Oh no, you cry, not another bout of “the good ole days” nostalgia, another reunion of has-been aging pop stars trying to cash in on the success of their lost youth. But this is Duran Duran, the Fab Five that captured that Thatcherian power period of the 80s, where excess was an art de vivre and pop stars generally just had a lot more fun. These are the five guys that graced every teenage wall – including mine.
And now, 21 years after their last studio album together, the darlings of the New Romantics movement have reunited with their original line-up for another go. Fasten your seat belts, Astronaut is about to launch you from planet earth into orbit.
Produced by Don Gilmore (Linkin Park, Pearl Jam) and Dallas Austin, the album comes in a range of musical styles and invites you to dance right from the start. Opening track and first single, (Reach Up For) The Sunrise, is a fierce dancefloor song that, according to Simon Le Bon marks the renaissance for the band, claiming it “says everything about the band, about saying goodbye to the darkness and hello to the light”. We can almost feel the sun. Pass the sunscreen and lie back.
Duran Duran’s trademark disco-infused dance vibes mingle with impeccable melodies which start innocuously, then segue into the inevitable build-up before bursting into fat groove box beats and chopping guitars. Tracks like Want You More! and Taste The Summer with its techno undertones are ready to hit the clubs, while What Happens Tomorrow dabbles in rock territory. The infectious title track, Astronaut, is full of frivolous acoustics and sweeping, spacy synths, while One Of Those Days carries a Nirvana-style riff.
Some of the lyrics are open to interpretation – try deciphering Bedroom Toys for example. Point Of No Return is less ambiguous. Inspired by the 9/11 attacks, it is an upbeat tune offering a glimmer of hope. Remember, it’s sunny here.
The band is in its prime, belting out revitalised grooves and sing-a-long lines. The new material isn’t a rehash of vintage Duran Duran though it does contain some of its lush elements. They have seemingly captured of the art of deconstructing and reconstructing their sound. Hungry Like The Wolf’s night version is mirrored in the opening choppy riffs of Nice for example.
The album closes with Still Breathing – a deeply sensual, sultry track that rides like a summer breeze. It’s the California sunset of the Mamas and the Papas and is one of the most far-removed songs from Duran Duran’s signature sound. It is also one of the best pieces of songwriting on the album.
So, the band’s trademark New Romantic synth-funk has had a millennial makeover. Without compromising its style or copying its early successes, the band transcends all expectations and again connects with its audience – a new epoch, a new approach. It’s called zeitgeist. “Gonna take it back/Take back the life you wanna lead,” Le Bon sings in the anthemic Finest Hour. That says it all, doesn’t it?