Duran Duran - Men On Film
Thursday, 20 December 2007
Duran Duran are never mentioned in the same context as the hallowed Depeche Mode, but they're one of the seminal bands to emerge from '80s Britain.
Now they're again at the forefront with their latest album, Red Carpet Massacre. Drummer Roger Taylor touts the streetwise LP, which boasts input from the "Duranie" Timbaland, as "a contemporary take on Duran."
Duran Duran belonged to the New Romantic movement together with The Human League, Visage and their rivals Spandau Ballet. New Romanticism sprang from the ashes of punk, glam-rock and disco in the late '70s. Indeed, David Bowie's Ashes To Ashes was an early hit. However, as with most New Romantics, Duran Duran - Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Andy Taylor and Roger Taylor - were routinely maligned in the music press, prisoners of their image. (None of the Taylors are related.)
Many journalists, identifying with the withering punk, were disdainful of the Blitz Kids' flamboyance. Ironically, the New Romantics were frequently working-class kids reacting to the bleakness of Thatcher's era, not validating it.
Duran Duran formed in England's industrial heartland. "We came from a very grey part of England - we came from Birmingham, which is the motor industry city," Roger says. "The weather was never very good. There was nothing amazing going on. It was very much a second city to London. We were like a knee-jerk reaction to the greyness that surrounded us."
Reviewers also dismissed Duran Duran because they attracted a visible female following - Princess Diana among them. It was a displaced sexism. The rock media's antagonism intensified as the band, with their exotic video-clips, were adopted by MTV. "We were doing bling videos in 1983!" Roger laughs.
Today Taylor agrees that Duran Duran's music has been reappraised. Nevertheless, they're not canonised like The Jam, the critics' darlings in the '80s. "We still feel a little bit overwhelmed by the cynicism. You still get the 40-year-old guy who's listening to The Smiths and it doesn't matter how well we play or how good we think our album is, [he] will still be going for our throats.
"People do take us more seriously. There was a lot of prejudice against the band because we were seen as a teen band, and a video band - and that worked against us. Now people do take us more for what we really are - which is as musicians and songwriters.
"We're only around now because the songs have stood the test of time. We'll still get a lot of people come and see us just to hear these songs and to see us perform, so we are taken more seriously than we used to be. But we don't live and die by reviews. If we get a good review, great, if we get a bad one, OK. "
Duran Duran's legacy shouldn't require defending. The group, referencing Chic, The Sex Pistols and Bowie, have, at points, traversed synth-pop (the avant-garde The Chauffeur), funk and grunge. Stylistic shifts aside, Duran Duran endured because of their classic songwriting. Few bands have composed anything as subtly beautiful as (the admittedly obscure) A Matter Of Feeling.
The rock 'n' roll lifestyle claimed its toll on Duran Duran. They began to fragment in the '80s. The first to leave was the shy Roger - shortly after Duran cut a Bond theme, A View To A Kill. Exhausted, he became "a gentleman farmer." The others struggled in the '90s beyond the Indian summer of Ordinary World.
At John's encouragement, they regrouped at the beginning of this decade, presenting their comeback, Astronaut, in 2004. What convinced Roger to return-
"I don't know. I didn't need any convincing, really. It was just a surprise to me. I didn't think there would ever be a reunion. I thought that day had gone. But I just felt that I was in the right place, at the right time, at the right stage in my life to do it again. I'd come around to thinking a lot more positively about the band than I had been.
"I think when you leave a band, it's a bit like leaving your marriage, it's like when you're getting divorced or breaking up - you feel all the bad things that have happened to you. But, give a few years down the line, people actually become friends again and they forget all the bad stuff. Leaving Duran was like that. You're left with a bad taste at the end. As the years go by, people tend to start to think of the better things about being in the band and the great things that have happened. We all reached that point in life at the same time, where we were ready to embrace it again - and embrace each other again."
This past year the James Dean look-alike remarried. He still struggles to strike a balance in his life. "That's the really hard thing - it's so demanding on your personal life. I've got three kids - and I haven't seen them for six weeks. It's very hard. It's very important to have that day-to-day contact. I like picking my kids up from school and seeing them in the morning and stuff, so that's the hard part - trying to achieve a balance."
The industry's excitement at Duran's reunion overshadowed Astronaut. "That whole album was all about the reunion and the concerts - and Astronaut almost took a side stage."
In 2007 Duran Duran are going for 'take two' with the bolder Red Carpet Massacre. They've hired a relatively young producer in Timbaland. In turn, he brought in his pal, Justin Timberlake, who oversaw the lead single, Falling Down.
Timbaland has energised Duran Duran as Chic's Nile Rodgers did in the '80s. Yet Duran's Geordie guitarist, Andy, recently quit in murky circumstances - and not for the first time. The band had plotted another LP, Reportage, which Roger describes as "guitar-based". "It was an attempt to get back to our roots."
Their label didn't favour the dark material, so Duran "scrapped" it. They then came up with Red Carpet Massacre.
Andy departed before they commenced work. Duran Duran maintain they don't know why he didn't attend the sessions. Conceivably, Andy didn't fancy recording with the hip hop Timbaland. He was always Duran Duran's black sheep - more rock 'n' roll than funky.
Roger is satisfied with Red Carpet Massacre. "We feel we've come to a place of redemption." What Duran Duran enjoyed about collaborating with Timbaland - and his cohort Nate "Danja" Hills - was that everything happened quickly. "Usually when we make albums these days, it's a very long torturous process, but these guys were like, 'No, that's a good idea - OK, it's your first idea, but often your first idea is your best.' They led us along a very good path that took us out of our navel-gazing."
Duran Duran are in tune with different facets of pop - even DJ culture. Last year Duran's synth player Nick assembled a compilation, Only After Dark, with John, inspired by Birmingham's fabled Rum Runner nightclub, where he DJed and Duran Duran hung out. And, in later years, Roger himself has learnt to mix. He's DJed at London's Met Bar.
"I'm a bit of a bedroom DJ and occasionally I will get a real gig somewhere, which I enjoy."
WHO: Duran Duran
WHAT: Play V Festival / Red Carpet Massacre out through Sony BMG
WHEN: Saturday 29 March / out now
MORE: vfestival.com.au / duranduran.com