DURAN DURAN TAKES A STAB AT RESPECTABILITY
About two years ago, many American girls in their early teens were in the grips of a bizarre affliction called Duranmania.
The symptoms were a fanatical devotion to Simon Le Bon (vocals), Nick Rhodes (keyboards), John Taylor (bass), Roger Taylor (drums) and Andy Taylor (guitar), all handsome young members of the English pop band Duran Duran. It was a new strain of an old disease. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, teen-age girls, thoroughly enraptured with Elvis Presley and the Beatles, had a version of it too.
As you might expect, parents of Duranmaniacs were unnerved. They thought their kids had been brainwashed. All these swooning young females cared about was Duran Duran. Their minds seemed to be in a fog, severely impairing their concentration. Some were so smitten that they seemed to have taken up permanent residence on Cloud Nine.
The cure for Duranmania was no mystery. Time, as exasperated parents knew, ultimately destroys teen-agers’ fanaticism about cute singers. Teen-age girls usually change idols as quickly as they change clothes. But Duran seemed destined to last much longer than the average teen idols.
So now it’s two years after the peak of Duranmania. Have those fans descended from Cloud Nine? Probably. Have they forgotten about Duran? Even keyboards player Rhodes isn’t sure. But, through the fan mail, the band has noticed a change in the composition of the Duran audience.
“They seem a lot older now,” he noted. “Before, in the mail, they were asking how old we are and are we married and what’s our favorite color. Now they’re talking about the music. The kids who were fans two or three years ago are now 17 and 18. We’ve grown up and so have our fans. So we have some old fans who’ve grown up and some new fans too.”
Will the current crop of 12-to-15-year-olds flip over Duran now? We’ll soon find out. The group’s first Capitol album in three years, “Notorious,” has just been released. There’s already an indication that Duranmania hasn’t been stamped out. The first single, “Notorious,” out about a month, is already No. 8 on the Billboard magazine chart.
Rhodes hinted that a more mature audience would be welcome. “On the last tour, the audience was too loud in some places,” he griped. “The screaming little girls tend to make their way to the front of the stage and make a lot of noise. We like the young fans. But it would be nice if they were a little quieter.”
Duran Duran, which plays dance-oriented synthesizer-pop with soul undercurrents, has been recording since 1981 but wasn’t a success until 1983. Exposure on MTV was a key factor. The young females liked their music but it was the handsome faces of these young (early 20s) Englishmen that drove the fans crazy.
The group showed that it could even put out a bad album, “Seven and the Ragged Tiger”--released at the end of 1983--and not slip a notch. That album was an indication that, musically, Duran had run out of steam.
“We worked on it too much because we weren’t sure of our direction,” Rhodes explained. “We put things in songs that didn’t need to be there. We replaced parts that probably didn’t need to be replaced. It was overly fine-tuned.”
The new album, “Notorious”--co-produced by Nile Rodgers--is by far the best of the band’s five Capitol albums. Though not full of wondrous musical ideas or knockout musical performances, it’s at least a competent effort. This still isn’t a great band, but it is finally showing signs of musical maturity.
When the group went into the studio early this year, Andy Taylor and Roger Taylor (the Duran Taylors aren’t related) were absent. Roger’s absence was no surprise.
“His health wasn’t that good,” Rhodes explained. “He started to get tense about everything. He finally realized that he wasn’t well suited to this business. If he had stayed in it longer, he may have blown a fuse. So he left the music business. Now he’s living in the countryside with his wife, who’s pregnant. He’s happy. He got out at the right time.”
Duran, however, was still counting on Andy Taylor. But when the group members were about to start writing in late spring for the current album, he wasn’t available. So they started composing without him. When they began recording Aug. 1, he still hadn’t arrived. He finally showed up in the third week of August. Apparently the record company hounded him into it, threatening legal action if he didn’t work on the album.
“It was obvious to us then that he didn’t want to be in the band,” Rhodes recalled. “Andy wanted to use Duran as a stepping stone to a solo career. There was no room in the group for an ego like that.”
Taylor played on six tracks in the studio but, on the album, only performs on four. Rhodes said that Taylor’s limited contribution turned out to be a blessing:
“It allowed us more flexibility and space. Also we didn’t have conflicting directions. Andy wanted to go in another musical direction. If he had been there for all the writing and the recording, there would have been problems.”
In a separate interview, Taylor, who now has his own band and is planning to tour next month, told his side of the story: “When I got to the studio, they had already started. It didn’t matter. I just didn’t want to be in the band anymore. They were playing this dance-and-R&B; style of music and I wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll. I left on good terms with them. I don’t feel any hostility.”
But Rhodes, who had sincerely wanted the five original members to work together again, needled the two dropouts, noting that they were the most expendable: “We (himself, John Taylor and Le Bon) have been the heart and soul of the band. If one of the three of us were missing, it wouldn’t be Duran Duran.”
Drummer Steve Ferrone and guitarist Warren Cuccurullo will replace Andy and Roger Taylor when Duran goes on tour in February.
For a while it looked like Duran Duran, which stopped touring in the spring of 1984, was dead. The members preferred to express themselves in spinoff bands. John Taylor and Andy Taylor were in Power Station while Rhodes, Le Bon and Roger Taylor formed Arcadia.
One reason they sought refuge in these spinoffs was confusion and uncertainty about Duran’s direction. “We were a little dizzy from the amount of touring and recording we had been doing,” Rhodes explained. “We reached the point where we were unsure of our next step. It was time to step back out of the limelight a little bit and review the situation. We hadn’t had time to think about what we had done.”
The turmoil that had been seething beneath the surface boiled over during the 1985 sessions for the “A View to a Kill” single, the movie theme song that went to No. 1. “It was a hard record to make,” Rhodes recalled. “We had just come off this tour. No one was delighted with the ‘Seven and the Ragged Tiger’ album. There was a lot of tension in the studio. It was obvious that we were either going to take a break from Duran or make a dreadful Duran album.”
Musical differences, Rhodes explained, were the core of turmoil. “Around the time we did ‘A View to a Kill,’ we started to have musical differences. John and Andy wanted to go off and do heavier rock. That’s why they did Power Station. Simon and I wanted to do something more experimental and abstract.”
John and Andy Taylor made the first move by forming Power Station, a funky hard-rock band that featured Robert Palmer as lead singer. That was the project that brought Palmer, then a cult favorite with a small following, into the mainstream.
While the Taylors were occupied with Power Station, the three remaining members created Arcadia, which played a moody, loosely structured, rather esoteric brand of pop-rock. Beyond the hit single, “Election Day,” Arcadia’s “So Red the Rose” album had only some fairly interesting, half-formed ideas to offer.
Assessing Arcadia, Rhodes pointed out: “We were trying different things. It was too delicate to be a Duran album. It was a selfish, indulgent album that took too long to make. There was some stuff that Simon and I had to get out of our systems. We also wanted a chance to work with some other musicians. We never went on tour. When we started Arcadia, all we wanted to do was an album.”
Both albums by the spinoff outfits, undoubtedly due to the highly publicized Duran connections, were big sellers. “Power Station” and Arcadia’s “So Red the Rose” both sold over a million. Surprisingly, Rhodes felt those projects got too much attention:
“They were pushed too far commercially. The record company and the management did that. At least Arcadia didn’t go on tour. But Power Station did. In hindsight, John says he wishes Power Station hadn’t gone on tour.”
Fans who spent money to see Power Station probably feel the same way. The problem was that singer Robert Palmer backed out of the tour, forcing the band to hire a last-second substitute, Michael des Barres, who proved to be ineffective.
Both Power Station and Arcadia are defunct--for now anyway. Neither is likely to be resurrected while Duran is still hot. But if Duran falters, look for those spinoffs to come flying out of mothballs.
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