In 2010 Mark Ronson helped make something happen many long time Duran Duran fans had been clamoring for, but never quite thought possible. The pop legends found the 'Classic Duran' sound again on the fantastic, Ronson produced All You Need Is Now. Songs like "Being Followed", "Girl Panic!" and "Leave A Light On", just to name a few, sounded like outtakes from Rio that had been pulled back out and given an update, while still retaining what made Duran Duran's 80's music so electrifying. Those slinky John Taylor bass grooves matched up with Roger Taylor's beats, the keyboard wizardry of Nick Rhodes and, of course, the unmistakable vocals of Simon Le Bon. The album was, frankly, a revelation, especially for those who first started listening to Duran in the 80's.
Now we have the follow-up to All You Need Is Now in the band's fourteenth studio album, Paper Gods and a lot has changed this time around. Ronson is only present on two of the album's twelve tracks and the band is now signed to major label behemoth Warner Bros. It's frustrating that this is the album getting the major label push as its predecessor was the work much more worthy of all the attention and promotion Warners is putting behind Paper Gods.
Upon first listen I was taken aback at the complete change in sonic direction. Paper Gods is awash in electronics, no doubt due to the main producers of the album, Mr Hudson and Josh Blair. Hudson has worked prominently with Kanye West while Blair, who was also involved with All You Need Is Now, has worked with everyone from Bruno Mars to Depeche Mode. There is no doubt Duran Duran is in charge of how their albums are going to sound, through all their various incarnations with band members coming and going since the 80's, they have experimented with different musical directions constantly so this really should not have come as such a shock to me. I just figured they had finally found their classic groove again, even more so than when the original five members reunited for 2004's Astronaut, and that would continue on Paper Gods.
After the initial shock had worn off, I laid down to give the new album a proper headphone listen and it's not nearly as disappointing as I first felt. If I had to compare it to any of their past works, 1998's Big Thing comes to mind with its heavy focus on electronic dance music and that is one of my top three favorite Duran albums, so it's unfair to write off Paper Gods because it doesn't follow the same musical formula as All You Need Is Now. And there are six tracks here I'd place as great Duran Duran songs, worthy of their impressive catalog. But the rest of the material is just missing the magic of the last album and when the band is in top form. Too many tracks seem as if John and Roger Taylor weren't even in the studio, replaced by electronic drums and bass effects. And the album is anchored by the single worst Duran Duran song ever released, "Dancephobia". Any song that boasts 'Special Guest Vocals by Lindsay Lohan' is reason enough to sound the alarm, but that doesn't even prepare you for the tripe that follows. What was intended to be a fun dance track I imagine is instead embarrassingly annoying and regrettable on every level.
Thankfully as I mentioned, there are enough great tracks here to help offset the disappointment of the other half of the album, starting with the spectacular seven minute title track that opens things. "Paper Gods" has one of Le Bon's most biting lyrics in years, quite the anthemic chorus and the popping John Taylor bass that is missing far too often on the album. "You Kill Me With Silence" is another ace track that starts out with sparse synth backing before exploding into a lush chorus. It has become an instant favorite.
There are a couple of top notch ballads here as well in "What Are The Chances?" and the orchestral album closer "The Universe Alone". Of the two songs Mark Ronson was involved with, I'm partial to "Only In Dreams" over first single "Pressure Off". Both feature some of the funkiest moments on the album thanks to John Taylor's bass work and the presence of the great Nile Rodgers.
So Paper Gods is a bit of a mixed bag. However, I'm glad to see the band enjoying such a high profile again. Duran Duran has always been and always will be a great pop band and their longevity is a testament to that. There is still enough strong material here to make this a worthy addition to the Duran discography. It's just a bit of a letdown after the triumph that was All You Need Is Now.
Favorite tracks: "You Kill Me With Silence", "Paper Gods", "What Are The Chances?", "The Universe Alone"
Paper Gods was released September 11th, 2015 via Warner Bros. Records