Duran Duran has had quite a storied history in the 30 plus years since starting life as part of the so-called “New Romantic” movement of the late ‘70s and early ‘90s. Coinciding with the tail end of the U.K. punk scene, that trendy, timely fad shared the same adventurous attitude punk became famous for, although it took its music in a clearly different direction. Early on, the band became as well known for their look and fashion as they did for their music, manifested entirely in their exotic and extravagant videos. Taking that tack that made Duran Duran one of the first stars of the burgeoning new medium known as MTV. Naturally though, it took more than a glam image for the band to succeed, and with early hits like “Rio,” “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Girls on Film” and “The Reflex,” the group proved their musical mettle and embarked on a lengthy trajectory that made them more than mere fashionistas while turning them into true international pop stars.
Nevertheless, like most things in the music biz, reaching the top means you only have that much further to fall, and indeed, by the mid ‘80s, internal fission tore the band apart and caused them to splinter. After a steady succession of outside projects (Power Station with Robert Palmer being the most successful) and changes in membership, most of the original members (guitarist Andy Taylor being the sole holdout) reconvened at the dawn of the new millennium and attempted to carry on where they had left off before. They were moderately successful, although their attempts to align themselves with the current club trends made them a less distinctive presence and more like a pack of also-ran wannabes. Where once they were a group with a decidedly sharp edge and a knack for clever hooks, now they were relegated to the role of synth pop poseurs ready to embrace whatever trend was currently in vogue. The Duran Duran that produced those early brilliant hits was clearly no more.
That said, it’s a welcome relief to find their new album Paper Gods reversing course to a certain extent and offering songs that revive memories of the band at their best. Granted, there’s nothing quite as strong as “Rio” or “Hungry Like the Wolf” included herein, but on offerings like the title track, “Pressure Off” and “Sunset Garage,” the propulsive exuberance of the early Duran Duran is again brought to bear. Synth pop remains a key component in their sound, as evidenced in the irrepressible groove of “Change the Skyline,” the tellingly-titled “Danceophobia” and “Face For Today,” but they’re not so calculated as to lose the melodic intent either. There are even moments of circumspect present in a song such as the pensive and purposeful “What Are the Chances?,” showing that the Duran lads can be multidimensional what the opportunity is offered.
Newcomers to the band are still best advised to check out the groups’ seminal sets, but for those who were hoping for a return to form, Paper Gods suggests they’re on their way. Older, wiser and, to a certain extent, more wizened, Duran Duran is still making music that matters.