As Duran Duran prepared to record their 13th studio album in 2010, John Taylor described the band as going through “one of our many transitional stages.” Duran Duran's previous album, the Timbaland-produced “Red Carpet Massacre,” bore a strong resemblance to collaborator Justin Timberlake's “Future Sex/Love Sounds,” but the band that made “Rio,” “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Planet Earth” could barely be heard under the producer's bottom-heavy dance mix.
So Duran Duran — bassist John Taylor, singer Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes and drummer Roger Taylor — were open to suggestions when producer Mark Ronson commenced to bring Duran Duran back to the New Romantic sound they helped pioneer in the early 1980s for “All You Need Is Now,” the band's most critically acclaimed album in 20 years.
“At first, we thought that Mark would only produce one or two songs, but after being with us in the studio for one day he announced that he would like to do an entire album,” said John Taylor, who will perform with Duran Duran Wednesday at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Catoosa. “Which we were surprised about, because we didn't think this new wave of producers were very keen on entire albums — they seem to do a handful of tracks on them. So Mark really became the spiritual guide for the album. And that was compounded by Mark wanting us to reference the first couple of albums in the style and sound and writing.”
Ronson, who produced much of Amy Winehouse's “Back to Black” and Lily Allen's “Alright, Still,” came to the project as a fan, but his particular interest was the limber Anglo-funk and icy synth sounds from 1981's “Duran Duran” and 1982's “Rio.” Taylor said Ronson employed a subtle campaign of coercion to get them on board with a return to Duran Duran's classic sound.
“He never sat with the whole band,” he said. “To me, he said, ‘What was that amplifier you were using on “Rio”? What was that bass rig?' He had conversations along those lines with each of us, individually.”
And by many critics' measure, “All You Need Is Now” hit the mark, with songs such as “Girl Panic!” and “Too Bad You're So Beautiful” not only capturing the mood and tone of Duran Duran's halcyon days but equaling it in construction and quality. For the most successful British pop band of the 1980s, a group that dominated MTV and teen magazines with a musical style crafted from equal parts Roxy Music and Chic, this was still not an easy proposition, because unlike many of the band's contemporaries, Duran Duran never clung that strongly to its glory days.
After three years of chart dominance and worldwide success, Duran Duran underwent temporary mitosis in 1985, with John Taylor and unrelated former guitarist Andy Taylor starting The Power Station with the late Robert Palmer. Meanwhile, Rhodes, Le Bon and Roger Taylor recorded “So Red the Rose” as Arcadia. In the fallout, Duran Duran lost two Taylors, Andy and Roger, and adapted to its new reality by moving in an R&B direction on 1986's “Notorious.”
“If I had to catalog the changes away from those first two albums, I would say that the biggest change that happened after ‘Seven and the Ragged Tiger' was that Andy and Roger left the band,” John Taylor said. “Then we had a rhythm section of Nile Rodgers and Steve Ferrone on ‘Notorious,' which was pretty wonderful but radically different.”
From that point forward, Duran Duran contended with three equal and often opposing forces: the band's stylistic restlessness, the weight of their reputation and the passage of time. The band's 1989 album “Big Thing” generated minor hits such as “I Don't Want Your Love” and “All She Wants Is,” but then 1990's “Liberty” was a critical and commercial disaster.