Duran Duran will be performing at the iHeartRadio Music Festival, held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas Sept. 18-19 and streaming on Yahoo Live. Click HERE to watch!
“They say Duran Duran is cool again,” said Simon Le Bon, welcoming the sold-out crowd to his Aug. 1 show at the Capital Theater in Portchester, NY. “I thought we always were.”
He wasn’t being cheeky. The 57-year-old frontman was just puffing up his chest with the kind of swagger that he and his bandmates — keyboard player Nick Rhodes, 53; bassist John Taylor, 55; and drummer Roger Taylor, 55 — have always possessed. It’s an unwavering confidence that’s helped to keep a spotlight fixed on the group ever since they started out in post-punk Birmingham, England, 37 years ago.
Although there certainly have been lulls in the band’s career, they’ve never broken up or faded away. That endurance is one of the things worth celebrating today, on their album release day, by “Duranies,” the band’s army of fans who still inhabit planet Earth in sizable numbers. Judging by the audience in Portchester, there are almost as many males as females these days, their ages running the gamut from grade-schooler to grandma. And they’re as gaga about the group as ever.
When the band departed the stage with no intention of an encore, the crowd refused to leave, cheering and chanting for more than 20 minutes until the house lights finally went off and Duran came back on to play two old favorites: “Careless Memories” and “Girls on Film.”
But as fun as it is to hear the hits and to reminisce about their ‘80s heyday — a time when they were the favorite band of Princess Diana and masters of the MTV universe — the last thing Duran Duran wants to be seen as is a nostalgia act. Although the cover of their 14th album, Paper Gods (coming Sept. 11 via their new label, Warner Bros.) features iconic images reminding us where they’ve been — think: the Nagel model’s smile from 1982’s Rio; a big cat representing 1983’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger — the music shows an act eager to fit in with the modern musical landscape.
Backed by a triumvirate of white-hot producers (Mr. Hudson, Mark Ronson, and the venerable Nile Rodgers), Paper Gods introduces a contemporary dance element via a number of EDM-flavored tracks. It also boasts an eclectic list of impressive guest performers, including Janelle Monae (who contributed vocals to the high-energy lead-off single, “Pressure Off”), ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, powerhouse Canadian vocalist Kiesza, Mew singer Jonas Bjerre, and former Goldfrapp violinist Davide Rossi.
“We’d done that ‘reclaim the ‘80s’ thing with [2012’s All You Need Is Now],” Le Bon tells Yahoo Music. “So that wasn’t the direction we wanted to continue in. We wanted to make a party album. We wanted to make something dance-y, a bit funky.”
The funk arrived in the form of Rodgers and Ronson; the former one of their influences who lent his Midas touch to three of Duran’s biggest hits, “The Reflex,” “Wild Boys,” and “Notorious,” the latter a lifelong fan who helmed the critically acclaimed All You Need Is Now. But Le Bon credits Hudson — a British recording artist in his own right known for his work with Kanye West and Jay Z — with being the “glue that brought everything together on this record.“
“He gave us a huge amount of confidence in ourselves and in the music,” Le Bon says. “We really were craving somebody to come along and pull these strings and tie them together and make a tapestry, and that’s exactly what he did.”
Hudson had no prior history with the band, admitting: “I don’t have a whole heap of Duran Duran records; I listen to them on Spotify.” However, the 36-year-old Brit — who came of age during the era of grunge and Britpop — hails from Birmingham, where the hometown heroes’ iconic status was inescapable, and where, growing up, his older brothers “were always trying to dress like them.”
Initially booked for two days of studio work, Hudson recalls arriving to the band’s London recording space to find Le Bon “getting off his motorbike and signing autographs — I must admit, I was nervous.”
He needn’t have been. More than a year later, after countless long hours of laboring alongside them, Hudson’s “really made himself a member of the group — we’ve grown very close to him,” says Le Bon. “He was involved in the writing and recording of this record; he performs on it as well.”
Indeed, it’s Hudson’s voice that opens the album, via a moody intro to the seven-minute-long title track, which premiered online this week. “I recorded this counter melody and lyric to what Simon was singing as a reference — I assumed he was going to re-sing it,” Hudson says. “But he was like, ‘No, we like your voice — we’re going to keep it on there.’ I had lunch with John [Taylor] in L.A. the other day, and I was like, ‘John, I’m a boy from Birmingham. Can you explain to me how I ended up singing the opening bars of your new album?’”
Says Le Bon: “I’m not so insecure that it bothers me.”
The group also softened their stance on songs featuring outside artists, something that’s all the rage with pop records today, but, that, pre-Paper Gods, was a bit of a rarity for Duran Duran.
“I’ve always been quite resistant to collaboration because it’s almost always vocal collaborations we end up with — not many people want to do a keyboard collaboration,” Le Bon says. However, after hearing how his and Monae’s voices meshed on “Pressure Off,” they were eager to invite more guests to the party.
“Try sharing your microphone with a singer the caliber of Kiesza — that’ll push you out of your comfort zone,” says Le Bon. “The girl sings her ass off, and that really did get the best out of me. Similarly, having Jonas Bjerre on ‘Change the Skyline’ was a major motivation, listening to the way he sung his part. I had to go back in and re-record the main vocal after I’d heard it.”
Meanwhile, Frusciante’s stunning guitar work, along with Rossi and Josh Blair’s stirring string arrangements, on both the “Ordinary World”-esque ballad “What Are the Chances” and the cinematic album-closer “The Universe Alone,” combine to give Paper Gods its most memorable moments.
Also unforgettable, according to Hudson, was the “Pressure Off” recording session, which saw all three producers on-site, writing and jamming with the four Durans.
“It was like the League of Extraordinary Gentleman,” he says of the day at Ronson’s Tileyard studio in London. “There was a point where we were all at the mixing desk and I thought, 'This is quite serious.’ It was a combination of nostalgia at the idea of Nile and Duran Duran coming back together, and excitement about the young guns in the form of me and Mark. You don’t normally feel there’s a guarantee you’ll come up with something, but it was like, ‘This is going to be amazing.’”
Continues Le Bon: “It was a funny old day, actually. Nile had spent five hours in a car trying to get to the studio. They closed two of three bridges across the River Thames, and the traffic was appalling. Anybody in his position would not have a great attitude and not have their creative hat on when they walked in. But Nile got straight into the music, and the parts he put down ended up such an important part of the record.”
Rodgers recalls having his work cut out for him when he arrived. “I walk in and Duran — they’re like my second band, like Chic’s little brother — they’re playing me some songs,” he says. “I said to Nick Rhodes: ‘OK, play the single.’ He played a song, and I looked a little peculiar: 'Uh, that’s the single? Is there another one?’ He said, ‘No, that’s the one we wanna go for.’ I said, ‘Great, let’s do some writing.’ And it was the very first time in my life that I’ve played with Duran Duran as a full band — with Roger Taylor on drums and Nick Rhodes on keyboards at the same time. I was so happy, I proceeded to write [three songs]. At the end, Nick pulled me aside and said, ‘Hey Nile, remember the thing you asked me about? The thing about the singles?’ I said, ‘Yeah?’ He said: ‘You just did ‘em.’”
How did Rodgers find working with the band again nearly three decades after 1986’s Notorious? “Everything is better. Everything about Duran to me just feels better.” Adds Hudson: “I don’t think people are aware of their musicianship or how formidable they are as producers in their own right. You can get a new-school beat-maker and a vocalist, and with a laptop and a USB vocal mic they can literally make an album in a day. But you put one of those albums made in a day or a week next to a Duran Duran record, there’s going to be a real difference of depth. Sonically, Duran Duran records are three-dimensional and architectural, and you’ll hear different things each time you listen.”
Perhaps no one is more grateful of his band’s survivor status than Le Bon himself.
“With this stage that the band is at right now, we have come to accept a lot of things,” he says. “One of them is we accept who we are. And I think other people accept who Duran Duran are as well. We don’t feel the same kind criticism from the music press that we used to feel. Our positive attitude and our joy in our creativity have outlasted the haters. Because let’s face it, it takes a lot more energy to hate. Our music comes from a place of love.”