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Duran Duran: Still The Coolest Band On Planet Earth

Lyndsey Parker
Maximum Performance

Back when Duran Duran first reared their perfectly coiffed, heavily hairsprayed heads in the early '80s, they were the absolute epitome of new wave cool, inspired by Bowie androgyny, Eurodisco glam, Chic's funky groove, and Roger Vadim's '60s sci-fi thriller Barbarella. The Birmingham boys found themselves at the flouncy, foppish forefront of the New Romantic movement, and enjoyed underground dance club success with the 1981 future-classics "Planet Earth" and "Girls On Film" (along with that no-no-notorious "GoF" video that provided many whipped-cream-and-other-delights fantasies for adolescent new wave boys).

But then something happened. Duran Duran got HUGE. Their sophomore effort Rio and heavy MTV rotation made them an international phenomenon, and Durania swept the globe, with Duran Duran plastered on every conceivable piece of merchandise and on the covers of practically every girlie teen magazine. D2 sold millions of records (and posters, and stickers, and tote bags, and pins, and T-shirts, etc.) as a result...but they lost their cred. Their hairstyles, guyliner, and leather trousers garnered more attention than did their music, and they were viciously slammed by curmudgeonly journalists. Then two original band members left, MTV stopped playing videos, '90s rock took over, and it was the end of an era. Duran Duran seemed relegated to the oldies circuit, never quite getting their critical due, possibly forever doomed to play solely to audiences of nostalgic thirty- and fortysomething women who were hoping to relive some school-dance memories during the encore of "Save A Prayer."

"The fact that we had a teen following shouldn't have really counted against us, I don't think," muses D2 drummer Roger Taylor. "But I think that the songs have stood the test of time now; people realize that it wasn't just a teen thing or a video thing. These were great songs, and it was a very special sound that we created."

Yes, you see, something else has happened lately. It turns out that it wasn't just hormonal females who grew up fawning over these beloved Boys On Film. All sorts of modern-day music fans harbor fond feelings for D2, and some of them have even started bands. "There's been a groundswell for a number of years now, of bands coming up and saying, 'Actually, Duran Duran were good...and we want to play like them!'" says Roger, citing the Killers, Franz Ferdinand, and No Doubt as just three examples of bands who've walked in D2's Capezio'd footsteps.

And one of those now-grown-up fans is unabashed Duranie Mark Ronson, the Grammy-winning super-producer known for his work with Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, Adele, the Black Lips, and the Kaiser Chiefs. Mark made producing D2's best album since the '80s--the fittingly titled, just-released All You Need Is Now--a true labor of love...and Duran Duran are officially the coolest band on Planet Earth again. Even the critics think so now: "We've not had a bad word actually said about this album so far, which has completely taken us by surprise," admits Roger.

"Mark said, 'All these other bands are kind of taking from you; they're kind of taking that sound that you created in the early '80s. You need to go back there and reclaim it, and then bring it forward to a very 2011 way," Roger adds.

If you still have doubts that Duran Duran are hipper than any other band half their age--as if the Ronson connection isn't enough--consider that AYNIN features contributions from Kelis, the Scissor Sisters' Ana Matronic, and Arcade Fire associate Owen Pallet. Or that D2's Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes also recently appeared on Ronson's Record Collection allstar album alongside members of Miike Snow, the View, and the Drums. Or that their concert at the South By Southwest festival in Austin this year--headlining a bill with neo-soul legend Raphael Saadiq and baby-buzz acts Smith Westerns and James Blake--was THE must-see show of SXSW's kickoff night. Or that their SXSW panel, during which they discussed their 30-year career with former MTV VJ John Norris, was packed with plenty of fans under 30. Or that D2 are playing the hipster fest Coachella this year. Or that they're on Manimal Records' David Bowie tribute disc We Were So Turned On, which also features Bowie covers by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Vivian Girls, Chairlift, Warpaint, Devendra Banhart, and A Place To Bury Strangers.

"Some artists get paralyzed by their past...what [All You Need Is Now] is about is leaving that all behind," Simon told John Norris at SXSW. Earlier that day, I caught up with D2's Taylors at the SXSW Convention Center for even more discussion of their career, past and present (see extended video interview above).

All of this is evidence of the ongoing D2 renaissance, but perhaps nothing drums this point so much as this week's Unstaged concert at the Mayan in Los Angeles (attended by celebs like Moby, Marilyn Manson, and Mark's DJ sister Samantha Ronson), where the band celebrated the release of AYNIN with a concert directed by, of all people, avant garde filmmaker David Lynch. "He's kind of getting into doing remixes, and he did a remix of 'Girl Panic' which is the new single from the album," says bassist John Taylor about this unexpected artistic friendship. "Which was great, we loved it; it was totally different to anything any remixer would do traditionally." This led to the Lynch-directed Unstaged event, at which guest stars Mark Ronson, Kelis (on "The Man Who Stole A Leopard" and "Come Undone"), My Chemical Romance's Gerard Way (on "Planet Earth"), and the Gossip's Beth Ditto (on "Notorious") joined the band for a one-of-a-kind event.

"[Lynch] just dived in...and it's so deep and unusual and unsettling...not like anything any of us have seen before," raves John.

They've been around for three decades, but truly, with a resurgence like this, all Duran Duran need is now.

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