...and Take That think they're All That.
Back in the '80s, Duran Duran took the kind of frenzy that currently surrounds Barlow & co in the UK and went global with it. Newcastle, New York, New Zealand - didn't matter where in the world you went. The Birmingham buccaneers were huge everywhere - handsome chaps with smart, catchy pop tunes that they wrote and played themselves. Their first, eponymous album chimed with the synth-driven New Romantic movement that was emerging from London's Blitz club but it was their second album - "Rio" - that catapulted them into the musical stratosphere. Studded with terrific songs - "Hungry Like The Wolf", "Save A Prayer" and the title track - and matched with lavish, iconic videos, "Rio" remains their high point. Their third album - "Seven And The Ragged Tiger" - was less successful musically but still contained "Union Of The Snake" and their biggest-selling single, "The Reflex".
Then after a sharp title song for the Bond movie "A View To A Kill", things began to fall apart. The Power Station and Arcadia vanity side projects took their toll on the band; Taylors Roger and Andy quit and the Duran hits machine slipped down a few gears. On occasion, they could still come up with the goods - "Notorious", "Come Undone" and "(Reach Up) For The Sunrise" were all perfect pop and there's a case to be made for "Ordinary World" being the best track ever released under the DD name. But the halcyon days had gone.
And now (and not for the first time), it's trumpeted that Duran Duran ARE BACK. Only this time, it's with a pretty damn decent record. "All You Need Is Now" has four of the original Fab Five - despite a brief return to the fold, Andy Taylor quit for good in '06. Significantly, however, longtime DD fan and hip producer du jour Mark Ronson has taken over duties behind the faders.
Whilst the initial online-only release of the album may be so-modern-it-hurts, the album itself harks back to those early '80s glory days. Ronson has gone on record that he expressly wanted to make a sequel of sorts to their most successful album and he's certainly succeeded - the sound and feel of "Rio" runs through this album like a stick of rock. At times, it's uncomfortably so - the opening of "The Man Who Stole A Leopard" is uncannily like "The Chauffeur" and "Being Followed" is paced like "My Own Way". However, the good stuff is clearly in the majority. There's a pleasing consistency of quality throughout and whilst few tracks could be turned into hit singles, the songs hold together as an album very well. Like recent works from La Roux and Hurts, "All You Need Is Now" takes the synth sound of the '80s and updates it beautifully. Not everything changes: Simon Le Bon's lyrics continue to be as oblique as ever and his vocals still favour enthusiasm over being completely in tune.
These are minor carps; easily one of Duran's best albums, 'All You Need Is Now" is highly recommended. The album's an iTunes exclusive until February, when it gets released on CD with additional tracks and in a variety of deluxe formats.