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How Duran Duran ran and ran

How Duran Duran ran and ran

Inspired by Tortoise’s Nick Rhodes ThinkIn, a lifelong fan of the band reflects on the way in which apparently ephemeral pop gets baked into the culture

“But it’s everything to us”. This line from Duran’s Duran’s latest single, ‘Anniversary’, pretty much sums up how my friends and I feel at the moment. 

In a dark time for the world, the many Duranies in my life have been finding light through reconnecting with each other, the music that we love, and our favourite band.

Duran Duran have just released their fifteenth studio album, Future Past, marking 40 years of making music together. Treated as disposable pop when they started, with an appeal limited to teenage girls, Duran Duran’s music was never expected to last. 

Those teenagers are now post-menopausal women in our 50s with zero fucks to give. Our conversations these days are about the cancers we’ve survived, the loved ones we’ve lost, the next generation of Duranies we’ve brought into the world and nurtured. So how are we here, four decades later and with the new album riding high in the charts?

Lives have moved on, but the music has remained relevant through all this time, with experimentation, rather than nostalgia, keeping things current – with the band nonetheless retaining the core components that make up their sound: Simon Le Bon’s harmonies, Nick Rhodes’ swirling synths, the two Taylors’ (John and Roger) partnership on bass and drums, and a series of hugely talented guitar players. On Future Past, Blur’s Graham Coxon features on nearly every track. Other guests range from Mike Garson from Aladdin Sane to Simon’s grown-up daughter, Saffron.

Live, the early tracks sound as fresh and confident as they ever did which assist the band’s longevity – as does the fact that they truly seem to enjoy each other’s company, onstage and off, an infectious phenomenon. There’s something so liberating about having nothing left to prove.

In the 1980s many bands who wore their anti-Thatcher politics on their sleeves were critical of Duran Duran, regarding their videos for tracks such as ‘Rio’ and ‘Wild Boys’ as grandiose and hubristic. But as they’ve said many times, they never took themselves too seriously. And maybe that’s another reason why their pop music has endured.

But what’s also interesting is how much the world of music has changed. In the early 80s, new music came to us from Mike Read’s Radio 1 breakfast show, Radio 2 on the bus on the way to school, John Peel when I was supposed to be asleep, or weekly on Top of the Pops.

The record collections of those of us with older siblings or cool parents were sources of inspiration too, as were the pages of the music press, such as Melody Maker and the NME. When we discovered artists we liked, we consumed everything we could, within the limits of our monthly allowances (plus birthday and Christmas presents, of course). My best friend and I planned our purchases carefully, so we didn’t double up. 

Between us we bought the back catalogues of Japan and Kate Bush. Duran Duran was the first band I was into right from the beginning – and I bought every single thing I could lay my hands on: seven inch records, twelve inch “Night Versions”, even a special Japanese import.

And we listened over and over again, too nervous to pick up the stylus mid-track in case we scratched the vinyl, listening all the way through to the end and then gently turning over to the B side before flipping back to do it all again. This level of concentration gave us time to read all the sleeve notes, learn all the lyrics by heart, and puzzle over the words etched into the run-out groove (if you know, you know).

This exploration included following the threads of their influences. Duran Duran led me to early David Bowie and Roxy Music. Even though both artists were releasing new music at that time, it was the early 70s albums Aladdin Sane and For Your Pleasure I wanted, not Avalon or Let’s Dance.

Now Spotify and Apple suggest new music automatically, based on your streaming history. Give a track a second or two, and if you’re not impressed, you can click forward to the next one, a different genre, or even spoken word. Video is still important, and as likely to influence the music scene, via TikTok, where soundtracks are a key component of posts.

Remember the sea shanty craze in early 2021?

And so to the present: I don’t think my 13-year-old self’s wildest sci-fi imaginings could ever have included being a guest in an online video question and answer session with keyboard player, Nick Rhodes. But here we were, last Wednesday, “together” at a Tortoise ThinkIn (you can watch it back here). 

As evidence mounts that artists are producing shorter tracks in line to match shortening attention spans, I was especially interested in the discussion about whether the changing ways that people consume and access music have influenced what the band creates today. Would today’s Duran Duran explorers get taken to B-sides, album tracks and night versions, or to ‘Girls on Film’ and ‘Rio’?

It was good to hear that, whilst Rhodes is relaxed about people accessing lots of little bits of music here and there, he still prefers to think in terms of bigger chunks: a whole album. The respectful ritual he acquired playing a vinyl record as a kid has remained with him, he said. Away from streaming, don’t forget today’s music consumers are rediscovering old formats, with vinyl and even cassettes making a comeback.

Rhodes also talked about longevity and how the band had managed to revive its momentum – after the almost inevitable implosion that follows five years of astonishing and rapid success. They had, he explained, gradually pieced things back together and moved ahead, with no interest in nostalgia or becoming their own tribute band.

Observing the audience at some of the band’s recent live shows, I spotted mums with daughters and whole families enjoying the music together. Male Duranies are there in force these days too. Duran Duran know how to take care of fans that have been there since the beginning, by giving us just enough new music to get excited about – whilst newer recruits have an enormous back catalogue and sets of influences to dig into, just as we did at the beginning.

They have written themselves into the musical landscape. I overheard one young girl saying, “Rio’s always been there. I can’t remember when I first heard it.” At her age I might have said exactly the same thing about ‘All You Need Is Love’.

And this is the crux of the greatest pop: apparent ephemera somehow becomes timeless. Those hits that weren’t taken too seriously when they were released, designed to be three minute wonders – well, somehow, they’re still here and so are we, proud we backed the right horses all those years ago.

Lucy Caldicott is Founder of ChangeOut, a social justice consultancy. You can find her on Twitter @LucyCaldicott.

This Slow View was commissioned from our recent ThinkIn with Nick Rhodes. You can watch the entire discussion below.

Photographs Duran Duran/BMG, Eugene Adebari/Shutterstock, Fin Costello/Redferns, Getty Images