The new Duran Duran still attracts notoriety

Photo credit: Jae-Ha Kim

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
July 5, 1987

“There haven’t been as many screamers at our shows as in the past,” said bassist John Taylor, one of the heartthrobs in the British pop band Duran Duran. “It’s really been kind of nice because not only do we have newer, older fans, but we still have a lot of our fans from seven years ago. It’s like we’ve grown up together.”

While the members are eager to present themselves as the new, mature and pared-down Duran Duran to the press, it’s likely that a good number of teeny-boppers will attend the band’s show Wednesday at Poplar Creek Music Theatre in Hoffman Estates. After several solo and new group projects (Power Station, Arcadia), Duran Duran is now a trio consisting of Taylor, vocalist Simon LeBon and keyboardist Nick Rhodes.

Had it not been for MTV, the 24-hour cable music station, Duran Duran might never have become a superstar group in the United States. Duran Duran’s self-titled debut album and followup, “Rio,” did poorly on the national album charts until MTV began showing the group’s exotic videos. The band members’ square-jawed good looks translated well on video, making their image the main course and their bouncy pop tunes the dessert. Duran Duran – then a quintet – was a natural for the MTV generation.

Self-proclaimed clotheshorses, Duran Duran’s members spent almost as much time deciding what to wear as what to play. The group’s former guitarist, Andy Taylor (no relation to John), has said it was a relief to leave Duran Duran because he didn’t have to worry about what to wear or how he should style his hair.

“We were very young and impressionable when we started the group,” said John Taylor in a phone interview from New York. “Nick was 16, I was 18. But it’s been more than 10 years since then and I’m 27 now. Personally, I think we’ve grown up immensely musically. We still like to look good, but we’re not ridiculous about it. It won’t bother me if a girl buys our record ’cause she likes the way we look, but I’d prefer that people talked about us for our music.”

In 1985, fans worried the group might break up for good. When John and Andy Taylor collaborated with vocalist Robert Palmer and drummer Tony Thompson to form the Power Station, the subsequent hits “Some Like It Hot” and “Bang a Gong”  gave the Taylors better reviews than they had with Duran Duran.  LeBon, Rhodes and drummer Roger Taylor, no relation to John or Andy, retaliated by forming Arcadia.

“Those were just side projects, and we all knew it,” said John Taylor, who also penned the title track of “9 1/2 Weeks” and made his acting debut in “Timeslip” on the Cinemax pay-cable station. “I don’t think any of us had any intention at that time of leaving the band.”

Two members, however, decided they had enough. Roger Taylor  left, saying he couldn’t handle the stress of being in a rock band anymore. And Andy, who liked the live-wire guitar playing he did with the Power Station, left to pursue a solo career. (He will open for Heart on Friday at Poplar Creek and Saturday at Alpine Valley.)

John Taylor attributes part of the group’s  newfound maturity to the departure of the two other Taylors.

“When Roger and Andy decided it’d be best all-around if they quit the band, Simon and Nick and I had the option of disbanding, remaining a trio or replacing them,” Taylor said. “We decided they couldn’t be replaced, so we decided to go ahead by ourselves.

“I love all those kids who came to our shows and screamed for us and cheered us on. But we’re not kids anymore, and we had songs that we wanted to record that I don’t think are in the teen-idol genre. Critics, who never liked us in the first place, say we’re trying to gain respectability. That’s not true. I can’t even spell it! We don’t need that, although it would be nice. But I’ve come to the conclusion that Duran Duran probably will never be `respectable.’ ”

Laughing, he added, “But we are notorious.”

For instance, the bassist once said he would never buy an album recorded by an “ugly band.” Perhaps accordingly, he was dubbed  as the resident Duran Duran heartthrob by his bandmates.

Taylor seems to delight in saying whatever is on his mind. Most recently, he drew the wrath of rabid Bruce Springsteen fans by announcing the reason the Boss was such a phenomenon was that he was an adequate musician, and people related to him because of his average guy qualities.

“I know I say some things that I probably shouldn’t, ’cause they end up looking bad, but on the other hand, I don’t want to weed out my thoughts to sound a certain way, either,” he said. “I like to be as honest as I can.”

The band’s latest album, “Notorious,” plays up that trait for honesty. None of the songs is as infectiously catchy as “Hungry Like the Wolf” or “Is There Something I Should Know?,” but in terms of musical diversity, “Notorious” has everything previous Duran Duran albums did not – cool, jazzlike rhythms, cryptic lyrics and even a little bit of soul. The group attributes much of this new sound to its collaboration with former Chic bassist Nile Rodgers.

“Nile was like a breath of fresh air for us,” Taylor said, laughing at his use of the cliche. “He was one of the few people who had confidence in our abilities. I admit that I never took myself that seriously as a musician, but when Rodgers was working with me and Andy in the Power Station, he made me see that I was being lazy and not really living up to my potential.

“He also opened the door for us on techniques. I mean, you can play a chord and make it sound so different depending on how you play it. He’s really quite amazing.”

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