Duran Duran, pop music's original Fab Five return. The band reflex their muscles with a new album that brings their signature new-wave sound into the 21st century
The five original members of Duran Duran are sitting on top of the world. At least, it sure seems that way from the 36th floor of Jersey City’s high-rise Hudson Towers, an awe-inspiring view of the Manhattan skyline sprawling across the Hudson River in hazy midmorning sunlight. The band has gathered here for a promotional appearance in the offices of local Top 40 radio powerhouse Z100. Fueled by little more than breakfast tea and bonhomie, Simon LeBon (sprightly, playful, and a mite puffier than he was during the group’s ’80s heyday) and Nick Rhodes (natty, quick, and still sporting eyeliner and foundation after all this time) are furiously signing ticket stubs, glossy 8 x 10 photos, and scraps of paper for the two dozen hyperventilating contest winners who’ve won the chance to meet their idols on this pleasant September day.
Rhodes scribbles his name in silver marker on the glass frame of a platinum-album award for 1993’s Duran Duran (more commonly known as the Wedding Album). LeBon leans in to watch. ”What’s that?” he asks.
”Oh, this?” says Rhodes, barely missing a beat. ”It’s from when they used to play our records.”
There was a time not so long ago (has it really been more than two decades?) when the perfectly coiffed lads of Duran Duran were the world’s biggest pop stars. And if you went to any of their 25th-anniversary concerts in the summer of 2003, you’d be forgiven for assuming they still are. Those triumphant shows — the first with the complete original lineup in 18 years — were followed by a 25-city American tour and a sold-out, five-night stand at London’s Wembley Arena that even had the long-critical British press tossing compliments. ”People started to use the word authentic to describe our music,” says bassist John Taylor, as he slumps into a banquette at a dim Japanese restaurant across the river a day after their radio visit. ”And we were like, ‘Holy s—!’ We were always anathema to that whole idea. In the media’s eyes, we were plastic dilettantes.”
Not anymore. As Duran Duran release Astronaut (due Oct. 12), the first album featuring all five charter members in 21 years, the band finds itself in the middle of a full-blown ’80s new-wave revival, and it seems poised to capitalize on the success of young Duran-influenced critical favorites like the Killers and the Scissor Sisters (who opened for them at Wembley). Even so, they’re wary of exploiting their retro cred. ”People keep saying to us, ‘Oh, you’re riding this ’80s thing,”’ says a still criminally handsome John (for the sake of your sanity, we’ll refer to the three unrelated Taylors by their first names). ”Well, it’s not really ‘this ’80s thing.’ Do you like Prince? Do you like the Cure? Do you like Madonna? Of course you do. So then why the f— are you complaining that we haven’t been around a while if you still like our music?”
But let’s be honest: Most of Duran Duran’s fans are holdovers from the Reagan era. At last year’s reunion shows, the audience consisted largely of that battalion of weeping no-longer-teenage girls known as Durannies, along with a smattering of their daughters. There’s no scientific proof, but it’s safe to say that a random survey of women between the ages of 30 and 45 will result in irony-free gushing about a favorite member, whether it’s brooding drummer Roger Taylor, 44, mischievous lead singer LeBon, 45, foppish keyboardist Rhodes, 42, centerfold-ready John, 44, or grizzly guitarist Andy Taylor, 43.