"Find Durand Durand!"
That's Jane Fonda's primary mission as the sexy astronaut and title character she portrayed in the 1968 sci-fi cult classic film Barbarella. She spends the bulk of the film in search of the evil, deranged Doctor Durand Durand. In a classic case of life imitating art, the British band who swiped their moniker from the film (and altered the spelling a bit) has indeed also been on a quest to "Find Duran Duran" themselves. The Birmingham, England band who dominated worldwide pop charts in the early to mid-1980's have had their fair share of ups and downs since their days as THE platinum-selling mega stars of the 80's. Lineup shifts, record label changes and changing tastes have played major roles in the roller coaster ride Duran Duran has experienced throughout their long tenure. Most significant though has been their struggle to find a sound that really represents the band as they've continued to evolve. Since their fifth studio album, 1988's Big Thing, the band has toyed with ideas and concepts that were either too contemporary sounding...or too far removed from what their devoted fans expect to hear from them...or, plainly stated, just didn't suit them.
And now, that's all changed. With All You Need Is Now, Duran Duran's 13th studio album, the band has not only brilliantly bridged the gap between their pop-glam-disco masterpiece, 1982's Rio and now, but they've also reestablished themselves as true originators and purveyors of modern dance music. The band were experts at melding many different genres that resulted in smart, danceable, sexy, seductive pop music that was also catchy as hell.
In recent years, other acts have tugged forcefully at the fabric that Duran Duran created. Bands like Scissor Sisters, Dandy Warhols, The Faint and Electric Six have done their damndest to recreate the glossy, titillating dance grooves that Duran Duran perfected on standout club hits like "Girls On Film" and "Planet Earth". Meanwhile, Duran Duran themselves were battling their own worst enemies-themselves- and were beating their heads against the walls while sorting through record producers, sound experiments and formulas. The band has made their message crystal clear with All You Need Is Now: they're back...and boy, are they ever.
A sonic match made in heaven, the band enlisted brilliant whiz kid and hit-making machine Mark Ronson to handle the production duties for Now. A self-admitted Duran lover since his teens, British-born Ronson has lent his talents and well-trained ear to the careers of platinum selling artists Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse and Robbie Williams. Ronson has managed to evoke the true spirit and pizazz that's always lain inside of Duran Duran and he's done so like no other producer has been able to since Colin Thurston (who produced the band's first two albums) or Nile Rodgers, producer of the band's funky 1986 album, Notorious.
Ronson's wisest and boldest move it to stand back and let Duran Duran be Duran Duran; an obstacle the band has been plagued with for years now is the attempt to stray too far from the building blocks upon which their unique mesh of styles and sounds was borne. Whether it be at the suggestion of a producer or their own desire to change too drastically with the times, the end results have often been met with mixed reviews. Their last project, 2007's Red Carpet Massacre,produced by veteran hip-hop producer Timbaland, was less than embraced by fans and by radio despite the fact that hit-maker Justin Timberlake contributed to the bands sound and appeared on the album's lead single, "Nite Runner".
While it's admirable for a veteran band to continue to strive for relevance and in doing so, be willing to adapt themselves to fit in with current musical climates, sometimes it's easy to lose touch with the inner confidence and the fire that put them there in the first place. With All You Need Is Now, Duran Duran have tapped into their own rich fountain of musical textures and nuances and successfully created a record that's as contemporary and modern as it is traditional and true to form.
Fans who've longed for a Duran Duran sound that harkens back to their days as first and foremost a dance club act will undoubtedly revel in the grooves found on Now. Of the nine cuts featured on the digital version of the album (released exclusively on iTunes on December 21 with a physical version featuring extra cuts coming in February 2011), about seven of them could easily provoke a crowd to fill a dance floor. In what seems like an intentional attempt to prove their mettle and inspire their adoring fans to get off their asses and dance, Duran Duran has managed to create a record that will undoubtedly remind everyone, fans and detractors alike, what it was that set them apart and made them so special in the first place.
"Being Followed" is a shiny slice of eerie electro-pop that boasts a deep disco bass line (courtesy of longtime bassist and band founder, John Taylor), the swirly trademark keyboard wash of Nick Rhodes and some of the best edgy, paranoid vocals Simon LeBon has ever belted. And after hearing the crunchy guitar breakdown after the song's bridge, one can't help to recall "Careless Memories" (from the self-titled 1981 debut album), the first glimpse into the band's desire to pair heavy guitar work with thumping dance beats (courtesy of original drummer Roger Taylor who is again a permanent member of the band after a long hiatus). Although it might sound trivial now, at the dawning of a post-disco era and the ushering of the new wave movement, it took a lot of guts to combine those two elements. And that same sense of defiance and envelope-pushing that five boys in frilly clothes and a myriad of hair color possessed at the start of their career is the very element that makes All You Need Is Now such a triumph of epic proportions. The same devil-may-care attitude and panache that fueled Duran Duran to break so many rules upon their arrival has found it's way back into their veins and propelled them to create this fantastic album.
"The Man Who Stole A Leopard" benefits from echoey, ghost-like female backing vocals and an orchestral string section to create a spooky vibe against a funky backbeat. And the album's closer, "Before The Rain" sounds like the long-lost cousin of "The Chauffeur", the sparse, icy closing cut on Rio.
With All You Need Is Now, Duran Duran has somehow managed to bang out an album that will appeal to the diehard fans, to those who lost interest along the way AND to a whole new crop of eager dance-pop fans. I'll go as far as saying that anyone who loves Rio and holds that album near and dear to their hearts will also love All You Need Is Now. Cut from the same cloth of daring, charisma and elation, the key elements that made Duran Duran such huge stars, the new album is a reminder of how and why this band was able to reach the heights they did and more significantly, why they still deserve to be lauded as groundbreakers and pioneers.
Duran Duran have found themselves and they're screaming it from the rooftops: one listen to All You Need Is Now more than exemplifies their new-found confidence and their return to their well-deserved throne of dance-pop royalty. Dust off your dancing shoes...Duran is back again.