My Favorite Artist: Duran Duran

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Duran Duran performs at The Fillmore New Orleans on Feb. 19, 2019. (Photo by Mickey McCarter)

Editor’s Note: Parklife DC asked its contributors to write essays about their favorite bands. These essays appear in an occasional series, My Favorite Artist, and provide our readers with insights into our bloggers, their motivations, and their approach to covering concerts.

To my ear, music is at its best when it motivates and inspires. Popular music provides a forum for catharsis, surely, but I am most excited when I hear something that stirs my soul, lifts my head, and moves my feet.

Cue Duran Duran.

The gents of Duran Duran were barely into their 20s when they broke out as major rockstars in the early ’80s. Hailing from Birmingham, England, they rode a synth-driven genre called New Romantic to burst into the forefront of the Second British Invasion that shook American pop charts. While their first record, Duran Duran, did well at home in 1981 with singles like “Planet Earth” and “Girls on Film,” their second, Rio, conquered the world the following year with tunes that continue to receive a lot of airplay like “Rio” and “Hungry Like the Wolf.”

Duran Duran held lightning in a bottle until 1985, when their original lineup performed for the last time for a long spell at Live Aid. The band continued, however, releasing critically acclaimed albums and scoring a global hit record again in 1993 with The Wedding Album and its instantly recognizable classics “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone.”

The classic Duran Duran lineup reunited in 2004 for Astronaut, the band’s 11th album. This fantastic yet underrated record is extremely catchy and listenable with standout songs like “(Reach Up for the) Sunrise” and “What Happens Tomorrow.” One thing that casual listeners never understand about Duran Duran is that they are a true working band, and by that I mean they are often in the studio tunesmithing if they are not on the road touring. Duran Duran has never gone more than five years between albums, and that was for their most recent, Paper Gods, which followed five years after its predecessor in 2010. They are due to release another album this year, although the coronavirus pandemic took them out of the studio in March. Hopefully, it is not delayed!

As a group of four men, there is a member of Duran Duran to suit your mood.

Simon LeBon is the perfect frontman. Dashing and dynamic, Simon cuts a relaxed yet commanding figure. He is a poet at heart. In his youth, he was drawn to lyrics with a shade of mystery, and he has become more direct with age. Simon is very sensible and pragmatic, but he has a great sense of adventure and daring. Socially, he never met a pun or dad joke he didn’t like. His voice is utterly unique. He can be rousing and soothing as a song demands. In performance, he sings with his body and soul.

Watch the official music video for “Ordinary World” by Duran Duran on YouTube:

If ever you have the opportunity to meet Nick Rhodes, as I have, you first will be impressed with his curiosity and his patience. Nick is an extraordinary presence, and he’s very much the most together person you could hope to encounter. He keeps his own counsel. His careful and considered approach to music, along with his reserved personality, lead admirers to call him “The Controller,” particularly as he often seems to be orchestrating a concert from his perch at his synthesizers. Nick very much likes to be fashionable, but his fashion sense is timeless, not ephemeral, and he isn’t afraid to wear a t-shirt and a blazer rather than a suit and tie when circumstances call for it. Nick’s interests in photography and art influence Duran Duran’s aesthetic environment.

Watch Duran Duran perform “The Chauffeur” from the concert film As The Lights Go Down:

Handsome and gregarious, John Taylor could have been a movie star. Appropriately, he has lived a great deal of his life in California, the only member of the band to emigrate out of England. Often recognized as the greatest bass player in modern pop music, John’s funky grooves often represent the top unmistakable element of a Duran Duran tune. John always has a smile on his face, and he consistently seems pleased to see and meet folks. Outside of the group, he seems to be the most collaborative, having founded side projects like Power Station and Neurotic Outsiders in addition to contributing his talents to other outfits, and he has many industry friends. He’s a very open and honest chap, and you cannot help but be inspired by his gratitude for all that life has given him.

Watch the official music video for “Pressure Off” by Duran Duran on YouTube:

Roger Taylor is quiet and poised. When he speaks you listen, because you know what he says is going to be extremely interesting and relevant. When he doesn’t speak, he’s playing drums of course, striking up a rhythm that flows through the Duran DNA. Roger is very private, but he’s also quite approachable and open. He’s friendly and attentive, clearly having developed skills as an excellent listener in the course of his career as the man who sets the beat for one of the world’s foremost rock bands. He’s an authentic musician and a genuine human being.

Watch Roger Taylor discuss the Roland TD-30KV electronic drum for Roland UK on YouTube:

Together, these four gents create a dynamic combination.

I am an ambitious fellow who is ready for change yet I’m the same man I’ve always been. I find kindred spirits in Duran Duran, who embrace the past without dwelling on it while looking clearly toward the future. Duran Duran’s attitude: “We are in this together, and we can do better.” That attitude shows through in their music, whether they are addressing love, loss, luck, or life. For me, this vision is wonderfully encapsulated in their 2010 album, All You Need Is Now, a terrific record that I consider to be one of their best.

Stream All You Need Is Now by Duran Duran on Spotify:

When Simon famously auditioned to be vocalist for the nascent band at the Rum Rummer nightclub, he recalled being drawn to his bandmates because they were happy and confident. Their collective good nature shines through in their music and in their performances. I’ve been fortunate enough to see Duran Duran perform about 10 times, all relatively recently. (My first Duran Duran show was in 2005.) I’ve been even more fortunate to photograph them in concert twice — first for a New Year’s Eve show at MGM National Harbor to close out 2016 and second during a spate of dates that took them to the newly opened The Fillmore New Orleans in 2019.

Check out our Parklife DC coverage of Duran Duran.

In concert, Duran Duran are a force to be reckoned with. The band has the ability to transport you elsewhere — a coveted capability for entertainers of any sort and doubly so for a pop music group.

The vast majority of bands only have one good album in them — usually their first (although truly many take some time to settle and mature before hitting their stride) — and a lot of acts break up due to personal differences. So for Duran Duran to celebrate 40 years of making music is a testament to their personal chemistry and the fact that they still have something to say. It would come as little surprise if a group of their stature were to continuously tour their first three albums, perhaps still their most recognizable works in the public consciousness.

But Duran Duran are more than that. The band is innovative and vivid. The gents know themselves and they grow. They don’t hesitate to pontificate, but mostly they celebrate. And in the process, Duran Duran lifts our spirits, focuses our minds, and keeps us dancing.

For more Duran Duran, visit the band’s website.

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