Simon Le Bon sounds exactly the way you want him to: flamboyant and utterly frank with an optimism that feels weighty and persuasive but not impulsive. There’s something about the spate of Duran Duran’s music that mines through these same touchstones. What I love about both is that they dig into our folk memory of the ’80s battalion of British pop, when bands like Duran embodied a foolproof disco-rock armory and took over America and the rest of the world, raking in millions of bucks along the way.
For those of us who weren’t around for their “new romantic” manifesto, “Planet Earth”, or its B-side, “Late Bar”, listening to Le Bon croon about all-night parties in hotel rooms through “la la la” chorus crackers, or are too young to remember “Ordinary World” and metaphoric sexual cravings on “Hungry Like the Wolf”, it’s easy to recall their lip gloss, bouffant mops, offbeat sci-fi music videos, and shoulder-padding swag and imagine the hoards of Durannies waving headshots before doors opened. Even now, after 35 years, countless comebacks, and semi-reunions, they remain a band that’s somehow both an example of and an outlier within their genre. Their 14th studio album, Paper Gods, arrives this week, and it’s clear this isn’t an exercise in nostalgia but proof of their continuing authority on pop music.
Now, it goes without saying that some pop music made in the ’80s and ’90s was so catchy you might have needed to stab your hand with a maths compass to stop pressing the play button again and again. The seemingly formulaic social orbit surrounding pop stars has charmed us too. It’s always felt like the world’s most exclusive club: an elite group of singers, producers, and songwriters from different backgrounds, cities, and fields all climbing into bed with each other’s songs and collaborating together – perhaps these artistic combinations have propelled pop music to where it is today.
Duran have toured with Blondie, worked with Nile Rodgers, Justin Timberlake, and Mark Ronson, but have never had such close encounters as on Paper Gods. The bill is knee-slappingly diverse, featuring contributions from Mr Hudson, Janelle Monáe, Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ John Frusciante and even – deep breath – actress Lindsay Lohan in a spoken-word ménage-quatre. The ever-brilliant frontman Jonas Bjerre of Danish rock band Mew told me how surprised he was when asked to sing on the track “Change the Skyline”: “It was all a bit surreal to me. They are obviously legendary, and I kept thinking about when I was a kid and my dad brought home VHS tapes with a bunch of music videos on it, one being “Wild Boys”. I obsessed about that song and video, this strange post-apocalyptic universe they created. It was such an intriguing mystery to me. That’s exactly the kind of music I love, the kind that makes you wonder and keeps you wanting to delve back into it.” The enigmatic vocalist ended up recording his vocals in a small studio in Russia on a “beautiful” old Neumann microphone.
We spoke to Simon Le Bon and tracked down drummer Roger Taylor to discuss being eternally against “bullshitting,” the unquestionable power of collaborations, Simon’s favorite song on the new album, and how a 1979 live performance by Kraftwerk sparked a lifelong love of electronic drumming.
Click ahead to read our interviews with vocalist Simon Le Bon and drummer Roger Taylor.