Photo by S.X. Rosenstock
Eighties New Romanticists Duran Duran started their 2011 push to promote their new album All You Need Is Now with a well-received appearance at SXSW. After Austin, the world: their March 23rd concert from the exotic Club Mayan in downtown LA was directed by film master David Lynch, who festooned his live feed with art, including Barbies and barbeques. The Lynch-Duran Duran collaboration was beamed around the planet by Vevo webstream. Four original band members are performing this time. Frontman Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, bassist John Taylor, and drummer Roger Taylor submitted themselves to the ideas of star producer Mark Ronson (of Amy Winehouse Back in Black fame and his own endlessly inventive solo work as Mark Ronson and the Business International) who appeared with them live at the Mayan. Other great guests included Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance harmonizing on "Planet Earth," Kelis, and Gossip's Beth Ditto, who spoke to Spinner recently about her new solo EP.
DD superfan Ronson sought to help them make an album worthy of comparison to their 1980s classics, and the band kicked things off at The Mayan with this new material that sounds both fresh and familiar. Ronson's expertise in getting stellar performances from vocalists like Winehouse, Lily Allen, Boy George, and many others, has had a wonderful effect on the expressiveness and command in Le Bon's indelible voice. Ronson also determined the direction of the album's content. He urged them to "make it about girls."
New Romantic/New Wave music obsesses over what punk and rap/hip-hop do not. Unabashed ballads, rockers and dance tunes are filled with oceanic yearning for love and romance. Nick Rhodes is the kind of lyricist who would give everything to caress his loved one's sleepy head. Song after song confesses dreamy attraction for the archetypal mesmerizing woman. Sexuality is represented as a transcendent encounter which carries the songwriter or listener places far away from the "Ordinary World," which one returns to with reluctance when the love affair or the song ends. Duran Duran has always dressed up for its date with extreme yearning. Exquisite suits and guyliner symbolize their break with the non-glamorous masculinities of other musical genres. Alice Echols's cool book, Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture gives a deep read on the critical drubbing artists associated with dance music receive in our ordinary world, penalized for devoting themselves to an art with sonic cycles and plateaus that express female pleasure. She notes Time magazine counting 22, and the BBC locating 23, expressions of female orgasm in Donna Summer's 1975 hit "Love to Love You, Baby," and rock critics have thumbed their noses at every single one of them. For thirty years, Duran Duran's guys have been lovers, not fighters, and, like other bands influenced by the glam look of Roxy Music, they've endured incomprehension and ridicule for their devotion to beauty. They've also sold millions upon millions of records, and held onto a huge number of passionate fans.
Duran Duran represents an uncommon response to the overwhelming sexually liberated woman born from 1970s feminism: theirs is music that admits to a delight in being overwhelmed. Le Bon sounds convincingly besotted on new tracks "Girl Panic" and "Too Bad You're So Beautiful," and credibly fearful of rejection in lines like, "a single random meeting/with your eyes, and now I'm beaten" and "now I sense your mission/is my coming demolition." Ronson insists that vocalists register real emotion, and Le Bon delivers.
The eighties were full of demanding women, from Chrissie Hynde's "Brass in Pocket" to Madonna singing "Boy, you've got to prove your love to me" on her early hit "Into the Groove" and The Pointer Sisters requiring that a guy "Jump/For [My] Love", then ordering him to use a "Slow Hand," even though "He's So Shy." The Waitresses worked the extended taunt in "I Know What Boys Like": "I make them want me/I like to tease them/They want to touch me/I never let them... They get so angry/like pouty children/denied their candy/I laugh right at them... / Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah." Punk-funk master Rick James (Rick James!) wasn't running scared from "the (SuperFreak) kind of girl you read about/in New Wave magazines" but when you peruse an anthology of other 1980s hits, you hear many males sounding vulnerable to powers of the liberated female. The reaction of A Flock of Seagulls was "I Ran." Mr. Mister experienced "Broken Wings" and Thomas Dolby confessed that "She Blinded Me With Science."
Newcomers to Duran Duran's oeuvre may not know the band's name derives from a character in Roger Vadim's film Barbarella, starring Jane Fonda in the title role. DD's utterly successful, sensuous new album and killer live performances should send fans the ages of Ditto, Way and Kelis to the shows on their current tour as well as to some fun nights at home watching Barbarella, DD's vids that ruled MTV, all of Lynch's films, and hearing Lynch's own eighties-inspired dance music. Grab a copy of Echols' book and give some thought to the subtext of all the music that led up to Duran Duran, why it suffers from -- and yet survives -- snootiness from critics, and why artist fans as cool as Ronson or Ditto or Lynch think it is dream after dream coming true.
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