Duran Duran – Astronaut Review

Duran Duran – Astronaut
Epic, 2004

1. (Reach Up For The) Sunrise
2. Want You More!
3. What Happens Tomorrow
4. Astronaut
5. Bedroom Toys
6. Nice
7. Taste The Summer
8. Finest Hour
9. Chains
10. One Of Those Days
11. Point Of No Return
12. Still Breathing

2004 seems to be a big year for long-forgotten bands to try and climb their way back into the spotlight — Megadeth, Tesla, the Scorpions, even the present amalgamation known as Velvet Revolver all put together their first “good” releases since their heyday (or the heyday of Guns ‘N’ Roses, in the case of the latter). Some achieved a fair amount of publicity and popularity while others fizzled. The good news is that regardless, all of these “comeback” acts seemed to have written their best material in quite some time. It’s as if some cosmic ray has smiled upon the ’80s generation.

Add Duran Duran to this list. United with their hitmaking lineup for the first time in nearly twenty years, all three Taylors, a LeBon and a Rhodes are back with Astronaut. Whether it’s a surprise or simply a matter of the cosmic rays, it seems as if the old magic has smiled upon the Brits; much like the surprise of their eponymous disc (aka The Wedding Album) from 1993 spawning hits in “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone,” out of nowhere they have created disc of pop loveliness.

This isn’t to say that upon any listen of Astronaut that images of “Rio” or “Hungry Like The Wolf” will spring to mind. Much like other bands their age, Duran Duran has adapted and evolved their sound to the present. Unlike many of those same bands, they seem to be doing it well. One may not link it to the band of old at any time (or, frankly, even the Wedding Album‘s material), but the risk taken to progress the band’s sound to the present turns out to be one that should be well appreciated.

Opening with the first single of the album, “(Reach Out For The) Sunrise”, it’s apparent that there has been no loss in the band’s love for pop, synths, new wave, and dance. The sound is LeBon’s voice is familiar as always and the funky backbeats provided by the band’s rhythm section are rock solid. As a single, it’s definitely a peppy and catchy grabber that sticks in your head like glue. In laying that groundwork, there’s only more to follow as the album progresses. “Want You More!” is even bouncier, while “What Happens Tomorrow” is slower paced but with all of the same pop finesse. There’s really no end to how radio-friendly yet non-cloying the first half of the disc is; while some oddball tracks like “Bedroom Toys” recall Robbie Williams with a funky slow groove, it’s just all great pop music.

It is noticeable after the bouncy “do do do” refrain of “Taste The Summer” that the remainder of the album gets much darker and moody. This isn’t a bad thing, although Duran Duran were certainly never known to make bedfellows with The Cure. Still, the maturity shows through much as it did during their comeback of 11 years past as the disc shifts seamlessly to a sound still poppy but much more refined. “One Of Those Days” interjects a bit of the current popular emo sound, while “Finest Hour” sweeps with a grand smoothness that is as good as ear candy.

As typical with most pop albums (especially Duran Duran’s back catalog), there are most certainly moments of filler, although it’s not immediately bothersome as the majority of the album has a consistent feel. All of the bouncy pop on the first half of the disc starts to get grating as “Nice” fills the speakers; “Chains” lags on forever without doing anything or going anywhere, nearly bringing the last third of the album to a standstill. Truly, it’s only the songs that aren’t immediately catchy that drag it down — they’re not bad, but in comparison to everything else, they simply have no direction. Still, the disc manages to end on a high-quality note with “Still Breathing,” a very downtempo number that immediately doesn’t seem to be anything special, but with repeated listens is easily discovered to be a smart and emotional song above the typical Duran Duran hollowness.

Truly, it’s a big surprise that Duran Duran not only reconciled their greatest lineup, but also released an album made for a 2004 audience. While it’s easy to praise or recommend it, really, that’s not needed; presumably, everyone will be hearing these tunes on pop and top-40 radio stations for some time to come. Don’t bother changing the channel, either.