In the 80s, Duran Duran was one of the biggest bands in the world, and one of the few New Wave acts that did not fall victim to the one hit wonder curse. Their music has stood the test of time, with the material from their first three albums in particular remaining revered by a global fanbase. Even following the short-lived side projects and the downsizing of the band in the latter half of the 80s, the band persisted and continued to record, still scoring the occasional mainstream hit. An interesting piece of trivia - they are the only band to ever record the theme song to a James Bond movie that topped the charts ("A View to a Kill" in 1985).
2004 saw a classic lineup reunion with the release of Astronaut, and the smash hit single “(Reach Up for the) Sunrise,” with the band seemingly in the spotlight once again. The group has released a number of recordings since then as well, though none have quite achieved the level of popularity that the group had back in their early days together; this is not easy success to replicate in uncertain musical times.
Paper Gods is the newest studio album from Duran Duran, and their 14th overall. In recent years, the band has been striving to reinvent themselves and create a unique, new identity in these musical times that are amongst the most wild and unpredictable. Is this the album that Duran Duran fans have been waiting for, or is it one that would have best been left on the cutting room floor altogether?
Let me start this review by saying that I admire and respect the musicians who make up Duran Duran. They are amongst the most talented and musically diverse out there; this has been true for this since the very beginning. When the band released their reunion album Astronaut back in 2004 (has it been that long already?), they beautifully recaptured their classic sound, yet somehow still kept things fresh. The more recent albums, including this one, have seen the band branching out more in other musical directions. Regardless of your opinion of the band’s more recent studio exploits, you must give them credit for not simply doing the same thing over and over again. This is a band not afraid to explore new musical territory, and they remain as adventurous and charismatic as they were over three decades ago, when they put out that very first album.
That said, as for the music itself…
As a modern pop/dance style album, Paper Gods is a success. As a Duran Duran album, well, it is likely that this musical experimentation and the overabundance of collaborations contained here might be a little too much for the group’s old school fans. Guitarist Andy Taylor’s presence, much of what gave the band more of a rock sound in their heyday, is sorely missed here. In his place are a number of solid guest stars including John Frusciante and Steve Jones, but it is not the same as the chemistry that made the original band so functional a musical unit. Did I mention that one of the tracks features Lindsay Lohan as a guest? If the more modern pop/dance oriented direction is not a deal breaker, that might be.
That said, it is NOT a “bad” album despite its flaws. The biggest asset the band has to their name here is vocalist Simon Le Bon, who sounds just as good now as he did back in the band’s heyday; it is tough to find vocalists who still sound this good after so much time passing by. There are some solid performances on a number of the tracks, and it is just a shame that the band got a little too experimental here and continued with the overload of “collaborations” that they apparently have not veered away from.
Duran Duran is a great band that is still going strong. Though I admire them for trying to establish a new identity and not releasing the same album countless times, Paper Gods is just a little too experimental and modern dance/pop for my tastes. Die-hard fans of the older era are bound to feel the same; Andy Taylor’s “rock” presence is sorely missed, and the album goes too far with collaborations with questionable artists. This is a “good” album, but not the one that Duran Duran fans from the old days are going to be looking for. Recommended only for the most die-hard or curious of fans.