You can call it the long lost follow-up to "Rio" or call it a throwback album, but make sure you call "All You Need Is Now" what it truly is. The best Duran Duran album since the 80's.
The last Duran Duran album I enjoyed from start to finish was 1988's "Big Thing", although it was quite a departure from the sound that made them famous, focusing on a lot of electronic and house music elements. But let's face it, the band has been searching to find their voice again for awhile now. Something even felt 'off' on 2004's "Astronaut", which reunited the original five member line-up for the first time on a full length album since 1983's "Seven And the Ragged Tiger". Though better than anything since "Big Thing", it was still missing that magic. Now four of the five original members, with the production help of Mark Ronson and remixing by Mark Stent, have created a better Duran Duran album than the original "Fab Five" were able to come up with six years ago.
Ronson has wanted this opportunity for awhile. A self-professed Duran fan since his childhood (no surprise when you listen to some of his work), he went into this project with the intention of making the follow-up to "Rio". The good thing is, he has pretty much done it, while adding enough contemporary sounds to keep this music sounding fresh, instead of sounding like a band attempting to recapture its glory days.
You can draw a direct line to earlier songs from their catalog a number of times throughout, but again, when the music is this good, I'm OK with that. The dance beat of "Being Followed" calls up the 'Night Version' of "My Own Way", or even "Last Chance On The Stairway", with guitar licks from Dom Brown replacing Andy Taylor admirably, Nick Rhodes' atmospheric synth fills and John Taylor's bouncing bassline sounding straight out of 1982. It's impossible not to move to this track, and it is the epitome of what the band used to refer to as 'night music'. "Girl Panic" is another track in this vein, with Taylor's bass popping all over this rocking dance track. "Leave A Light On" may just be the band's best ballad since "Save A Prayer", and you can certainly hear elements of their chilly classic "The Chauffeur" on album closer "Before The Rain".
The title track, which opens the album, is schizophrenic in a good way. The verses have an off-kilter keyboard line with Simon Le Bon's vocals slightly distorted, sounding like something from their more forgettable mid to late-90's output. Then the chorus kicks in with that unmistakeable Duran Duran sound and the juxtaposition between the verses and chorus suddenly works.
Every album has a stand-out track and I give the honors on this one to "The Man Who Stole A Leopard". Featuring echoed backing vocals from Kelis, it's the longest track here clocking in at over six minutes and it manages to sound both eerie and funky at the same time, with fantastic orchestral arrangements from Owen Pallett added to the mix. It's the crowning moment on an album that showcases Duran Duran's ability to mix dance, disco, pop and rock music into the sound that has now garnered this band, rightfully so, credit as an influential and groundbreaking act from the 80's. What may be the best thing about this whole project is, they sound like Duran Duran again (if you love "Rio" it seems impossible you would not love this), but still current and relevant.
As good as "All You Need Is Now" is, the even better news is this is just a shortened download only version, available through iTunes. An expanded physical release is due in February of 2011 that will include three additional tracks. With Simon Le Bon sounding as good as ever, the welcome presence and beats of Roger Taylor back permanently behind the drums, John Taylor's bass work bouncing on every track, and Nick Rhodes' keyboard mastery, the more material that can come from this collaboration with Ronson the better.
This download version of "All You Need Is Now" was released in the U.S December 21, 2010 via iTunes.