A New York Times review of Duran Duran's new album, "Paper Gods," reads "it's not nostalgia if you never stopped."
And it makes a good point: While the British pop-rock band's 1980s hits are nostalgic for both the band and its fans, it would be inaccurate to describe Duran Duran as a nostalgia band, having just released its 14th album.
"That's always been part of our thing," drummer Roger Taylor said by phone from his home in London in an interview with Best Bets. "When (the five of us) got back together in 2001, that was part of the manifesto — we have to keep making fresh music, we have to keep refreshing the brand. When we are unable to do that, maybe that will be the end of the band. It's very important to us that we're still making records."
While "Paper Gods" has some touches of classic Duran Duran to it, its updated sounds fit in with today's musical landscape. Singer Simon LeBon sounds as vibrant as ever in his delivery, and guest artists who came and went during the recording process lent the band some fresh perspective. Guests include Nile Rodgers, guitarist John Frusciante, Janelle Monae and producers Mr Hudson and Mark Ronson (who also produced the band's previous album).
"When you've been going for six months every day and somebody like Mr Hudson shows up, it was fresh energy and fresh ears," Taylor said. "And when Nile came in, it was another burst of fresh energy. It kept refreshing the project. The first guy to come into the album from the outside was (Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist) John Frusciante. He said 'I'm a big fan of you guys, I know you're making a record, can I play on it?' Yes, absolutely! So that really opened the doors to the collaboration. It was organic the way it happened."
With the new album on the street, it gives the band even more material with which to assemble its set lists. But, Taylor said, they'll still pull out the nostalgic bits, of course, as the 1980s were very kind to the band, with more than a dozen Billboard Top 40 singles, including "Rio," "Hungry Like the Wolf," "The Reflex" and "View to a Kill."
Taylor said that he's observed that fans want to hear the new music at concerts, too.
"We pick the really great stuff from the catalog and we'll do the new ones as well," he said. "We don't really have to play fillers. We've even had complaints that there were too many hits; that every song was a single. But what a great position to be in where we can do that. There are artists who have one or two records and they survive on one or two records."
Duran Duran had already released four albums when Roger and guitarist Andy Taylor left the band in 1986. The remaining three — LeBon, Nick Rhodes and John Taylor — continued on and managed to squeeze out another hit single without them in 1993 with "Ordinary World." The band largely fell off the radar after that until the five reunited in 2001 and released a new album, "Astronaut," in 2004.
Taylor said he's much more fit for the position now than he was in the 1980s, and has been in the band in its second go-round more than twice as long as the original run.
"It was an intense few years that we went through," he said of the band's 1981-1985 run. "I think I was totally unprepared for what came about, and I never thought it was going to have the intensity that it did have. In some ways, I often think that maybe if it would have happened slower it would have been an easier ride. Look at bands like U2. They've all stuck together, which I think is great, and it's probably because it was a slower transition."
A few years into the reunion, Andy Taylor left the band again, and the group filled in with guest guitarists and studio musicians. Frusciante's presence on a few of the new songs lend a sound reminiscent of Taylor's guitar style. The four remaining original members were determined to continue without Andy.
"If it did mean the shows weren't going to be quite as big or whatever, we still wanted to continue because we were still enjoying it," Taylor said. "It was very apparent that Andy wasn't enjoying it, and that's fair enough. It was time for him to step off. I've been in that position myself. ... It wasn't really working for me at that particular time, so I fully understood when Andy stepped off."
While the band has been fortunate enough to have the backing of major labels (Capitol in the '80s, Epic in the 2000s and currently Warner Bros.), chart success isn't the priority it once was.
"Our whole self-esteem used to be pinned on chart positions back in the '80s," Taylor said. "It was like, if we didn't go straight to No. 1 in the U.K., it was a disaster. (Now), I think as long as the album is well received critically and by our audience, I think that's job done, really. I think the first thing is you please yourself. But then you want to please your audience."
Duran Duran's upcoming Grand Sierra show is only its second Reno appearance; the first being in 1984 at Lawlor Events Center. With Taylor's outlook on the future of the band, it's conceivable this show won't be its last for Reno.
"Nothing's permanent, is it?" Taylor said. "But we have a very steady ship with this lineup. We're getting on really well, we're still creating what we think is great music and the live shows still seem to be pushing all the right buttons. Who knows what's going to be happening in five years, 10 years? What we do know is that the lineup is something that's still bearing fruit."