The future (past) looks bright - The not so ‘New’ Romantics, Duran Duran are in a celebratory mood with plenty left in the tank. Recent, energetic sell-out performances at the likes of Austin City Limits, Isle of Wight Festival & their Birmingham homecoming have demonstrated that the Duran boys are not set to quietly exit stage left.
Not only have they managed to delight their adoring audiences, but they have also managed to attract a star-studded line-up of collaborators on their 15th studio album, Future Past. Blur’s Graham Coxon adds a six-string twist of his own on the lion’s share of the 12 tracks and legend Giorgio Moroder waves his pop wand on a couple of numbers. Not so fresh to the Duran stable is Mark Ronson, who has had a big influence on the band in the past decade. He co-writes and plays on the soulful ‘Wing.’
Fans have been exposed to a handful of the new songs already, most recently this week with the full version of ‘Give It All Up.’ The song features Swedish electro-pop princess Tove Lo. It has a delicately melancholy verse with a screaming Le Bon chorus, tastefully sprinkled with a spoonful of ‘Rio’ synthesisers. Back in May, the band released the lead single ‘Invisible.’ Sonically, it is distinctly Duran Duran with Coxon’s under-the-radar guitar licks punctuating the track. ‘All of You’ is a synth-pop funk fest.
‘Anniversary’ is stomping and bold in the mould of ‘The Wild Boys’ & ‘Girls on Film’, brilliantly meshed together. The song looks back on a 40-year run that the band have been on since 1981. It is anthemic, joyous and utterly triumphant. Le Bon’s vocals stretch to the limits with Rhodes & the Taylors piling on the groove. You can even hear shreds of ‘Save a Prayer’ & ‘Tiger Tiger’ in the outro and intro. It is very clever with a treasure chest of past Duran tracks for fans to dial their antennas into.
The soaring title track is captivating and thankful with plenty of perspective, as Le Bon confirms in the verse - “Could not have known it then, but now I see it plain.” ‘Beautiful Lies’ and ‘Tonight United’, despite their disco-pop sheen by Moroder, are some of the flimsier songs on the LP. It was exciting to hear about Moroder (one of Duran’s idols) being involved in Future Past, but these tracks somehow feel like an opportunity missed.
Those iconic Duran tunes over the years such as ‘The Chauffeur’, ‘Ordinary World’ and the cultish ‘Secret Oktober’ have always managed to straddle that line between darkness & light. ‘Wing’ is in that bracket - a tortured, mysterious and multi-layered, ballad. Le Bon’s lyrics are honest and stark - “For a better man to be in my head / Maybe I want my bitter visions to come real.”
‘Nothing Less’ is murky and dirty with a guitar solo that cooks up a post-punk storm with some visceral Le Bon writing - “Wading in the deep end, drowned in monochrome.” ‘Hammerhead’ with Ivorian Doll feels like filler. ‘More Joy’ does have some great moments from the Taylor rhythm section, only to be blotted out by an annoyingly shouty chorus courtesy of the Japanese quartet, Chai.
‘Falling’ featuring Bowie’s pianist Mike Garson has fantastic credentials on paper, but the finished product fails to deliver a final, closing knockout blow, albeit with a poignant touch of ‘Planet Earth’ synths to fade out the LP. Overall, this is a classy, hook-laden album that delivers a respectful nod to their hey-day past, with more than enough quality & craft that points to a relevant and abiding future for Duran Duran.