They're still the way you remember them. Sort of. If you were around in the early '80s and tuned into this new channel called MTV, then you know all about Duran Duran: five stylish British guys who always looked coolly detached and glamorous. The band was among the first acts to exploit the video medium, using grand cinematic styles. Remember the video for "Rio"? The dudes were jet-setting playboys. And in the clip for "Hungry Like the Wolf," they were great adventurers reminiscent of something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
And, yes, there was the music: synth-heavy and lyrically ambiguous. Fun. Energetic. Infectious. And definitely of its time. So now, after 21 years apart, the original Duran Duran lineup is back together again: Simon LeBon singing, Andy Taylor playing the guitar, Nick Rhodes tickling the keyboards, John Taylor handling the bass and Roger Taylor manning the drums. (The three Taylors are not related, by the way.) The new reunion album is called Astronaut. In stores today, it immediately reminds you of what made the band so irresistible: The neon glow of the music is still intact, bolstered by hard, industrial-strength grooves.
The last Duran Duran album recorded by the original crew was Seven and the Ragged Tiger, released in '83 at the height of the group's popularity. It was an international success, spawning the monster hits "The Reflex" and "Union of the Snake" and going platinum several times over.
But after the 1985 single "A View to a Kill," the title track of the James Bond flick, the guys had had enough of the industry pressures (and each other) and decided to go on hiatus. Different permutations of the group members recorded and toured over the next decade. But none captured the energy or matched the commercial success of the original lineup. (Over the years, Duran Duran has sold 70 million albums worldwide.)
After the BBC aired the popular documentary, Wild Boys: The Story of Duran Duran, in 2000, John Taylor called Andy Taylor who phoned the other members, and within 24 hours the guys agreed to get back together. It was relatively simple and painless. Time had mellowed the men and all agreed that nothing they had done apart could top what they did together in the 1980s. So the group started writing songs and launched a world tour in 2003 to build anticipation for the new album.
The tour was a smash, selling out in several spots. The guys signed on with Epic/Sony. And Astronaut, the first release under the new deal, shouldn't disappoint fans. It may even snag new ones, those who were crawling around in diapers when the new wave-pop-funk quintet ruled MTV.
The album opens with "(Reach Up For The) Sunrise," the first single and classic Duran Duran with its mix of feel-good rock energy, catchy pop lyricism and driving dance pulse. To give the formula a modern sheen throughout the 12-cut record, the group brought in top-notch producers: Don Gilmore (Good Charlotte, Avril Lavigne, Pearl Jam), Dallas Austin (TLC, Janet Jackson, Pink) and Jeremy Wheatley (Massive Attack and Sugababes).
The overall result is amazingly consistent: a nice balance of organic, Chic-like grooves and hard-hitting programmed beats. Lyrically, the guys are still fluffy; consider the titles, "Sunrise" and "Taste the Summer," the title cut. And the production is clean and on point throughout, thoroughly professional, but there's still some heart and soul underneath.
The highlights include the playfully naughty "Bedroom Toys," with a killer groove that should have George Michael eating his heart out, and "Want You More!," an ebullient track that finely updates the immediacy of those classic Duran Duran new wave-flavored dance tracks.
With the recent surge of '80s nostalgia, it's great to have the glam boys back: recharged and refreshingly the same.