It’s remarkable that 40 years into their career a new record by Duran Duran is an event. A pop happening of great importance. Indeed, the iconic legacy of ’80s pop’s finest sons is arguably stronger than ever as they find themselves not only still in demand but able to experiment, shake up their sound and still remain resolutely, defiantly Duran Duran.
Future Past is their 15th album and their first since the well-received Paper Gods six years ago. Still striving to push themselves forward, the album is the sound of Duran Duran reconstituted for the mega-streaming pop age. All the constituent parts that made them great are all present and correct and Simon Le Bon’s voice still remains their instantly recognisable calling card.
Fortunately there’s not the sense that they are veterans fumbling around for relevancy. Instead they feel for the most part fresh, vibrant and energised. Perhaps the introduction of an array of varied new collaborators has helped to spice up the Duran formula. The album features guitar work from legendary Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, and the band judiciously employ features from fresh acts including Tove Lo, Ivorian Doll and Chai while also again working with Mark Ronson as well as Erol Alkan and none other than Giorgio Moroder on production. The result is a confident, vivid collection that exists in Technicolor brightness.
The album is very much centred around the dancefloor primed, hip swinging Duran rather than the introspective grace of something like Ordinary World. In a (mostly) good way, there’s nothing graceful here. At its best the album pounds you over the head, as on the swelling synthy disco odyssey of Anniversary with its echoes of The Reflex, or the clubby banger Beautiful Lies, while the über-funky All Of You rides a classic John Taylor bassline into one of their best songs in decades.
Duran Duran have always been at their best when they are aware of and lean into their own ridiculousness. You can hear that loudly on the big dumb celebratory anthem of Tonight United as well as the rousing chant along synth rocker More Joy! which features ebullient backing vocals from Japanese punks Chai. When the album embraces this ridiculousness you’re reminded of the transcendent brilliance of pop at its best. Sadly though, these are serious times, and even Duran Duran need to get serious. There’s nothing particularly bad about the album’s more inward looking “deep” tracks except the meandering, seriously off piste piano noodling (courtesy of the esteemed Mike Garson) of closing track Falling, but they mostly serve as buzz killers. That’s not to denigrate the lyrical depth of the songs though, as the band have proclaimed these are among their most personal and evocative lyrics, and after all Duran Duran can do whatever they want. Like everything they do, when they want to get deep and emotional they dive all in head first. There are no half measures. By far the best of their widescreen state-of-the-nation addresses is the soaring opening track Invisible.
When a band gets to this point in their career it’s clear that they are survivors. Perhaps Duran Duran are pop’s ultimate survivors. While their peers are either defunct or feverishly running the nostalgia circuit, Duran Duran are thriving. Assured of their legacy and comfortable enough to try to use their music as a force for positivity, this album is a playfully flawed triumph. There are more than enough highs to satisfy both fans and casual admirers, while the lows are not quite low enough to founder the project. On this evidence, Duran Duran still have enough wind left in their pop sails to reach another decade.