Duran Duran, All You Need Is Now

Published on January 30th, 2011 in: All You Need Is Now, Current Faves, Issues, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews, The Internets |

By Jemiah Jefferson

In 2011, what does “relevance” mean? A term heavily bandied about by the music press, especially in the UK, a band’s relevance is of paramount importance, ranking ahead of sexiness, competency, or pure enjoyment. Perhaps for these reasons, Duran Duran hasn’t been necessarily “relevant” since their second album Rio set a new bar for all musical artists everywhere.

Musical skill, a striking record cover, and clever production were no longer enough; now all of those things had to join with witty, sexually-charged, fashion-forward videos for MTV, sold-out world tours, and beats that worked just as well in the bedrooms of dreaming teenage girls as on the dance floor. Of course, Duran Duran never knew its place (especially by the hostile standards of the UK music press) and kept getting bigger with the wildly ambitious Seven & the Ragged Tiger, an even more massive world tour, and enough hair mousse to fill a city reservoir. The band then split into two side projects, displaying the range of musical interests of band members.

duran duran AYNIN

By the time Duran recombined for Notorious in 1986 (all the way back then!), the bloom was off the rose. Not only were the press gunning for the pretty lads from Birmingham, the group’s diffuse audience of floof-haired teenagers showed that they weren’t interested in the experimental funk and philosophy that excited Duran Duran—not to mention that by then, the group had lost two Taylors.

History lesson over. Fast forward past the eight albums released in the interim (some superb, some dodgy, all underrated) and collaborations with some of music’s more flash-in-the-pan heavy hitters, none of which really helped to distinguish exactly what was in Duran Duran’s sound that was not only excellent, but uniquely theirs. Upon reflection, these elements are obvious: Simon LeBon’s flexible, masculine, slightly wobbly voice; John Taylor’s emotional bass, excitable and contemplative by turns; the sweeping or beeping synths of Nick Rhodes; and a hard, snappy drumbeat, provided by original drummer (and erstwhile DJ) Roger Taylor, back from a long absence. Original Duran Andy Taylor got kicked out (or maybe left on his own) but whoever this Dominic Brown character is on their latest album, he has managed to impersonate the soaring flights and jagged downstrokes featured on Duran Duran’s first two iconic albums.

The going statement of All You Need Is Now is “Duran Duran is back.” Well, technically, Duran Duran never really went away, if you don’t count the Arcadia/Power Station year, and those projects were deservedly everywhere. The group has continued plugging away at their own pace, raising kids, getting their heads together, absorbing new influences, and steadily gaining additional technical skill.

Producer Mark Ronson brags about how All You Need Is Now is a sequel of sorts to Rio. In this reviewer’s opinion, that is both inaccurate and dismissive of the other excellent music that Duran Duran made in the meantime; it’s not as though they spent these last 29 (!) years trying to recover that lightning in a bottle, or at least, I hope not. From a marketing standpoint, perhaps, but the past is the past; Duran are now icons, as relevant as musicians now as they ever were, continuing to challenge themselves and use all the current tools at their disposal. If Le Bon wants to use Auto-Tune, it’s for a purpose, and smoothing his voice isn’t it; it’s more Cameo than Britney, and thank God for that.

In many ways, though, AYNIN is a conscious revisitation of certain sounds and themes familiar to Rio and Ragged Tiger listeners. There are not one, but two explicit references to beloved Rio album track “The Chauffeur” in the form of “Before the Rain,” which samples the track, and “The Man Who Stole a Leopard,” a witty song inspired by a real-life incident. In the hands of a producer less deft than Mark Ronson, the double “Chauffeur” shout-outs would be heavy-handed (and here they almost are anyway), but separating the two tracks with the breezy, tropical, “Hold Back the Rain”-esque “Runway Runaway” was a fine choice. Ronson is a huge fan, and playing with Duran Duran’s crayon box was obviously a thrill. Sometimes he goes a little too far, but the band’s cohesion and passion help to rein him in as they insist that they still have something fresh to say, and a new arsenal of sounds with which to say it.

For the first time in many releases, every track on AYNIN is a good one. The titular single at first rubbed me the wrong way with its peculiar cheerfulness and on-the-nose rhymes, but it grew on me on the third listen. (Not bad; it took me hearing “Reach Up For the Sunrise,” from Astronaut, live in concert before I enjoyed it.) “Blame the Machines” is more of a Devo song than a Duran Duran one, with a little too much retro bleep in the keyboards; I can easily think of several other approaches that would give the same textual impression without sounding like something from the Minimoog of Mark Mothersbaugh. Also, its spoken-word section is pretty weak; if only they’d gotten the actress Olivia Williams to do this bit, as her stern, crisp upper-class-Brit tones would have been much sexier. “Machines” is still a great paranoid sing-along New Wave jam, though, so I ain’t hatin’. “Safe” features a great rap verse from the Scissor Sisters’ Ana Matronic, but it’s a little jarring, and the song itself could have been more memorable.

In my opinion, the best track on the album is “Girl Panic!” (don’t forget the exclamation point—that’s what makes it a musical!), which actually does sound like a long-lost Rio track, except magically contemporary; John Taylor busts out his best Chic-style slap bass, the synths and guitars are exactly right, and it’s impossible not to dance to it, even if in tiny fractions while sitting on the bus.

All You Need Is Now is a must-have for Duran Duran fans, and an excellent entree into the world of Duran Duran for those who don’t yet know. Yet, it does lack a certain magical freshness, originality, and spontaneity that still comes through in the group’s earliest releases. When the sound was new, it was new, y’know? It is a deliberate throwback, but such a skillful one that it seems to be a statement to the VHS or Beta?s and Interpols of the world: you can try, but you will never, ever be as awesome or as sexy as us, and we’re old enough to be your parents. Represent.

All You Need Is Now was released exclusively on iTunes on December 21, 2010. Duran Duran will also be playing at this year’s Coachella festival in April. For upcoming news and tour dates, please visit the band’s website.

2 Responses to “Duran Duran, All You Need Is Now

  1. Nancy:
    February 10th, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    Balanced review from a long-time fan. Love it!

  2. Nancy:
    February 10th, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    Balanced review from a long-time fan. Love this!

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