Unless you’re a young millennial whose idea of synth-pop is more aligned to La Roux than Yazoo, you probably don’t require an explanation as to who or what Duran Duran are. Nor would you need convincing of the impact that the band has had on modern music (especially music video) or what they’re all about – critically polarising ‘90s comebacks aside. Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor and Roger Taylor (not to be confused with Queen’s Roger Taylor, though both play drums for their respective outfits) have been near-constants throughout the 30-odd year career of the Rio ragtag and that’s bloody impressive.
Compelling as that factoid may be though, Paper Gods, Duran Duran’s latest and fourteenth full-length studio album, isn’t quite as dazzling as the band’s colourful history. What seems like a record devised as a sentient effort to remind us that its creators are deserving of continuing relevance invariably comes across as a struggle between creative insularity and an exercise in spot-the-guest-star. Where does Lindsay Lohan fit in on a fucking Duran Duran record for goodness sake? Ask producers Mark Ronson and Mr Hudson, although the answer is ‘Danceophopbia’ apparently – the album’s lamentable halfway point and utterly bemusing nod to bizarre, mid-’90’s euro-dance. As always, the saving grace is Le Bon’s convincingly familiar vocal contribution, despite it being tied-up in a tangle of EDM experimentation.
And while it may be moot at this juncture to point out that EDM is indeed a clunky, recurring trope of Paper Gods, this is no reason to dismiss the entire project as a standard EDM-infused collection. There are periods of considerable joy to be found here, notably on the John Frusciante (JOHN FRUSCIANTE!) aided ‘What Are The Chances?’, whereby Le Bon’s vocals, Frusciante’s guitar and added harmonies gel smoothly with Mr Hudson’s downbeat yet melodic production. It’s slow, warming and actually quite satisfying despite the surrounding muddle of lesser attempts.
‘Pressure Off’ is where things become clearer and the notion that Duran Duran hold immense staying power is truly and succinctly communicated. Featuring the production of Mark Ronson and Nile Rodgers (always a pleasure, Nile), and with the track featuring the funky guitars of Rodgers and the added vocals of Janelle Monae, ‘Pressure Off’ is the strongest, most infectious piece to this otherwise frustrating puzzle. That signature Ronson sound does wonders for the Duran Duran MO and it’s refreshing to hear a track on this album that isn’t actively seeking the attention of those who arguably couldn’t care less.
Confusion abounds throughout Paper Gods, but its broad sonic spectrum should appeal to a broad range of listeners and, seemingly, that’s the point. A pantomime of technicolour glitz, but everybody likes pantomimes don’t they? At least, we’re likely to have fond memories of them.