Graham Reid | | 8 min read
Maybe it’s because he’s wearing what look to be his pyjamas – great big cottony, flowy things covered in only-safe-at-night checks – that John Taylor of Duran Duran looks extremely tired and bored.
Good-looking in a cheekbones and quiffed hair way, you understand. But bored witless nonetheless.
It's early 1993 and he’s standing behind the cafeteria bar in the Dominion Theatre, London, sucking thoughtfully on a well-placed toothpick and posing lazily for whatever flashgun might shoot next.
These are tough times for rock stars.
An equally bored-looking Nick Rhodes – all bleached blond and somewhat more paunchy of face that we might expect – is wearily answering yet another question from the media assembled, some sitting on the floor at his feet, in front of him.
He’s deftly fending off the suggestion that there is an Eighties revival and with their new album they are part of it.
It's a bit silly, he says as if speaking to an idiot child, but music is either good or it’s not, and there should be room for music from different periods. And anyway, just the other night they were talking about the Rolling Stones and they’ve been up and down for what, 30 years now almost, and they’re still making good music.
Ah, the Stones ... the lodestone for all age matters these days. Clinton is younger than than Jagger ... and Duran Duran have only been going about a third as long. There’s your answer. Sort of.
Lupine-featured guitarist Warren Cuccurullo weighs in to salvage the faltering ideas. He’s not much help.
“We’re not a revivalist band; right now at the moment we’re doing something for the 90s...”
Taylor sucks his toothpick and adopts the thousand yard stare, Rhodes pats his white Beatle cut up into a suitably windswept look and Cuccurullo sighs and gives an “Any more questions?” expression.
These guys don’t look as if they want to be here. And, Simon Le Bon isn’t.
He has to save his voice for the two shows later that night, says a patient publicist who wonders aloud why these three others even bothered at all. And they don’t bother much.
The reason for inconveniencing these three Durans is their new album, which seems to be variously referred to as Duran Duran or The Wedding Album – and while it’s hardly earth-shattering and a bit too much of a style wars pot-pourri, it has its moment.
But, as art critic Robert Hughes once noted about Americans having nostalgia for things which haven’t gone away, so it is with Duran Duran, whose sound and style were the 80s for many people.
But it’s now the 90s and they are back without having gone away ... it’s just that their last album, Liberty, in 1990 was forgettable. And forgotten. And until this day, so were they.
When one of the assembled journalists asks whether they were surprised that the new ballad Ordinary World had become a huge hit in America, Rhodes tartly shoots back: “We always try to write hits.”
From out of the laughter a rude antipodean voice, mine, is forced to ask the obvious. What happened with the last album, then? That didn’t spring any ...
“Writer’s block,” says Rhodes sharply with a look that says there’s something from the wrong end of a dog on my shoe.
“This is a very esoteric business,” says Cuccurullo, who is clearly the philosopher of the group. “You never know if you are going to connect or not.”
And the new album has connected for Duran Duran again, particularly in America. In New Zealand the single went to number three and dropped rapidly; the album charted for one week in April (at 43), then disappeared.
Immediate interest alights on the brusque opener Too Much Information, which takes a swipe at MTV, video images and “the pressure on the screen to sell.”
But isn’t it a bit rich for a band that shaped itself for the video generation and is best remembered for clips such as the skin ‘n’ sweat of Girls on Film or the James Bond glamour of a View to a Kill to be singing “destroyed by MTV, I hate to bite the hand that feeds me too much information ...”? And more to the point, will there be a video?
“There isn’t a video ... yet,” says Rhodes in a pragmatic afterthought. “But there will be. We were disenchanted; cynical and thought today’s videos were very mediocre.”
“Well, it’s hard for us to be too cynical,” says Taylor, rousing himself. “That would be like us writing a song about early Duran Duran. There was also too much hype about us being he in the vanguard of music videos ... there were so many being made before we came along. We just rose on the MTV wave.
“We were always fashion-conscious though, and aware of image.”
“That’s why we got into music,” says Cuccurullo. “The bands we liked were all fashion-conscious...”
“And the girls?” asks a voice from the floor.
“Oh yeah, the girls, too ...it’s all a part of it.
There is general laughter, but this kind of frivolity is unseemly. Rhodes is quick to point out – to a general nodding of other Duran Duran heads – that Too Much Information was actually prompted by the Gulf War, which was beamed into living rooms courtesy of CNN.
“It was all so glamorised and sick,” says a crestfallen Rhodes with a look of deep concern. “It had become like a sport. It had a profound effect on the way we were thinking ... so we put ourselves in that position ... ‘a Cola manufacturer is sponsoring the war,’ the lyrics say. Which wasn’t exactly true. But it was like that.”
The image of a politically concerned Duran Duran lingers in the air ... but not for long. Rhodes had previously raised the idea of “working something out with charities” (in South Africa) with profits from sales of Ordinary World.
A churlsih journalist picks up the point and asks if they plan any charity shows. This press conference is going seriously off the rails now.
“Well, there’s so many things now. We haven’t got anything specific planned, but in the past we did things for children, the homeless...”
“We did that one with Vanessa Redgrave about two years ago,” adds Cuccurullo. “What was that for? Jerusalem or something...”
“It was actually for the Kurdish thing,” says Rhodes helpfully.
“Right, the Kurdish. Yeah ...”
If this wearying 25 minute press conference leaves any impression, it’s that Duran Duran don’t get a grip on the Big Questions in any meaningful way. Frankly they are idiots. Spoiled ones at that.
Of their impending tour of South Africa, Taylor observes: “They are making changes there, so we’re saying ‘Yeah, we think that’s good,’ so we’ll play there. Rather than ostracise, it’s like, ‘Welcome to the world’ and saying, “This is what you get if you change.’”
Rhodes, in a piece of political observation probably better kept to himself, says: “It’s the music lovers in South Africa who have suffered most.”
And of the song Sin of the City based on the 1990 Happylands arson in New York which left 89 Hispanic dead, Taylor says he read an article about it in Vanity Fair and “it seemed a good subject for a song. It just seemed like an excuse to criticise.”
If they aren’t the most astute of political commentators – and no one said they had to be - they are much more at home talking about what they know best: their album and the tour which has seen them take up residency in the Dominion Theatre for two shows a night.
“We’re calling it semi-acoustic because it’s not entirely unplugged,” says Taylor. “But there are acoustic guitars, two violins and a cello. We put the band together to play an acoustic Christmas concert for an Anglophile radio station in Los Angeles and had such a good time we thought we’d keep it going.
“This will be the first tour in a long time that is about music.”
But a few hours later, when that music is put under the microscope, it is a depressing experience.
For a band about to embark on a year-long world tour and with a decade of live experience behind them they play a set most charitably described as lacklustre.
Simon Le Bon, with what Newsweek recently called “a $5 haircut” above a paunchy face, does his best to invigorate a lifeless set but halfway through gives the impression of a man who has given up. He leaves the stage during a long instrumental and comes back obviously revived, falls awkwardly at the feet of guitarist Taylor then goes the whole slump and hits the stage in a fleshy heap.
It’s an odd sight which may be designed to suggest a passionate involvement with his muse but comes off looking just plain dopey.
And where the older songs should elevate the show, they simply plod. A slowed down unnecessarily extended versions of Hungry Like the Wolf has the crowd up and ready to dance, but standing awkwardly in the aisles waiting for a beat to emerge.
And for a partially unplugged show, it’s pretty noisy.
But there’s no escaping the ordinariness of this world. Called back for an obligatory encore, they do a leaden version of Iggy’s Success (earlier they had done unspeakably bad things to the Doors’ The Crystal Ship) and go out with, predictably, Rio.
The covers in the show – and their lightweight version of the Velvet Underground’s Femme Fatale on the album – have been explained by Taylor in the afternoon. While waiting for this album to come out, they decided to record an album of covers.
What we’ve had the dubious pleasure of hearing so far doesn’t make this “our Pin Ups” album, sound promising.
Ho hum seems a fair comment, and very little on the night suggests Duran Duran in the 90s will be the contenders they think they are.
If boredom had been the obvious attitude projected at the afternoon’s press conference in front of journalists flown in from New Zealand, Australia and all points around South America, smugness wasn’t far behind.
With Ordinary World rocketing through the American charts, the band might well believe they were up and running again. That Britain was still holding out on the boyish charms of the big, traditional- sounding ballad was dismissed by Rhodes. Dance music dominated the charts in Britain, he says but the song fitted radio formats in the States.
But Taylor concedes they aren’t so well positioned as to call all the shots on this second coming. He complains the record company put View to a Kill, Is There Something I Should Know and Wild Boys on to the CD single of Ordinary World. That devalues those songs he says, and he doesn’t like it.
“But if we put our foot down and say, ‘No, we don’t want those on there,’ they might say, ‘Well, we can’t guarantee you a hit.’”
“But that’s another thing” says Rhodes now that the bogey of the record company has been raised. The band sent off photographs of their parents to be montaged for the album cover and it came back with just Duran Duran on it.
“We thought, great that’s the title. But because the first album was called Duran Duran, they got nervous and...” He shrugs.
“Just as well they didn’t call it The Parents Album” says Cuccurullo.
There is laughter and the press conference winds up with some South Americans wanting the band to do quick radio ID spots.
“You can do them,” Cuccurullo tells Taylor.
“I don’t want to do them.”
Cuccurullo heaves a sigh and turns to Rhodes. “Nick, you can do them. You came late...” They flash weak smiles and leaves Rhodes to it.
Off to the side, a publicist rolls her eyes.