On the heels of 2007’s very underwhelming Red Carpet Massacre, New Wave icons Duran Duran sought a return to their glory days with their latest effort, All You Need is Now. Leading up to the LP’s release, the band trumpeted it as “the imaginary follow-up to Rio that never was,” while keysman Nick Rhodes claimed All You Need is Now to be “the best record we’ve made in over two decades.” While it falls short of the band’s lofty claims, Duran Duran’s 13th studio album (and first with neo-soul luminary Mark Ronson at the helm) is a success on many levels, mostly because it manages to simultaneously play like a fresh, vital 21st century club record and a wistful throwback to Duran Duran’s greatest hits.
Back in 2008, Ronson helped to rework some of Duran Duran’s best-loved classics for a one-off performance in Paris. The result was so loved by Simon LeBon and Co. that they asked Ronson back to produce what the band hailed as their comeback album. The soulful touches he brought to Amy Winehouse’s and Lily Allen’s music are almost inaudible this time around; Ronson’s influence seems to lie more in the band’s new musical approach. Sounding more like a Timbaland-produced LP than part of the neo-soul revival Ronson helped to spearhead, it’s a pleasant surprise to hear that the slinky sexiness that Duran Duran made their name with on their seminal 1982 record Rio is well intact.
Musically, not much has changed for the band. Simon LeBon’s signature croon that served as a soundtrack to much of the ’80s is just as solid as it was 30 years ago, as are Nick Rhodes’ icy synth lines and the tight-as-ever rhythm section of John and Roger Taylor. All You Need is Now splits most of its 40-minute length between recreating, often successfully, the band’s glory days and trying to sound hip to the niceties of modern pop music.
“Safe” is an example of the band trying their hand on contemporary pop, on which they aim to effortlessly toe the line between artsy electronic music and synth-pop as they did on classics “Rio” and “Vertigo”. Instead, here they come off as obnoxious old geezers trying very hard to sound young again, not at all helped by an uninspired guest spot from Ana Matronic of the Scissor Sisters.
First song and lead single “All You Need is Now” opens on Depeche Mode-esque synths and a pair of spirited verses. When it jumps into a memorable, larger-than-life chorus that sings of swaying in the moon “the way you did when you were younger,” it’s hard not to parallel the subject of the lyrics with the reminiscing songwriters themselves. “Leave the Light On” and “Blame the Machines”, however, veer dangerously close to boring territory. The former plays like an unimaginative rewrite of Duran Duran’s 1982 smash-hit “Save A Prayer”, while the latter sounds like an all too New Wave-y outtake off of the band’s self-titled 1981 debut.
Not all of the nostalgia is for the worst, though. Album standout and All You Need is Now‘s longest song “The Man Who Stole A Leopard” is perhaps the best instance of said retrospection. Its down-tempo keyboards, stirring string arrangements (courtesy of Owen Pallett, aka Final Fantasy), a shockingly fitting guest turn from Kelis (yes, that Kelis), and LeBon’s aforementioned croon coalesce near perfectly, instantly calling to mind Duran Duran at their most memorable: Rio‘s hallowed closer, “the Chauffeur.” And while the eerie ambiance it conjures up over five and a half minutes is muddled by the ill-advised inclusion of a laughable pseudo-news report/outro, “The Man Who Stole A Leopard” is easily the strongest track on the album.
While All You Need is Now won’t bring flocks of teenagers over to Duran Duran’s side, it’s certainly a commendable effort if for no reason other than it’s the band’s most relevant and listenable record in almost two decades. And though it’s not quite Rio 2.0, Duran Duran’s 13th album does possess many of the qualities that put the synth-pop legends on the map in the first place.