After three years, two spin-off projects, guitarist Andy Taylor's prolonged defection and drummer Roger Taylor's mental exhaustion, Duran Duran is back. On Notorious, singer Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes and bassist John Taylor have forsaken what made them famous a sort of baroque art-rock bubblegum broadcast on a frequency understood only by female teenagers and experimentally bred field mice in favor of fey funk rock. They may still look hot, but musically these three teen idols have grown distanced and cool.
Nile Rodgers and an assortment of talented hired hands have brought a certain authority to Duran Duran; Notorious
is by far the group's most consistently listenable work. But while it doesn't plunge to past depths, neither does it scale the giddy heights of irresistible hit singles like "The Reflex." In their search for musical maturity, the surviving Durans have lost a good deal of their identity.
Instead of shrieking for emphasis, lead singer Simon Le Bon now croons like an old soothsayer on midtempo numbers such as "American Science" and "So Misled." Once an incessant whiner, he seems to have had his tonsils shellacked and the lyrics have become smoother to boot.
Simon's still a master of the memorable throwaway: "Don't monkey with my business" is the high point of the otherwise rote, Chic-influenced single "Notorious." Nile Rodgers has proved a challenging producer for some, but just as frequently he provides a sort of all-purpose backdrop: one groove fits all. You wouldn't guess that the slinky "Skin Trade" was actually by Duran until Le Bon drops from a falsetto into his trademark bark, which turns a promising Human League-style slice of funky white bread into starchy radio stuffing.
Only "Hold Me" projects like one of Duran's classic glam-fantasy launchers. And even as those staccato guitar bombs explode in synthesized gas over a galumphing funk beat and Simon's pining cries fade, you've got to wonder if this is enough fuel for the fans. (RS 492)