Since it emerged in England 20 years ago and was dubbed the Fab Five by Rolling Stone magazine less than five years later, Duran Duran has never existed in an “Ordinary World.” And it’s seldom functioned like an ordinary band. Selling 70 million records and scoring a slew of hits — including “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Rio,” “A View to a Kill” and “Ordinary World” — will do that to a group. So will the aesthetic and personality clashes that come with that success — and were still very much in play as the group started work on its new album, “Red Carpet Massacre,” which was released in November and debuted at No. 36 on the Billboard 200 chart.
“We don’t do easy very well,” keyboardist Nick Rhodes notes with a laugh. “But a lot of people will tell you anything that’s good is never easy.”
“Red Carpet Massacre” certainly wasn’t. In 2001, Duran Duran had reunited its original lineup for the first time in 15 years. The quintet released a new album, “Astronaut,” that sold two million copies worldwide, and by the time it finished touring the band was, according to bassist John Taylor, “energized” and ready to take on whatever came next. It took a bit longer than expected to get there, however. First the group made another album, “Reportage,” which it produced itself and brought to their record company. “They told us they heard the second single and the third single, but not the first single,” Taylor, 47, recalls. “So they suggested that we go and pick a producer we could cut a track or two with — somebody with a little bit of ‘currency,’ they suggested.
“Everything was on ice, as it were.”
Duran Duran considered its options, including hot hitmakers such as Timbaland and the Neptunes, settling on the former, but waiting six months for his schedule to open in the fall of 2006. Then guitarist Andy Taylor (no relation to John or drummer Roger Taylor), who had first left the band in 1986, decided he wanted out again.
“Andy is on a slightly different plane to the rest of us,” explains John Taylor. “We’d kind of had it with his … inconsistencies, and we decided to move ahead us a quartet.”
But gradually, Taylor says, “we kind of liked the sound that was evolving. There was a future in this sound we were creating with (Timbaland), this very high-tech sound we’d connected on. By the time we got to the third song with Timbaland, we’re like, ‘Dude, this is how we work!’ So by the end of the first week, we decided to scrap the music we’d already done and pursue this new sound.”
Timbaland was not the primary collaborator on “Red Carpet Massacre,” however. During the sessions with him, the group also began working with the producer’s “field marshal,” Nate “Danja” Hills, who rode herd on eight of the album’s 12 tracks and continued to steer Duran Duran — quite willingly — along its new path.
“We benefited in so many ways from working with these guys,” says Taylor. “They really, really gave us a serious kick up the ass. They’re very fast, which is what you need ‘cause you kind of get a little set in your ways.
“We probably wouldn’t have done this out of choice; this was kind of put onto us. At first, I was (angry) — ‘Hey, no, we’ve made our album and this is it. Why don’t you guys get it?’ But now we’re all so pleased with the record that we made and happy we opened our minds up to doing it this way.”
“Red Carpet Massacre” also includes a pair of collaborations with another younger Duran Duran fan — Justin Timberlake, a multi-platinum artist in his own right who sings on “Nite Runner” and “Falling Down,” co-producing the former with Timbaland ,and the latter himself.
“That was a gift,” Taylor says, adding that “Falling Down,” “Red Carpet Massacre’s” first single, was actually a lastminute addition to the album, coming after Duran frontman Simon Le Bon “got together with Justin, and Justin said, ‘I’d like to do one more song with you, an ‘Ordinary World’ kind of thing. So we spent the day in the studio in London with Justin on a day off on his tour and we wrote ‘Falling Down’ and that was that.
“And, of course, when the label heard that, they got all creamy and we got it on the album.”
For all of the new collaborations and fresh sonic flavors, however, “Red Carpet Massacre” is not a wholesale reinvention of Duran Duran. The tight grooves, taut melodies and meaty chorus hook that have been the group’s stock-intrade are still evident, but are embellished and freshened by the 21st century sensibility that Timbaland, Danja and Timberlake brought to the sessions.
“It’s good to be back on the dance floor,” notes Rhodes, 45. “We’ve managed to somehow go right back to our roots yet make something that is also very contemporary.”
Taylor adds that “it’s not like these guys had to be mad Duran Duran fans, but they know enough about music and they know enough about Duran Duran to go, ‘Oh, that bass player, he’s got that thing. And the singer’s best when he does this sort of thing’ and so on and so forth. “They were able to recognize that and add something to it, but not completely change it.”
Hills also let Duran Duran re-embrace a bit of its own past, too, by including an instrumental track called “Tricked Out” on the set.
“People forget — well, some people never knew — that we think of ourselves as kind of an experimental art school band who’ve had pop stardom foisted on them,” Taylor explains. “People are constantly forcing that on us, and we’re not supposed to make those kind of choices — like instrumental tracks, for instance.
“But that, I think is, part of what’s made Duran interesting in the past and what’s separated us from a lot of our peers. We were a bunch of punk rockers who wanted to make disco records; that’s a lot of room to play around with.”
The group recognized a risk in all of this, however. “We probably scared off some of the audience who would rather have had a more traditional Duran Duran record,” Rhodes notes, “and probably wonder why we were working with artists that have made more hiphop records than rock records, and maybe there might be too much of their influence on our sound — though I don’t believe that to be the case at all.”
On the upside, however, the keyboardist says that “we’re getting a lot of younger kids who, I guess, because of the association with Timbaland and Justin, are curious about what we’re doing. So they’re coming to shows as well.”
Duran — which is touring with new guitarist Dominic Brown — does hope to put out the scrapped “Reportage” at some point and is also planning an authorized photo book and a new virtual “game” at its web site. With all that going on, the group is confident that it won’t be lapsing back into another period of hiatus any time soon.
“It makes you want to keep doing it whilst there’s an audience there that are eager to come and hear the songs,” Rhodes says. “If you’re around a long time, sometimes you’re sort of popular and what people want to hear at that moment. And other times they don’t want to hear from you at the moment.
“Now they do, which is good.”
Duran Duran and Your Vegas perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday (May 15) at the Masonic Temple Theatre, 500 Temple Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $89, $69 and $49. Call (313) 471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
SUMMER OF THE '80s
During the past few years the ’80s have entered the realm of pop culture nostalgia, which has been a boon to bands such as Duran Duran and icons like the original MTV VJs. This summer’s concert schedule is filled with enough ‘80s throwbacks to make you want your MTV again, including ...
Cyndi Lauper and the B-52’s, who headline the True Colors Tour June 11 at the DTE Energy Music Theatre.
The Second Annual Stars & Stripes Festival in Mount Clemens, which has stocked its three days with’80s favorites such as Skid Row and Sponge (June 27) and the Romantics and Marshall Crenshaw (June 28).
Bon Jovi, which will raise its hands again on July 7 at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
Mötley Crüe, which brings its first Crue Fest to town July 15 at DTE.
John Mellencamp, who will sing “Small Town” tales July 18 at DTE.
Hair band veterans Cinderella and Warrant, who will bang heads July 21 at DTE, while Poison brings Dokken and former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach to the Freedom Hill Amphitheatre on Aug.
Night Ranger and the Tubes, who will play the rock night on July
25 at the St. Clair Riverfest.
The Police, whose purported farewell tour — with Elvis Costello and his Imposters opening — plays July 26 at DTE.
Bryan Adams, who opens for Rod Stewart Aug. 6 at DTE.
Def Leppard, whose rescheduled show with Styx and REO Speedwagon pours some sugar on Detroit Aug. 23 at Joe Louis Arena.
The Regeneration Tour, which
breathes life back into the careers of
the Human League, Go-Go’s singer Belinda Carlisle, ABC, A Flock of Seagulls and Naked Eyes, Aug. 24 at DTE.
Huey Lewis, who brings the News back on Aug. 28 at Freedom Hill.”
Squeeze, which comes to town with Aimee Mann on Aug. 29 at the Royal Oak Music Theatre.
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