Duran Duran Skip Collaborations With Gwen, Justin To Focus On ‘The Original Five’

Astronaut finds group maintaining classic sound while modernizing.

Nearly three and a half years since they announced that the original members were reuniting for another go-round, Duran Duran are back with a new album — and it couldn’t be soon enough for bass player John Taylor. “It’s like we’re James Bond,” he said. “You’ve had the Roger Moore version, but Sean Connery is back.”

Without the feathered hair, that is. Though the original members of the double-D haven’t recorded anything together since 1983, they’ve managed to stay current. While Astronaut isn’t likely to win them any new fans, it’s not just a flashback to the ’80s, either. Thanks to knob-twiddlers Dallas Austin (TLC, Madonna), Don Gilmore (Linkin Park, Avril Lavigne) and Nile Rodgers (David Bowie, Diana Ross, Duran Duran’s “Wild Boys”), the album’s swinging pop-rock sound manages to evoke the band’s halcyon days and also modernize it a bit, with two songs (“Point of No Return” and the touching “Still Breathing”) that owe their moodiness to 9-11. Call it a new maturity, or at least an ability to put the baggage behind them.

“We worked through everything,” Taylor said. “And that wasn’t all sunshine. It was hard work. Before Simon [LeBon, Duran vocalist] called me to suggest we get back together, I was actually thinking of calling him, but I didn’t know how he’d take it. I took it as a sign that he called me first, that we were on the same page. And God knows, we needed a sign.”

Originally, Taylor thought they’d get back together for just one event — perhaps it would be broadcast on TV, perhaps it would result in an album. But then he and LeBon did a small show together at New York’s Joe’s Pub, and were surprised at their reception, and that cinched it. “We tore the roof off,” he said. “And I realized I had missed that. I had missed the energy we had together.”

So they announced their return, started recording Astronaut in the south of France, started touring, and started shopping for a record deal — in that order (see “Duran Duran Prove They’re Not Ready For Vegas Circuit At Tour Opener” ). Duran Duran had a prior deal in place with Disney-owned Hollywood Records but decided they would be better off with a fresh start. As Taylor jokes, “It’s funny that a record label whose logo is a big pair of ears couldn’t hear us.” So after Duran Duran proved they could still consistently draw a respectable crowd, they struck a deal with Epic. In all, the boys wrote 30-some songs, whittling down the final contenders to an even dozen. The album is a sort of day-in-the-life, starting with “Sunrise” and running through a gamut of emotions that could be felt in that day.

“You wake up, you have sex — or not,” Taylor said. “You get the paper, and you read that, and you think about Iraq, and think, ‘Oh my God.’ But then you turn on the morning show, and laugh, and it’s more ephemeral.

“If I watch a film and it does its job, I’m going to laugh, I’m going to cry, I’m going to feel several different emotions,” he continued. “And we should be able to do that with music too.”

Duran Duran ultimately decided not to do any collaborations on the album, as they had been considering, with folks like Justin Timberlake and Gwen Stefani. “It would be a distraction,” Taylor said. “We’ve never done that. And I love Gwen as a friend, but that would be a different journey, and it would be all anyone focused on, instead of us, the original five: our look, our sound, our style.”

The stakes are higher this time around, Taylor said — instead of already being on top of the world, Duran Duran are trying to find their way back into it. This time, they’re not quite the jet-setting playboys from “Rio,” as much as they try to recapture that in their video for “Sunrise.” And though the years have been kind to them, they were never critics’ darlings. “People really underestimate the band,” Taylor said. “They just have this image of us, so that the questions I get now are more like, ‘So, do you still wear lipstick?’ But that’s OK. That just makes us want to do what we do best, and get their rocks off.”