I was only four or five when Duran Duran stormed the U.S. charts with hits like “Girls On Film,” “Hungry Like The Wolf,” and “Rio,” so while most people think of the English New Wavers’ eponymous debut when they hear the name Duran Duran, I think of their other eponymous release (a.k.a. 1993’s The Wedding Album). In the wake of Duran Duran ‘93—a more mature, more organic version of Duran Duran ‘83, and one of pop music’s most unexpected comebacks—the group stumbled repeatedly, releasing a critically-panned album of covers and two lackluster releases sans guitarist John Taylor, but it also set the stage for another inevitable return. In 2001, Simon LeBon and Nick Rhodes re-teamed with Taylor and, three years later, their sessions produced Astronaut, an album that, while decidedly retro, doesn’t necessarily know whether it wants to be Duran Duran ‘83 or Duran Duran ‘93. “Bedroom Eyes,” which, in the hands of LeBon, is not sexy, slutty, or fun, would better suit Robbie Williams, and The Killers’ recent Hot Fuss is just plain trashier and more fun, even if it does have less heart. To their credit, Duran Duran ‘04 has something for everyone: “Want You More!,” “One Of Those Days,” and the title track are shellacked in R&B producer Dallas Austin’s Pro Tools-happy sound designs, giving the songs a patently early-‘80s (if not a completely sanitized) finish, while tracks like “Chains” and “Still Breathing” evoke the grittier post-Alternative pop of “Come Undone” and “Ordinary World.” Luckily, post-9/11 tension worms its way into the Nile Rodgers-produced “Point Of No Return” (“Naivety falls from our eyes/And we’ll not regain/As we watch the tower falling down”) and election-year politics inform the buzzing, string-laden ballad “Finest Hour” (“When did our choice become erased?/Where is the violence in this crowd?”), giving Astronaut a much-needed dose of the here-and-now.
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