Duran Duran: Lucky Thirteen

Published in The Music Network


Thirteen isn’t such an unlucky number for Duran Duran. The iconic British pop group is enjoying fresh legs as they stride forward with a new studio album, their thirteenth. And they’re taking their marks for a world-tour which should visit these parts before too long.

With British production maestro Mark Ronson at the helm, Duran Duran’s latest album All You Need Is Now represents something of a new start for the band, and a sound which captures their glory days.

TMN caught up with Duran Duran’s founding bass player John Taylor in New York City, where the group is knocking down a gruelling schedule of promo commitments.

“It’s been so busy. It’s been crazy. I don’t know if we’ve ever put more behind an album than we have this one,” Taylor explains. “I guess there’s a feeling that this is ‘the one’. That we’ve got traction with this one. We got a feeling that it’s something really worth campaigning for. So we’re just pulling out all the stops, man. Which you really have to do, if you want to compete.”

In the first half of the ‘80s, Duran Duran didn’t so much as compete, but dominate. They enjoyed a string of hits which drove career album sales north of 80 million units, and established the band in pop music folklore. Remarkably, more than 30 years have passed since Duran Duran set alight the airwaves – and teenage hearts – with Planet Earth. The hunger for hits hasn’t dulled.

“Thanks to you fuckers (Australians), we had hits at such an early age, our first single on,” Taylor laughs. “We never in our wildest dreams imagined we’d become pop stars with No. 1 hits. Once that starts happening for you, then suddenly you’re writing for that. And when it stops happening, which is inevitable, then it starts feeling like a failure. When we enter the studio with a view to writing a song, we’d like that song to be a hit. That’s what Duran Duran are. We’re not Radiohead, we’re not The Rolling Stones. We’re like a pop group. If pop groups aren’t having hits, they’re like cars without tyres. We’re terribly addicted to hits.”

Mark Ronson is no stranger to creating hits. His production of Amy Winehouse’s multi-million selling sophomore album Black To Black turned his protégé into a global household name. A life-long “Duranie,” Ronson has brought a self-confidence back to Duran Duran. On their two prior albums, the group had experimented with producers du jour Timbaland and Justin Timberlake, to limited commercial success. Where those records sounded like a band trying desperately to stay relevant, All You Need Is Now is the sound of a band back in the groove. It’s unashamedly “early-era” Duran Duran, from the vintage drum machine beats in Before The Rain to Simon Le Bon’s pacey vocal melodies in Leave A Light On. They’re back doing what they do best – ‘80s pop.

“We cannot get away from the ‘80s,” comments Taylor. “Perhaps the best you can do is like The Rolling Stones with Start Me Up. Just to write a song which somehow captures the spirit of what people remember about you back in the day. When you’ve had a few years of phenomenal success, the idea of reinventing yourself into some kind of other mould, well I’m starting to think it’s actually impossible.”

Mixed by Spike Stent (Madonna, Björk, No Doubt), All You Need Is Now carries guest vocals from Scissor Sister Ana Matronic and neo-soul singer Kelis, while Arcade Fire’s Owen Pallett supplies the string arrangements.

Though the pull of the ‘80s seems an irresistible force, a pioneering spirit remains strong in the band members. Duran Duran were at the vanguard of the music video medium, and in recent years the group were strong advocates in the Second Life virtual reality game. Now, the act has thrown support behind Flipboard – billed as the first “social magazine” for the iPad — and some of the bandmates are avid Twitters (Taylor has punched out more than 1,600 Tweets, considerably behind Le Bon).

Months ahead of its physical launch, Duran Duran released a nine-track version of All You Need Is Now as an exclusive through iTunes. It was a gamble, which could have cannibalized sales of the CD. But Taylor is keen to play the maverick. “It’s been so long since anybody in the industry said, “we want your product sooner, rather than later. We want it now.’ There was an urgency at iTunes which really turned us on.”

Duran Duran has taken an alternative route to where they stand today. With their 2007 album Red Carpet Massacre, the band completed a two-album contract with Sony Music. After many years in the machinery of the major record business, the new LP is represented globally through a network of record company partners, including many independents (including Shock Entertainment in Australia).

All You Need Is Now landed at No. 11 on the Official U.K. Albums Chart. In Britain, the album is released through Tape Modern, a joint-venture of keyboardist Nick Rhodes and one-time Duran Duran vocalist Stephen Duffy. Sure, the band is disappointed to have not scored a U.K. top 10 hit on debut. “Well, as I said to my wife, it could have been No. 12,” muses Taylor. In the US, All You Need Is Now re-entered the chart a few weeks ago at No. 29, shifting 16,000 copies. It’s their 11th top 40 title stateside. “I don’t know if we really need hits to validate our existence,” admits Taylor. “We’ve put out an album that the fans of the band are being drawn to, that they’re loving in a way that they haven’t loved an album of ours in years. So maybe, it could take 12 months to find an audience.”

In that time, Taylor and his longtime colleagues are hoping to make a detour Down Under on their world tour, which will see the band take centre-stage at America’s Coachella festival and Britain’s V Fest. At this stage, no Australia plans are set in stone. “We love Australia and we’ve got a great relationship with Australia and I don’t see why we wouldn’t be coming to Australia at some point behind this album,” Taylor notes. “I’m really hoping that enough people will get on board with the album that we’re going to be able to make a tour that is going to be viable.”

And does John see any hits on the new record? “I don’t really know. Because I don’t know what a hit sounds like. I trust Mark. He’s had some hits in the past few years and he felt there were a couple of songs on the album that could be hits. Having said all of that, I don’t desperately need this album to be a hit, but I’m appreciating that people are liking it and the fans are really liking it. That might have to be enough.”

All You Need Is Now is out now through Shock Entertainment

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