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Duran Duran Go Back To The Future On Mark Ronson-Produced Comeback Album

Lyndsey Parker
Stop The Presses!

Duran Duran have gone down in musical history as the first video superstars. An ideal example of the right band at the right time, the Birmingham boys on film wisely took full advantage of the early-'80s advent of MTV with exotic clips that exploited their pretty-boy pouts and forward fashion sense. As an unfortunate result, their awesome hairstyles, mascara, and leather trousers often received more attention than their (just as awesome) music, and they were maliciously reviled by critics, dismissed as a video group first and a musical group second.

But then something happened in the nearly 30 years since frontman Simon Le Bon first tussled with a tigress in the "Hungry Like The Wolf" or danced with Rio on the Antigua sand. Their once-tweenaged fans (the ones who worshipped John Taylor with an ardor that makes the way today's girls adore Justin Bieber seem positively indifferent) grew up. And even those a bit too young to remember the wild boys' fingerless-gloved hold on '80s pop consciousness eventually discovered Duran Duran's first two stellar, stylish albums of perfect fop-pop. Some of these youngsters actually became musicians themselves--listen to the glacial synthesizers, funky bottom-heavy bass, chicken-scratch disco guitars, and keening vocals of any number of indietronica baby bands to hear Duran's influence today--and some of them even became big-name producers. Like Mark Ronson.

Grammy-winning super-producer Mark Ronson--known for his work with Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, Adele, and countless other hipster acts--is an unabashed Duranie. (In fact, with his new peroxided platinum 'do, he's now the spitting image of Duran synth man Nick Rhodes circa '81, and he even recently purchased the exact same keyboard collection that Nick uses.) So when Mark entered the studio with Duran Duran to produce their 13th (yes, 13th!) album, he was a man on a mission, dead set on returning the group to the classic sound he'd loved back when he first met Simon as a "little nipper" in 1986.

"Mark said to us, 'Look, I like your first two albums. And then I think you lost your direction with your third album," explains Simon, referring to D2's somewhat inconsistent 1983 effort Seven & The Ragged Tiger, which some fans now cite as the beginning of the band's decline. "'Well, I'd like to make that third album.'

"And you know what? I knew exactly what Mark meant," Simon continues. "He said, 'You own this brand. So many other new bands are trying to do this, but this is your ground. You've got take it back. You've got to own it. That's what I want to do with this record. I want to show that the people who do it best are Duran Duran.'"

Well, Mark has done a fabulous job of reminding people why Duran Duran were once the coolest band on Planet Earth--and just might still be. The result of the Ronson/Duran collaboration, All You Need Is Now, is D2's finest effort in years, and should help them stage the second comeback of their decade-straddling career (their first comeback being 1993's The Wedding Album, which yielded two top 10 singles). And the album only proves that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Yes, All You Need Is Now kind of sounds like it could've been released in 1982 (old-romantic song titles like "Blame The Machines," "Girl Panic," "The Man Who Stole A Leopard," and "Runway Runaway" are certainly classic Duran). Yet at the same time it's futureshockingly fresh and of-the-moment, sounding not unlike younger D2 followers such as the Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, and the Rapture, and even featuring contributions from Kelis, the Scissor Sisters' Ana Matronic, and Arcade Fire associate Owen Pallett.

"It's good, isn't it?" gushes a clearly pleased and proud Simon. (Editor's note: Yes, Simon, it is. It's really, really good.)

The result is more likely to please diehard Duranies than the band's previous collaborative effort, 2007's Red Carpet Massacre, which was produced by unlikely cohort Timbaland and featured input from Justin Timberlake. Unfortunately, as is the case with many D2 discs, the album was unfairly maligned (seriously, if the track "Nite Runner" had been recorded by Timberlake, it would have been a massive club hit), but this time it was both fans and critics who disparaged RCM.

"I absolutely love that record; it was really experimental, very modern, very urban," says Simon. "But I think part of the reason our hardcore fans didn't like that record was they thought we were showing a little but too much respect to the people who'd come after us, that we were too willing to go with what was the current popular sound of the time. It taught us a big lesson: Don't give people what they don't want. Give people what they want!"

And AYNIS does just that. "Runway Runaway" bubbles with the synthy effervescence of the classic Rio track "Hold Back The Rain," the slinky and Kelis-assisted "Man Who Stole The Leopard" brings to mind Duran Duran's "Tel Aviv," and the urgent "Blame The Machines" delivers a similar rush as 1981's hyperkinetic "Careless Memories." Somehow, by looking back, Duran Duran have ironically moved forward artistically.

"Sometimes there's the fear of not wanting to go back. I'd developed a sort of self-consciousness about going back to that style," admits Simon. "But Mark said, 'No, I really want you to do it in a more committed way. None of this pastiche.' And it worked, it really worked."

The arrival of All You Need Is Now--alongside Simon and Nick's contributions to Mark's own recent allstar album Record Collection and Manimal Records' new David Bowie tribute disc We Were So Turned On--definitely offers a time-warped juxtaposition of the old and the new. Mark's album features collaborations with members of buzz bands like Miike Snow, the View, and the Drums, while the Bowie disc includes covers by the likes of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Vivian Girls, Chairlift, Warpaint, Devendra Banhart, and A Place To Bury Strangers. The very fact that Duran Duran sound so at home next to these artists is proof of their timelessness--and evidence of the ongoing D2 renaissance.

"I'll tell you why we got such criticism before," says Simon. "The world of music journalists back then was completely run by men--and girls liked Duran Duran. It really is that simple. But it hardened us. We got used to it. It made us very strong. One of the reasons we're still around 30 years later is we're determined not to go away. We have a very strong sense of survival. And we're not going to let the words of some journalist put us off our purpose in life. As for the acclaim we're getting now, it's very welcome. 'Vindicating' is not the right word; it's just flattering. We're hugely flattered. And the best thing about it? We get to work with all these people."

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