When it comes to co-dependency, nothing beats the relationship Duran Duran has with its fans.
Duranies who have stuck with the band throughout its myriad line-up changes possess an unbridled optimism that Duran Duran can recapture its early fame. It happened once before a decade ago with The Wedding Album.
The band itself rewards these fans by playing all the same hits on its tours, dusting off a rare song for the extreme old timers. Even its recent single releases are shored up by past work.
“Save a Prayer”, a song from 1982, shows up twice on The Singles, 1986-1995, a boxed set covering the band’s latter-day repertoire.
This co-dependent relationship comes to its crux with the release of Astronaut, the first album to feature the band’s original line-up in 21 years.
Guitarist Warren Cuccurullo is gone, and all three unrelated Taylors — Andy, John and Roger — are back. To reward the lapsed fans waiting (somewhat breathlessly) for this reunion, Duran Duran has filled the album with a set of songs steeped in the bright colors of its past.
Some things about the band’s sound are incredibly familiar.
With Roger Taylor’s disco drumming serving as foundation, John Taylor can once again indulge his love for Chic.
Andy Taylor, perhaps the sharpest musician of the bunch, resumes his role as overlooked member, punctuating with a guitar riff here and there but not really driving much else.
Nick Rhodes, of course, dominates with his keyboard work, and he’s all about razor sharp, square lead timbres now. None of that ambient bullshit from way back when. (Who the fuck is Alex Sadkin?)
Simon Le Bon hasn’t written a cryptic, new Romantic lyric in years, and thankfully, he doesn’t make a misplaced attempt to recapture that youth. Thing is, he’s too old to make something as awful as “Bedroom Toys” sound convincing.
The production work, provided by Don Gilmore, Dallas Austin and Nile Rodgers, is just as heavy-handed as before, but updated to sound like a modern day release echoing the past.
Astronaut is certainly the cleanest album Duran Duran has ever recorded. It’s also the most lifeless.
Duran Duran has recreated a facsimilie of its optimistic sound, but it forgot to include any actual optimism. Hell, even Liberty has more raw energy coursing through it than Astronaut.
For so long, Duran Duran has had to fight for its chops that an “us vs. them” mentality infused brashness into such works as Big Thing, Medazzaland, even the multi-million-selling The Wedding Album.
None of that bravado was preserved for this reunion. Yes, the original line-up does possess a special chemistry, and some tracks on Astronaut remind listeners of it.
“Nice” is an aptly-titled confection, while “Finest Hour”, “Chains” and “What Happens Tomorrow” have the tunefulness of which Duran Duran is master.
But the rest of the album sounds like how a co-dependent relationship would feel — an effort to make the band feel good by making its fans feel good.
I’m not convinced. The Duran Duran I grew up listening to were torchbearers of progress, a band restless enough to challenge itself and explore new things.
Astronaut is not progress. It can’t even pass itself off as tribute.
When the original line-up can produce a work that makes Duranies think for themselves, I’ll buy into the reunion for real.