Ever think you'd live to see the phrase "huge emotional depth" in a Duran Duran review?
“We never get asked for our views on governments and the world economic situation,” Duran Duran’s John Taylor lamented to Time Out ahead of the band’s Australian dates.
Perhaps this is why tonight’s show opens with ‘Before the Rain’ from new album All You Need Is Now: a delightfully pompous assault of Eastern scales over the driving march of an advancing Russian army, compete with Gulag-style montages on the screen behind them – about as far from skipping along a yacht deck as can be. Although, it's probably about boffing supermodels.
Oof! You see – that’s just the sort of journalistic laziness Taylor was talking about. But we don’t want Duran Duran to be serious, do we? They’re the pop equivalent of James Bond: all expensive toys, exotic locations, beautiful women and that very British, very suave humour. It’s our one constant in this topsy-turvy world.
Le Bon – Simon Le Bon – has clearly been gargling with the fountain of youth lately, because his vocal gymnastics are more effortlessly pliant than ever. (Although he’s had 30 years to come up with a signature move; what’s holding things up on that front?)
As he leads the charge through ‘Planet Earth’ – with added, out-of-this-world synth effects – it strikes Time Out that he’s actually in possession of a voice of huge emotional depth. Let us not forget, Le Bon is the man who made "Some people call it a one night stand, but we can call it paradise” sound like a Greek tragedy, rather than a pick-up line up there with “If I said you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me?” Yet when’s the last time you wept over a Duran Duran ballad? No matter how emotive the lyrics, there's something about the glossy production, the steely ambition, or the smirking in interviews that parries the blow before it can hit home.
After a truly magnificent ‘A View to a Kill’ (Duran Duran surely sold their soul to the devil in Birmingham’s infamous Bullring in exchange for a bottomless pit of solid gold choruses), the set grinds to a halt as Nick Rhodes – eccentric, asexual fopbot from Planet LOL – has a fireside chat about Melbourne’s greatest inventions. It’s a segue into new track ‘Blame the Machines’, which, along with the rest of the new material, sounds like classic Duran Duran without being dated – but then, how could a blueprint of Chic bass lines, audacious hooks and ever-upgraded synths really date?
Half of the new album was written by guitarist Dom Brown, who may look like he’s been poached from his bedroom, but has actually toured the planet with the likes of Elton John, Lionel Richie and Take That. He may not adorn any press photos yet, but he and bassist John Taylor get stuck into many a “you’re playing guitar, I’m playing bass; wow!” clinch that alludes to brotherhood. And no wonder: he’s got a righteous arsenal of guitar tones to unleash; not least the glass-cutting magnificence of ‘Is There Something I Should Know’, in which he does duel with a sax.
Recent single ‘Girl Panic!’ – the one that cannily combined supermodels with squillions of dollars in its video clip – gives us ample opportunity to admire John Taylor’s way with a thumb, not to mention the bouncing fringe that launched a thousand slash fiction fantasies. It’s followed by ‘Come Undone’, one of those abstract ballads that should by rights tug at the heartstrings, but instead sounds slightly calculated. New funk-rap track ‘Safe’ puts back-up singer Anna Ross through her paces, and she sticks around to keep Le Bon company for the rest of the set, their timbres well matched.
As if the toffee accents and lord-of-the-manor graces aren’t enough (NB: we are approving of such airs), the next track, ‘The Man Who Stole a Leopard’, really strays into rich man’s folly. It’s a bizarre tale of a hunter’s love for a leopard, which culminates in a lengthy news clip rendering the audience, well, completely unable to dance. “Is this Nick’s idea?” Time Out scrawls in its notebook. Yes, Google confirms later. It’s down to the keyboard player’s obsession with ’60s flick The Collector.
John Taylor steps up to give us a quick history lesson about 1983’s momentous album, Seven and the Ragged Tiger. “We recorded some of it in France,” he says airly, playing on the band-as-outrageous-blaggers legend, “then decided that wasn’t really happening for us, so we tried the Caribbean. That wasn’t really working, so we got the map out and thought, where do we have the most fun?’” The answer’s Australia, of course – although, more specifically, Sydney, which earns him a bit of a boo. Amateur!
During an instrumental, allowing Le Bon to change into a spanglier shirt, tweets run down a screen behind the band, with the audience encouraged to hashtag #duranlive. With Le Bon reinstated, they bash into ‘Notorious’ and a cover of ‘White Lines’, before grinding things to a halt to try and pin some meaning on ballad ‘Ordinary World’. Le Bon dedicates it to the people of Syria… and at least it’s a track about putting first-world problems into perspective. Could have been worse. Could have been ‘Rio’.
‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ is up next – easily the hottest song in the universe; ‘Girls on Film’ be damned. 2004’s ‘(Reach Up for the) Sunrise’ fails to ignite, but it’s followed swiftly by highly flammable favourite ‘Wild Boys’, which morphs into Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Relax’. Even better.
They encore – dedicating the show to Molly Meldrum – with ‘Girls on Film’ and ‘Rio’, both of which we’ve been waiting for on tenterhooks, and which are by now so much a part of our genetic make-up that dancing around our handbags is a biological reflex. Flex flex flex. What the hell is “the reflex”, anyway?