, whose contribution was recorded super quickly as he again offered his frantic fretwork and production genius to his favourite band. While “Black Moonlight” is clearly a high-energy party song and is the least eerie on the album, there is still an inherently menacing feel that is subtly illustrated with ‘Thriller’ style effects after the first chorus. This is the one Duranies of all ages will put on as they get dressed up to hit that Halloween party (going heavy on the eyeliner is, of course, very much encouraged).

The third and final original song on the record is “Confessions in The Afterlife.” This is quite simply one of the best songs Duran Duran has recorded in their forty-two-year career. This is the absolute treasure on the album, and to find it sitting as the closing track on what is essentially an interim project is indeed remarkable. Dom Brown weighs in with some exquisite guitar, as does Mr.Hudson (who, along with Joshua Blair, the band and Nile, shares production credit on the album).

A delicate and beautiful song echoing previous gems such as “Palomino, What Are The Chances” and indeed “Missing” from the Arcadia record, “Confessions In The Afterlife” is the most sublime and meaningful moment on Danse Macabre.

As for the cover versions on offer, “Bury A Friend” (Billie Eilish) is the winner. Duran’s version feels expansive and colourful, but let’s avoid the cliché of saying that Duran Duran have ‘made it their own’ and say instead that they certainly seem to have it on permanent loan. “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads gets an ultra funky makeover with Victoria De Angelis from Maneskin appearing on guest bass and vocals while

Siouxsie and The Banshees’ “Spellbound” is another stand-out track that respects the original but simultaneously adds some fresh glitter and sparkle. A good call, too, from Roger Taylor not to emulate the obvious drum break from this classic and instead do his own thing.

Duran Duran are no strangers to cover versions, though – “Femme Fatale”, “Fame”, etc.- of course, they recorded the highly divisive Thank You album in 1995. They also reinterpreted their own music on that record with an offbeat and loose take on “The Chauffeur”, which became “Drive By.” However, the covers on this album, I feel, will be more universally accepted. They sound novel and more off the cuff. That’s what recording at the speed of sound will do to a band.

Danse Macabre as a whole is an exciting and very interesting listen, but above all… this album is fun – Happy Halloween!

Courtesy John Kearns XSNoize