It’s tough to stay at the top. Very rarely does an artiste or band remain successful for the entirety of their career. Most encounter a fall from grace and are reduced to playing dingy clubs or worse still, hanging up their microphone for good. There are exceptions of course. Kylie, Madonna, Take That etc. have all proved their durability and continue to release top selling albums and sell out arenas and stadiums across the world.
Being a band whose peak lies in the distant past of the late 1980’s, Duran Duran are more than aware of the challenges of remaining relevant in a youth-obsessed industry. They quickly discovered a long and fruitful career lies in reinvention; through updating both sound and image but retaining identity. Over the past fifteen years, they have sought to remain current through collaborating with a diverse range of artists. Previous album, 2010’s ‘All You Need Is Now’ was produced by Mark Ronson whilst Timbaland and Justin Timberlake injected R&B/Hip Hop into 2007’s ‘Red Carpet Massacre’. Overall, these paid off; Duran Duran are still fortunate enough to perform to sold out arenas across the world.
‘Paper Gods’ once again serves as a who’s-who of Pop and enlists the assistance of a range of artists to contemporise the album. Kiesza, Janelle Monae, Nile Rodgers, Linsay Lohan, former Red Hot Chilli Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, Jonas Bjerre and Mark Ronson all feature in some way whilst the other half of the album allows the band to retrieve the glory. Production duties for this album are handed to Mr Hudson, best known for his solo album ‘Straight No Chaser’ and collaboration with Kanye West on ‘Supernova’ before seemingly vanishing. Hudson’s own material was largely influenced by 1980’s elecronica and synthpop, adding hip-hop beats to guarantee its relevance in the current industry. Duran Duran were no doubt one of his own influences and this is is where ‘Paper Gods’ becomes a rather confused affair. Is Duran Duran inspiring Hudson’s sound or vice versa? Either way, Hudson injects vibrancy, relevance and enchantment into the album, allowing them to maintain their identity and signature sound but with added flare and relevance to keep it bang-up-to-date.
Production aside, ‘Paper Gods’ is not far removed from Duran Duran’s signature material from the late 80’s. The tinny guitar riffs, anthemic choruses, chaotic chord progressions and Simon Le Bon’s sturdy vocals behind the band’s biggest hits are still littered all over the album. The difference here is, the presence of Mr Hudson who frolics around with as many vocal and sound effects as possible.
Much of the album is enjoyable. The album’s opener, title track ‘Paper Gods’ begins with an endearing acapella before launching into a bouncy new-wave track featuring the band’s trademark guitar riffs and Mr Hudson having a whale of a time tossing as many effects possible into the mix. The sombre tone of 1992 hit ‘Ordinary World’ is replicated in ‘Kill Me With Silence’, a track in which substandard verses are compensated for in the gorgeous chorus but finishes with an epic, eerie distorted guitar solo. Nile Rodgers, Mark Ronson and Janelle Monrae inject funk into ‘Pressure Off’, a track which attempts to regain some of the magic found in Ronson’s ‘Uptown Funk’ and Rodger’s ‘Get Lucky’. The band are greatly accustomed with Rodgers, he was responsible for some of their most successful material, and this is evident in the track. Rodger’s signature Chic-like guitar riffs, punchy bass lines and addictive melodies result in one of the album’s highlights. ‘Face for Today’ is an enjoyable breathy pop number whilst the chaotic chord progression in moody new-wave track ‘What Are The Chances’ results in an endearing and gorgeous stand-out moment.
It all gets rather Pet Shop Boys on ‘Danceophobia’, a track so flamboyant it’s difficult not to fear the emergence of Alan Carr at any second. Catchy it may be, but lazy lyrical content and a bizarre appearance from Lindsay Lohan appearing as a doctor result in it being rather deplorable. And that’s the album’s main fault; it tries too hard to please. It’s so full of funky production elements and chaotic chord progressions that there is never a moment just to let it breathe or to focus on the essence of each song.
It’s a sound album, overall and its bold, lively nature are certainly to be commended. Sometimes, however, less is more and ‘Paper Gods’ is just a little too effervescent.
Paper Gods is available now on Warner Bros Records.