Out to Reclaim the Crown
I’m talking to Nick Rhodes and Roger Taylor. I’m talking to Nick Rhodes and Roger Taylor. My first instinct is to run, screaming, through the house—then speed-dial my friends, like I did every time MTV aired the “Rio” video back in 1981. Today, however, there are no shrieking, prepubescent girls to share my glee: It’s just me, Roger and Nick, talking about the reemergence of Duran Duran.
“Things are somewhat frantic right now,” Rhodes confesses, but he’s obviously relishing the moment. After all, it’s taken nearly two decades for the Fab Five—keyboardist Rhodes, frontman Simon LeBon, guitarist Andy Taylor, bassist John Taylor, and drummer Roger Taylor—to regroup and record Astronaut, the original line-up’s first new studio album in 21 years. “It’s complete Duran-demonium,” he deadpans. “Utter chaos.”
The reunion was three years in the making, and, as Rhodes explains, its beginnings were top secret. “In June, 2001, we rented a big house in the South of France and trucked everything in and started playing,” he says. “We started writing immediately. One day, someone started playing ‘Hungry Like the Wolf,’ and we all joined in—we were like ‘yeah, that still works.’”
“There was certainly a lot of humility in the room,” he remembers. “We were careful to give each other space and make sure everybody was happy. We knew that if we could make this work, there was no reason it couldn’t be as good or better than it ever was.”
Rhodes, of course, is referencing the band’s heyday in the early ’80s, when singles like “Is There Something I Should Know” and “Girls On Film” topped radio and music-video playlists. When Seven & the Ragged Tiger went multi-platinum in ’83, critics compared the Birmingham, England-born synth-pop purveyors to The Beatles as Duran-mania ruled teen scenes on both sides of the Atlantic.
By 1985, however, the party was coming to an end: Andy Taylor and John Taylor joined forces with Robert Palmer in The Power Station, while LeBon, Rhodes, and Roger Taylor retaliated with Arcadia. Then a disillusioned Roger quit the music business entirely, leaving LeBon and Rhodes to soldier on in Duran Duran.
“We were living in each other’s pockets every day for five years, and we started to drift apart,” Taylor says. “Being in Duran wasn’t very much fun at that point. It became hard to hang onto my individuality. I completely moved away from music—I bought a farm in the country and lived a very simple life.”
“When Roger left, it was unavoidable,” Rhodes interjects. “He wanted some space, and there wasn’t much we could say about that. Andy left because he wanted a solo career, and John left much later, in ’97.”
Pausing to reminiscence, he lets go a lengthy chuckle. “I thought they were complete idiots for leaving such huge talents as Simon and me behind, but I could understand it—we’d almost run that thing dry,” he says, referencing lackluster albums like Medezzaland and Pop Trash, which were released in 1997 and 2000, respectively.
“We’d managed to reflect our time so well in the ’80s, but after Pop Trash, Simon and I were having a hard time keeping things in perspective,” Rhodes admits. “Then we began talking about putting the original group back together.”
“Reuniting was always in the back of my mind,” Taylor says. “The original line-up only lasted five years—it was such a short episode. We were at the top of our game, and I felt that maybe we had a few more albums in us. When John gave me the call, I was ready.”
“We didn’t have a record company, a producer or a management team—it was just the five of us,” he continues. “We set our gear up and played for 10 days.”
“The chemistry,” he says proudly, “was still there. Thankfully, no one turned up with a sitar or a heroin habit. We came back as more rounded people, but—miraculously—we’re all still on the same page, musically.”
Rhodes agrees. “The personalities are pretty much the same with a little more amplification. All of the good things are a little better, and all of the bad things are a little worse,” he laughs. “But when we’re together, we have the ingredients for an incredible chemical reaction.”
“Nobody in this band has had a number-one record as an individual,” Taylor points out. “Usually, there’re one or two geniuses in the band who can go on to individual success. We’ve all tried different things, but nothing’s proved as powerful as this five-pointed star. When we plug in and play, there’s an energy and vitality that doesn’t sounds like anybody else.”
While woodshedding in the South of France, the quintet penned dozens of songs, 12 of which ultimately made it onto Astronaut (plus one multi-media track). Many of those cuts were written in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
“We were literally in the studio the day before the World Trade Center attack, then we had a meeting on the day of,” recalls Rhodes. “We watched it happen on television. We were as shocked as everyone else in the world, but we had studios booked, so we had to continue working. The album became a little darker and more introspective because of it.”
They countered the shadows with bright bursts of energy, like the funky “Bedroom Toys,” the pop-ish “Nice,” and the positively baptismal “Sunrise,” the album’s first single, which also serves as the theme song for Queer Eye For the Straight Guy.
“This is our new sunrise,” Rhodes says. “It’s so autobiographical, which is why we wanted to release it first. I think you can either get up in the morning and look at the day and say, ‘alright, I’m gonna make this a good one,’ or you can look at it and feel drained and say, ‘ugh, let’s get this over and done with.’ … That’s what this album is about—forging forward without letting outside events drag us down completely. We have to remain optimistic.”
“We go out there and we want to win,” Rhodes says, comparing the band to a SWAT team. Taking a deep breath, he resumes his pep talk. “We want to have the best song and make the best video and have a better website and use technology no one else is using and make the live shows more exciting and dynamic than anything else out there.”
“We’re not resting on our laurels or looking back and saying how great were we?’” Taylor says. “We want to be great now.”
Duran Duran’s timing couldn’t be better: ’80s music is already making a resurgence—new groups like Franz Ferdinand and the Scissor Sisters are mining the now-classic synth-pop sound, while old faves like Blondie and Morrissey spent last summer on the road. The week of its debut, “Sunrise” reached #5 on the BBC’s top singles charts.
England’s on board, but is the rest of the world ready for a Duran Duran comeback? Only time will tell. Rest assured, the Fab Five are ready. “We’re in this,” Rhodes concludes firmly. “We want the crown back. We know where it is, and we’re gonna get it.”