Review: 'Future Past' is Duran Duran's Best in a Decade

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday October 26, 2021

Review: 'Future Past' is Duran Duran's Best in a Decade

Duran Duran were once positioned as the Beatles of the early 1980s New Romantic era — their art rock background never infringed upon their penchant for a catchy pop melody. Their first three albums remain high-water marks in contemporary popular music.

In 1986, following side projects Arcadia and Power Station, and then the departures of two key members (guitarist Andy Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor, neither of whom are related), the band's catalog gets a bit dicey. Interspersed between excellent albums such as "Notorious" (1986), a big hit produced by Nile Rodgers, and "Medazzaland" (1997), a bold but obscure flop, are the half-baked "Liberty" (1990), the spotty self-titled 1993 collection (also known as "The Wedding Album" that produced signature songs in "Ordinary World" and "Come Undone"), and the uncharacteristically bland "Pop Trash" (2000).

The original lineup reunited for 2004's spotty "Astronaut," which featured a clutch of great pop/rock tracks in "(Reach Up For The) Sunrise" and "Want You More!" But a return to form wasn't necessarily going to happen simply by getting the old band back together. In fact, before the reunited band could get much further, Andy Taylor left again.

The remaining four DD originals — vocalist Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, bassist John Taylor (again, no relation to the other Taylors), and drummer Roger Taylor — released "Red Carpet Massacre" (2007), a misguided collaboration with then-ubiquitous Justin Timberlake and Timbaland, which, oddly, obscured the soul and funk influence on DD's art rock. In the time since, DD haven't exactly been prolific: Their latest, "FUTURE PAST," is only the band's fifth since reuniting. It is also their best since 2011's "All You Need Is Now," with only one album between the two, 2015's ambitious but confused "Paper Gods."

Happily, "FUTURE PAST" delivers, and plays to all of the band's strengths while simultaneously sounding effortless and inspired. Simon Le Bon's vocals are as strong as ever; he hasn't lost any range or power. Impressively avoiding pastiche, DD's characteristic style — live band instrumentation augmented with modern electronic flourishes — emerges with solid songwriting, framed by tastefully contemporary production that renders this particular collection timeless.

Uptempo, hooky songs such as the Prince-inflected "INVISIBLE," "ALL OF YOU," "ANNIVERSARY" (featuring a slinky "Hungry Like the Wolf"-esque bedrock), and the Giorgio Moroder produced "TONIGHT UNITED" are juxtaposed with songs based on DD's art rock roots — "WING," "NOTHING LESS" and the stunning album closer "FALLING," featuring avant grade pianist Mike Garson (who played with David Bowie for many years), easily ranks among the band's very best. The title track melds the best of that band's pop and art rock sensibilities on a reflective ballad about the passage of time.

The deluxe edition, not provided for review, includes three additional selections that raise the track list to fifteen songs (from the standard edition's twelve). Given what DD has on offer, it's difficult to imagine those tracks would detract from the strength of "FUTURE PAST." Not only is it their best album in ten years, in a catalog strewn with spotty albums, it ranks among DD's finest.

"FUTURE PAST" is available now.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.