Duran Duran finds new niche of old and new sounds
Although it’s tempting to dismiss Duran Duran as a mere relic of the ’80s, the British New Wave band came back swinging last year with its first Billboard Top 10 album in more than two decades.
That’s thanks to a fresh approach that found the princes of ’80s synthpop taking some lessons from today’s top hitmakers. Duran Duran, who will play DTE Energy Music Theatre on Monday, reteamed with superstar producer Mark Ronson and for the first time in its career brought in featured artists for the new album “Paper Gods.” The album’s diverse supporting cast includes former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, EDM artist Kiesza and R&B vocalist Janelle Monáe. The resulting record retains Duran Duran’s danceable grooves while also sounding right in line with the sound of mid-2010s pop.
Duran Duran bassist and co-founder John Taylor says he and his bandmates have long prided themselves on being “self-sufficient,” but they chose to embrace new ideas this time around to make a more modern record.
“Lindsay Lohan’s on the album,” he says. “That’s weird. But I like to think that when we look back on the albums and what their special characters are, I think these guest spots are what are going to make this album particular.”
Taylor says it’s not always easy to sell the band’s fans on new material when they want to hear Duran Duran’s classic hits, but live audiences have responded particularly well to the new material.
“I listen to mostly legacy music, but how good do I feel when I hear something new that I connect with?” he says. “It makes me feel a little more current. So I think people are coming to see and hear the older material, but if they can be turned on by something new that they haven’t really heard, then I think they’re going to be happier for that.”
That’s not to say that the band isn’t still keeping “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Girls On Film” in regular live rotation. Taylor says he and his bandmates work to balance their setlists with a representative cross-section of Duran Duran’s whole career.
“We’ve kind of come around to where the songs that everybody wants to hear are great songs to play,” he says. “There’s a reason why they’re good to hear, and they’re the same reasons as why they’re great to play.”
Taylor says he and his bandmates have a shared sense of positivity following a “long, extended midlife crisis.” The latter half of the ’90s proved a particular low point for Duran Duran, as the band’s 1995 covers album “Thank You” drew widespread ire and the band’s lineup fluctuated. Taylor struggled with drug abuse and went to rehab.
Even as Duran Duran’s members push into their late 50s, Taylor says there’s a “freshness of energy” to the group. Where Taylor says he once devoted energy to “getting wasted” before and after every performance, he and his bandmates now leave everything they’ve got onstage each night. Most importantly — and perhaps most surprisingly, given the group’s status as one of the preeminent symbols of the decadent ’80s — Duran Duran has found a sense of humility.
“We made it so quickly,” Taylor says. “We got entitled so quickly. And then we went through a very scary period where all the toys got taken away, and slowly we’ve been able to build our business back up again. I certainly appreciate that it’s conditional today, so you have to take every show with gratitude.”
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
with Chic featuring Nile Rodgers
7 p.m. Mon.
DTE Energy Music Theatre
7774 Sashabaw, Clarkston