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.
Trying on hats
Duran Duran bounced back in a big way with 1993's “Duran Duran,” also known as “The Wedding Album,” a platinum seller featuring “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone,” but lost favor again with the poorly received “Thank You,” in which the group delivered covers of songs by Public Enemy, Bob Dylan, Sly and the Family Stone and Led Zeppelin.
“Since the mid-'80s, we've tried on a lot of different hats: house music, rap, grunge,” Taylor said. “You dip your toe in all of those styles. You just do. You'd have to be very puritanical in your leanings not to when you're a band and you're listening to all sorts of things; you just cannot help but be influenced by styles that come along. But along the way, you can sort of lose your identity if you're not careful.”
John Taylor left Duran Duran after “Thank You,” leaving Le Bon and Rhodes to soldier on with former Missing Persons guitarist Warren Cuccurullo for two albums.
Then the original five members reconvened for several reunion dates, culminating in 2004's “Astronaut,” an album that restored luster to the band's name. John Taylor said there was comfort in playing with his mates again — especially Roger Taylor, who spent more than a decade out of the music business.
Not everything about the reunion worked exactly as planned: Andy Taylor left after “Astronaut,” and John Taylor expressed dissatisfaction with “Red Carpet Massacre” — no songs from that 2007 album are on the group's current set list. But “All You Need Is Now” has been a different story, and John Taylor said the response from critics and fans has revitalized Duran Duran.
“We're still on the road 20 months after the release of the album, and the material from the album has definitely energized the live show,” he said. “‘Girl Panic!' and ‘All You Need Is Now' I can definitely see as fixtures on upcoming tours.
Later this year, John Taylor, 52, will publish “In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran,” a memoir that will detail his 33-year history with the group. He said Duran Duran's stratospheric success and the subsequent low points can be instructive for today's pop stars.
“Look, when you've had that kind of phenomenal success, people are going to move on,” Taylor said. “I get that now. There has to be a reaction. And when it goes, it's really going to go, you know? Justin Bieber, look out. It's not like Arcade Fire. That's the thing about being extraordinarily trendy: Everybody leaves.
“We went through the '90s just having to wear this '80s hat,” he said. “That was the one thing people would give us: ‘Oh yeah, you were one of those '80s bands — you were the best band of the '80s.' OK, thanks a lot. In our case, you stick it out and do whatever you've got to do to stay in business.
“And slowly,” Taylor said, “people start reconsidering you.”