Pin-Up Boys

Michael Musto

Duran Duran are getting their first rave reviews since... ever! "We've never been in favor with the press until now," admits drummer Roger Taylor, 51, at the Mercer Hotel, where the band stayed while promoting their 13th studio album, All You Need Is Now.

The '80s survivors -- once dubbed "the prettiest boys in rock" as they toyed with headbands, eyeliner and hypnotically seductive songs like "Rio" and "Hungry Like The Wolf " -- are finally getting some cheering critics to match the larynx-shattering screams from their rabid female fans (aka "Durannies"). The Guardian gave the album a great review while NME printed their first favorable writeup in years. "Planet Earth" is looking more and more welcoming to these spruced up old-timers.

All You Need Is Now has topped download charts in 15 countries and paved the way for South by Southwest and Coachella appearances, a Dior "Be Iconic" campaign using their title track and general vindication all around. Their new-found relevance can be partly attributed to the album's producer, Grammy-winning hipster hitmaker Mark Ronson. As lead singer Simon Le Bon tells me, Ronson urged the guys to take note of the ascendance of the Killers, Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand and other bands heavily influenced by early Duran. "This is your territory," Ronson decreed. "I want you to reclaim that territory."

So, hungry for the airplay, they dutifully obeyed. With songs from the hard-driving "Girl Panic!" to the sweetly plaintive "Leave A Light On," and guest stars like Kelis and Ana Matronic, the unofficial follow-up to their classic 1982 album Rio combines the familiar and the new in a wall of sound that Le Bon calls "fresh and raw" à la the Duran of "naïve and less craftsmanlike" days.

The band's previous album, 2007's Red Carpet Massacre --  produced by Timbaland, Danja and Justin Timberlake -- was pretty much rejected by fans wanting more Duran and less production, though Le Bon swears it's a "great" record. Not all the other guys agree. "It was a lot of machines," offers keyboardist Nick Rhodes, 49. "Timbaland was terrific to work with and we learned a lot from it, but it was very, very different. Mark was a little old school in his approach. He just wanted us all in a room together, all playing. This album is much more organic."

"We put our heart and soul into it," adds eternally teen idol-looking John Taylor, 50. John Taylor says Ronson was very seductive but rigorous and made sure every song said something and every part had to be performance-level.

"As a kid, I was drawn to Duran because they had incredible pop songs and they looked cool and otherworldly," Ronson recalls. "When I listen to it now, it's easier to understand exactly what it is that speaks to me on such a level: the awesome combination of a rhythm section of white boys who thought they were in Chic, a guitar player who wished he was in the Sex Pistols, a keyboard player who thought he was in Kraftwerk and a leadsinger whose voice and sense of melody was unique and hooky enough to glue it all together."

In addition to Ronson's magic touch, the band is now getting specialized treatment on S-Curve, an independent label, rather than being caught up in the corporate machine of Epic Records (which for them translated to epic fail). "We're working with people that care about music," says Rhodes, "instead of an overweight, sinking corporation who can't afford their lunch bills anymore."

Helping calm the old grudges are the waves of new young and fabulous fans who openly admit to liking the band, even though that might be perilously close to admitting you worship Miami Vice, Short Circuit and A Flock of Seagulls. But Duran has finally gone beyond guilty pleasure and into the realm of durable entertainment. Rhodes says this development has been extremely flattering because it means that their music, style and personalities have been communicated to kids that are in bands now, just like Duran was inspired by musicians before them.

And the miracle of downloading has only helped the intergenerational connection. Le Bon, who's 52, thinks that kids are a lot less ageist about their music choices today because of the availability factor. "There's not so much baggage attached to a piece of music when you download one song you hear," he says, "as opposed to going into a record store and buying the whole album." Thanks to this phenomenon, his and wife Yasmin's 16-year-old daughter Tallulah listens to a diverse platter of Lady Gaga, Foo Fighters, David Bowie, George Harrison and of course Duran Duran. A good-taste gal!

Duran Duran's own influences, when they were founded in Birmingham, England, in 1978, were left-of-center acts like Bowie, Roxy Music, Lou Reed, the Sex Pistols and the Clash. "They were all pretty stylish," says Rhodes, sans his trademark eyeliner. "You needed a certain look to get into this band originally," recalls Roger Taylor. "Although Andy did join the group with a pair of dungarees on, we soon dealt with that!" He is referring to Andy Taylor (none of these Taylors are related), the troubled guitarist who left the band in 2006 after some rocky times (depression over the death of his father combined with tense relations with management) and bad jeans.

The Durans always had their eye on the visuals, both by pioneering music videos as an art form and using clothing as a flashy signifier. At their early peak, they helped start fashion trends like shoulder pads, skinny ties, bold colors and poufy hair, often doing so unintentionally. John Taylor (who's married to Juicy Couture cofounder Gela Nash-Taylor) used to roll his sleeves up to play bass more comfortably, launching a wave of copycats. However, when Simon hung weird bells from his sleeves, that didn't catch on at all; too noisy. "You'd hear him coming down the corridor, ringing," laughs Roger Taylor.

Are they embarrassed by any of their old looks? No, swears Rhodes, though he's adamant about the fact that he'd draw the line at wearing lederhosen. ("We probably shouldn't do that. Ever," he says cackling.)

These days, the trend that Duran Duran is embracing most aggressively is social networking -- a valuable tool for promoting the band as well as a way for the guys to feel more plugged in on the road. They made a conscious decision to use social media to push the album. As John Taylor explains, "I found, to my shock, that I was having a lot of fun with it. I'm enjoying the interconnectivity that comes about from tweeting and getting tweets back. We have a better sense of where we're at in relationship to our audience today."

Le Bon is loving Twitter too. (It's obviously the hardest drug seized on by today's been-there rockers.) "It's an instant two-way street," says Le Bon. "We have a lot of opinionated fans that tell us, 'You don't want to do that. Do this!'"

Imagine if the Internet had existed at the height of the group's early worldwide fame. "It would have been terrifying!" Rhodes exclaims, eyes flaring. Yeah, the mass downloads probably would have crashed computers from here to Timbuktu, though it still would have been supremely welcome. The guys remember how awkward it was to be '80s pop stars without instant communication. Rhodes recalls being on tour and having to stop at a "call box" to report stuff like, "I think we're about two hours late."

By now, the Durans even know how to talk to each other. And not via Twitter! "What's gone," Roger Taylor says, "is the passive aggressive behavior. We didn't really know how to communicate. I don't think we were taught as kids. So over the years we've come to understand each other. Everything's upfront now. If we don't like something, we'll say it."

When they exploded into worldwide success, they were too busy recording, primping, promoting and primping some more to deal with all the bubbling-under personal differences, which threatened to turn the band into a real-life "union of the snake."

Roger Taylor says that when Andy was in the group, there were daily blowups for a stretch. "But since then, calm was restored very quickly," he adds. "Yeah," agrees John Taylor. "All these issues come along and he wasn't prepared to work as hard as he needed to in order to be a functioning member of our society."

How perfect that a group who relishes in obscure, dreamy, sexy imagery thinks of itself as a society. How sci-fi! Fortunately, it sounds like the guys mainly explode with mutual admiration these days. In fact, when they recently discussed what song to do on an Italian TV show, John Taylor suggested "The Reflex" and Le Bon (who wrote the words) winced and said he hates the lyrics, so John had to assure him that they're actually quite brilliant. "We do need reassurance," Taylor tells me, doe-eyed.

Hopefully, the warm reception that's greeting All You Need Is Now is providing just that. "I'm hoping this puts an end to those ups and downs," says John Taylor, referring to the rollercoaster ride the band's been on for decades as they've gone from critically dismissed phenomenon to comeback kids to potential Hall of Famers. "You've got to prove yourself over and over again. We've been proving since 1985 that we're relevant and have something to say. It's very satisfying being able to get it all out on this album."

So they're finally grown up? Rhodes erupts into one more bout of hysterical laughter. "Grown up? Are you kidding?"

Photographed at Daylight Studios
Grooming by Sarah Appleby using Bumble and Bumble
Stylist's assistants: Kelly Govekar and Briana Affen
Photographer's assistant: Andrew Sutherland
Fashion coordinator: Diane Drennan-Lewis assisted by Brittaney Barbosa

Photo 1: (l-r) Nick Rhodes wears a tuxedo and a pocket square by Tom Ford and a tie by Salvatore Ferragamo. Simon Le Bon wears a tuxedo and a shirt by Burberry, a bow tie by Tom Ford and a pocket square by Alexander Olch. Roger Taylor wears a jacket and a shirt by Dior Homme and a bow tie by Calvin Klein Collection. John Taylor wears a jacket by Rag & Bone, a shirt by Dunhill and a tie by Calvin Klein Collection.

Photos 2 and 7: Simon wears a suit by Giorgio Armani, a shirt by Gucci, a tie by Alexander Olch and shoes by Mark McNairy.

Photos 3 and 10: Nick wears a suit by Black Fleece for Brooks Brothers, a shirt by Giorgio Armani and a tie and a pocket square by The Hill-Side.  

Photos 4 and 9: Roger wears a tuxedo by Salvatore Ferragamo, a shirt by Calvin Klein Collection and a tie and a pocket square by Alexander Olch.

Photos 5 and 8: John wears a suit by Salvatore Ferragamo, a shirt by Gucci and cuff links by Van Cleef & Arpels.

Photo 6: (l-r) Roger wears a suit by Versace, a shirt by Dior Homme and a tie by Calvin Klein Collection. John wears a suit and a shirt by Salvatore Ferragamo. Simon wears a suit and shirt by Dior Homme and a tie by Alexander Olch. Nick wears a suit by Burberry, a bowtie by Calvin Klein Collection and a pocket square by Alexander Olch.


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