Icons of the ’80s Duran Duran have come full circle. From being adored some 20 years ago, they’ve suffered critical ridicule and dwindling record sales before enjoying a career resurrection in recent times. On the eve of the release of the band’s new album Astronaut, musicOMH caught up with LeBon, Rhodes and all those Taylors to hear why they decided to reform for the first time since Live Aid.
They were hailed as the Fab Five. They were Princess Diana’s favourite band. And they wrote the most memorable line in rock history: “She’s about as easy as a nuclear war.” With their infectious synth-dance tunes and pin-up looks, Duran Duran sparked the British Invasion of the ’80s, conquered the planet and pioneered music videos. Until, poof! it all dissipated just as easily as it came.
The band members grew apart and Live Aid saw them together on stage for the last time – until last summer, that is. Celebrating the 25th anniversary of their formation, the freshly reunited band embarked on a world tour, starting in Japan, to test the waters before finishing their album. “We started in Japan because it’s OK to play there and f*ck up and get away with it,” jokes lead singer Simon LeBon, a mischievous look in his eyes.
Their last studio album together, Seven And The Ragged Tiger, was released 21 years ago. Now the original lineup is back with Astronaut, which took three years to complete. “You just try to make the best record that you can possibly make,” explains bass player John Taylor, “and each day that we would get together, we had to write the best songs that we’d ever written in our lives. That was the only criteria, really. And everyone sort of acts as a producer to the other, trying to bring out the very best in each other.”
“We started in Japan because it’s OK to play there and f*ck up and get away with it” – Simon LeBon on using the Japanese as guinea pigs.
According to LeBon, the reunion resulted from self-introspection as a band. “I think what happened was that in the years that intervened between the first three albums and making this one, we had a chance to step back and look at what we had done and what we had achieved before. And that’s a big admission to make, that you actually think you were better off 20 years ago.” Besides, “Why settle for this when you can have THIS?”.
“It’s been like starting over,” continues Taylor, “You don’t just decide to get back together and then explode onto the stage and burst into song. You do have to go through steps. We don’t want to be second best. In order to do this again, we want to be the best we can be. So that was actually a particularly humbling move on our behalf.” But they did manage to steal at least one show from Robbie and the demand for Duran was so great, that they alternately scheduled smaller shows of their own. The band was ready to reclaim its dues.
Some may see their reunion as a move to cash in on the current ’80s nostalgia that is sweeping the globe, emulating and glorifying everything from that era, both the good (music) and the bad (clothes). But LeBon thinks they’re actually better-qualified for the millennial nostalgia, which should hit us sometime in 2024 if my guess is correct. “I think that the early Duran Duran music can’t help but be a part of an ’80s nostalgia trend,” says LeBon. “The fact that we’ve come back with a new record slightly separates us from that because what we’re doing now is going to be part of the new millennium trend.”
With a sell-out tour last year and the incredible fan support and feedback, Duran Duran is being reintroduced in the annals of rock. “It seemed like for years, we were being written out of music history. So now, we’re enjoying the moment of…” Taylor’s at a loss.
LeBon finds the missing word: “Recognition.”
“We hadn’t played a support slot since 1981. But we learned some humility.” – Duran Duran on re-climbing the ladder of success.
Simple recognition that Duran had produced fine music and perennial songs: Lifetime Achievement awards from MTV and Q Magazine and an Outstanding Contribution at the BRITs. But as Taylor says, “Awards are great if they coincide with a new release.” Astronaut was still in the making at the time those cute trophies were handed out. Bad timing? Not really. They eventually landed a four-record deal with Epic.
An eclectic mix of signature synth-funk tunes merged with the intensity of rock, Astronaut is strong enough to stand on its own, without the support of their vintage material. “We have an interest in R&B, hard rock, atmospherics, pop,” explains Taylor, “We’ve never been the kind of band that has just one sound. We felt quite fortunate, especially at a time in the ’90s when everything had become very genre-defined. I think we’ve got quite a broad spectrum of styles that we could dip into and it seems to work with us.”
Producers Don Gilmore and Dallas Austin worked with the band’s array of styles, all the while updating their ideas. “We didn’t know how it was going to go with Don. He came over to do one song with us and he ended up producing eight of them.” And no, the band doesn’t sound like Don Gilmore-produced Linkin Park. (“They’re actually a lot more like us than people think,” Taylor offers.)
Full of hope for the renaissance of Duran Duran, (Reach Out For The) Sunrise, the first single, LeBon explains, is a “dancefloor song that says everything about the band, about saying goodbye to the darkness and hello to the light.”