Duran Duran

"Red Carpet Massacre" (Epic) - 2.5 stars

Those who remember Duran Duran usually remember the hair, frosted to 1980s-excess perfection. Or maybe the videos, replete with scantily-clad, poorly-fed European models. Of course, there were also the hits: “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Girls on Film,” and “Rio.” For the last decade, however, most conversational references made to Duran Duran have been ironic and anachronistic. The band’s been branded as a Live-Aid relic, the forgotten child of the first MTV audience. Those mantles may not be deserved, but they’ve certainly stuck. Since the late 1980s, the band, fronted by Simon LeBon, has had trouble finding renewed success. “Red Carpet Massacre,” their latest, will, sadly, only prolong their quest.

It would be pointless to dismantle the music of Nick Rhodes and John Taylor as frivolous, synth-heavy fluff, because depth and musicianship were never what Duran Duran were about. Instead, their songs were meant as escapism. Just look at the imagery they chose to use in their videos: The tropical vistas, the expensive yachts, the high-class prostitutes, and the day-glo neckties all fueled the Anglo-American consumer-obsession of the Reagan/Thatcher Era. While it may seem, upon further consideration, that our current society is ripe for the triumphant return of Duran Duran, one listen to “Red Carpet Massacre” is enough for any fan to realize that the band has changed—for the worse.

Generally speaking, musicians who make successful comebacks tend to change their artistic identity significantly, maintaining their original fan base by keeping traces of their older sound intact while also appealing to a new audience through innovation. Duran Duran were never particularly artistic, churning out dance-singles one after the other until, for whatever reason, the music they made ceased to interest people. And then it was over. It’s still over. Duran Duran’s image was based on success; that they’re no longer successful renders any attempt to recapture the limelight virtually impossible.

Other than the superbly catchy title track, which is in a state of perpetual crescendo, there isn’t a single track among the dozen on “Massacre” that successfully replicates their original, sublimely artificial recipe. Missing are the lush, synthetic atmosphere, driving beat, and soaring, layered vocals that earned the group their stripes. A listen to the lyrics reveals that the band wants to deal with deeper issues, never an essential part of dance music. Of course, “deep” is relative—for Duran Duran, it’s lost love on “Falling Down” and desperation on “The Valley.” The songs are a far cry from earlier material, where subject matters ranged from girls in movies to girls on beaches. To be fair, these girls are, occasionally, in crowds.

That’s not to say that the record is a total failure. The band’s more zealous supporters will hail the album as yet another strong showing from the godfathers of modern dance music. Each track is a unique, vaguely interesting foray into synthesizers and beats—some even boast the accompaniment of Midas-touch producer Timbaland and pop-castrato Justin Timberlake. If the record ever makes it to the DJ booth, there will be a few intoxicated enough to dance to these songs, at least until they realize they’re not hearing Soulja Boy. That moment, however, will be the death rattle for “Red Carpet Massacre.”

In a world where music is increasingly digitally-distributed, it would be easy for Duran Duran to have simply released the eponymous track as an iTunes single and reaped the benefits of instant gratification. After all, that’s what they’re about, isn’t it? While the decision to make an entire album is understandable, and admirable in a strange way, it’s doubtful “Red Carpet Massacre” will make Duran Duran relevant to a new century.