So, listening to the new Duran Duran album, one can’t help but admire the group for trying to update their sound via a truly risky route. Timbaland may be production gold to most, but his aggressively odd production doesn’t always mesh well with established acts. Plus, after missteps like his own solo joint, and the M.I.A. collab that is almost painfully brutish, his track record is no longer untarnished. So the fact that Timbaland, and his protégé Nate “Danja” Hills, basically sculpt Duran Duran (what is it, v13.0 now? something like that) is more fraught than it might have been a year or two ago.
The results are mixed. On one hand it’s a testament to Simon LeBon, Taylor, and the Rhodeses’ nimbleness that they end up sounding just like Duran Duran, despite the hip-pop backing beats. For the most part their pop smarts reign supreme, and the band actually turns in one of its best efforts in ages. At the same time, it’s weird that the flattest tracks on the album are the ones featuring Timbaland and Justin Timberlake. “Nite Runner” and “Skin Divers” feel constricted and too heavily scripted, and stand in stark contrast to the freewheeling white-boy funkiness of tracks like “The Valley” and “Tempted.” For the record, Timbaland does turn in one winner, “Zoom In,” even if I could have done without the race-car revving sound effect that pops up throughout that tune.
So Duran Duran proves they can still pen a winning pop single that sounds of the moment, but they also display, yet again, their inability to actually produce a solid album of pop singles. The album has too many turgid tunes weighed down by their own sense of misplaced drama — and one inexplicable instrumental track — and it’s these that ultimately torpedo the disc as a whole. I almost wish they had truly embraced the “now” and just released a series of digital singles … and maybe a couple cool globe-trotting videos to go along with those singles.
Photo from the band’s MySpace page by Kristin Burns