Duran Duran: Paper Gods

The fourteenth full-length is always the true test.

- Back in the late '70s two Birmingham lads were working in a nightclub and also collaborating on a musical project which evolved into a band they named after a character in French director Roger Vadim’s 1968 sci-fi/soft porn epic Barbarella which starred the then not so liberated Jane Fonda. They had a variety of people in and out of the band and when looking to replace departing lead singer Stephen “Tin-Tin” Duffy, they held auditions and a brash Simon Le Bon strode in. As bassist and co-founding member John Taylor later said, “He didn’t have the best singing voice but was wearing pink leopard-skin tight trousers and really, you’ve either got it as a front man or you haven’t. Simon had it. So we hired him.”

Duran Duran have worn the tag as an “Eighties” band for the last three decades, even though they have released more material since the Eighties than they did in the Eighties. Sometimes tags are hard to shake. Seen by some as an arty-farty new romantic band (which they themselves wanted to be at first) and then the spearhead of the next British invasion of the USA with the tag of the new wave/synth-pop “Fab Five” pretty boys (which they have long since left behind) perceptions are like red wine stains on a white carpet – hard to shift.

Paper Gods is their fourteenth album release, their first since the 2011 All You Need Is Now which revived a flagging career, when they teamed up with the man who can do no wrong in the production room, Mark Ronson. He’s back with them this time, co-producing three of the twelve songs showcased here including the lead single Pressure Off. He’s not the only returning producer though, the other man who can do no wrong in a control room, the legendary Nile Rodgers plays on this track as well as doing co-production duties. Rodgers was as responsible as anyone for the band’s cracking of the US market in the mid-Eighties, both with his rework of their single Wild Boys and then production of the excellent funk fused with new wave dance rhythms album Notorious. There’s more than a little of that collaboration in evidence here and he also has a hand on the faders in three of the tracks as well.

The main production duties are handled by Mr Hudson who has worked with Pixie Lott, Paloma Faith, Eliza Doolittle and future President of the USA Kanye West. His work is very fine; it’s clean, crisp and doesn’t lack a serious groove at all. One of the little praised members of Duran Duran is drummer Roger Taylor who is the key that locks those grooves to the guitar playing of John Taylor and Dom Brown and the electronic keyboard hooks of Nick Rhodes. Mr Hudson and the other, other, other co-producer Josh Blair handle Simon Le Bon’s at times thin sounding vocals without having to play with electronic trickery to make it listenable.

Duran Duran also enlisted the help of an eclectic set of collaborators from the vocals of Janelle Monáe on the lead single, Danish front man for Mew, Jonas Bjerre (a very clever piece of blending vocals with Le Bon), Canadian EDM/pop singer Kiesza on the cracker of a dance track Last Night In The City and -to perhaps some surprise- John Frusciante ex-guitarist of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers whose work on four tracks adds another layer of excellence to the sounds produced, most notably on the ballad What Are The Chances? If that collaboration raises eye-brows, what about Lindsay Lohan who provides a trippy monologue in Danceophobia? When you hear her say “I am your doctor” you know you are on one hell of a trip! The album is bracketed by some long form works (upwards of six to seven minutes each), the title track (which castigates the fashion mag world and the figures in them, which is ironic given Le Bon’s wife Yasmin’s former career) and the pairing of Only In Dreams and The Universe Alone which brings a funky, fun and really not that Eighties sounding album to a satisfactory close.

- Blair Martin.

 

Album Details

Album Title: Paper Gods
Artist: Duran Duran
Record Label: (Warner)