“Can you believe this? I’ve got to tell you something,” Duran Duran frontman Simon Le Bon excitedly stage-whispers to Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume. “When I walked onstage the very first time on July the 16th in 1980 with Duran Duran, at [Birmingham, England nightclub] the Rum Runner on this tiny little stage, the first song that I sang was not a Duran Duran song. It was ‘I Feel Love,’ the Donna Summer song — which is obviously a huge part of the Giorgio Moroder repertoire.
“That was our first song. I didn’t want to! The other guys, they forced me to do that! … Honestly, I was so nervous. I hadn’t been onstage with a band for about four years. I was cacking myself, and honestly, if they said, ‘This is going to work,’ I said, ‘Fine, OK. Whatever you guys want.’”
But the rest was history. With their classic Le Bon/Rhodes/Taylor/Taylor/Taylor lineup now solidified, just one year later the new wave legends dropped their self-titled debut album, and by 1982 they were global pop stars with Rio. But it took until now — 40 years after their first album’s release — for Duran Duran to actually work with the one and only Giorgio Moroder — or “the Maestro Giorgio Moroder,” “somebody who understands the power of music,” “a lovely human being,” and “one of my personal heroes,” as awestruck Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes respectfully puts it.
Yes, on their 15th studio LP — and first album since 2015’s acclaimed Paper Gods — the aptly titled Future Past, the Second British Invaders have at long last teamed with 81-year-old synthpop/disco legend Moroder (one of the most influential composers and producers of all time, the architect of Donna Summer’s seminal disco catalog as well as iconic ’80s movie themes like “Flashdance,” “Never-Ending Story,” and “Take My Breath Away”). During an Instagram Live chat, bassist John Taylor giddily likened this collaboration to finally getting a date with one’s middle-school crush. Rhodes describes the opportunity as “an absolute thrill.”
“I think we’re just… what do they say, ships that passed in the night? Of course we would have loved to have worked with him at any point,” says Rhodes. “He’d always been on a list. But strangely, we’d never met him. Usually in the music industry, you meet people in different places; you go to the same events and you cross paths and perhaps have a chat and say, ‘Oh, maybe we could do this together.’ But I didn’t meet Giorgio until about five years ago [when Duran Duran presented Moroder with the Inspiration of the Year Award at GQ‘s Men of the Year gala]. And then, of course we talked about working together.
“There aren’t that many people around that are on that level of sheer magnificence of the work that they’ve done. There’s a few left from that sort of generation,” Rhodes continues. “And given that he’s 40 years older now than when perhaps we would’ve first liked to work with him, he’s as sharp as a whip. It really shows you that with music, it’s nothing to do with age — it’s to do with taste and understanding. And he had all of that. And so, it was an absolute joy… being in the room with him, watching him work and figure out things.”
Le Bon admits that he “wasn’t really a fan of disco at all” before joining Duran Duran, when his new bandmates, particularly John Taylor and Rhodes, introduced him to some of their primary dance-music influences, like Chic. “I didn’t know about that Studio 54 sound until I walked into the Rum Runner,” Le Bon says. “But you know, Giorgio has come onto the [Duran Duran] scene in a wonderful way — and for us, I think it is exactly the right time. We’ve got two tracks with him. One of them is exactly what you think a Duran Duran/Giorgio Moroder hookup would sound like [the slinky, synthy Eurodisco groover “Beautiful Lies”], and the other one is pure pop [the euphoric chant-along “Tonight United,” which practically sounds like a World Cup anthem].
Le Bon says the “real common denominator between the band” when Duran Duran first formed four decades ago was actually David Bowie. And that, in another full-circle development, brings us to Future Past’s other major — and perhaps much more surprising — collaborator, Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, whom Rhodes describes as a “very special musician.” Coxon and Rhodes first met in 2017, when they participated in a panel about David Bowie’s legacy at a Sonos speakers store in London; that roundtable discussion also included Goldie, the Libertines’ Carl Barat, Peaches, and producer/Vampire Weekend founder Rostam, but it was Rhodes and Coxon who truly bonded that fateful day.
“Nick was next to me on the panel and we seemed to get along quite nice,” Coxon recalls. “He’s a nice chap. And he said, ‘You know, Graham, Duran are getting together again. It might be fun for you to pop into the studio.’ I said, ‘Whoa! Yeah, actually, that might be fun!’” Coxon confesses that he wasn’t a huge Duran Duran fan back in the ‘80s because he “was kind of a bit young” and “there wasn’t an awful lot of guitar for me. So, when I was 13, 14, I was listening to the Who and Hendrix and Cream and stuff.” But when he joined Rhodes and the other Duran members at London’s Assault and Battery Studio #2 starting in 2018, it instantly clicked. (Call this collaboration “Bluran Bluran,” if you will. Or maybe just “Dur”?)
Coxon injected the Duran sound with a cool rock edge perhaps not heard since original Duran axeman Andy Taylor was still in the fold, and he ended up having writing credits on a whopping 11 of Future Past’s 15 tracks — including the buoyant centerpiece “Anniversary,” which, sounding modern and nostalgic all at once, is packed with “Easter eggs” referencing hits from Duran’s classic catalog. (“Anniversary’s” thundering “Wild Boys” intro and “Hungry Like the Wolf”-reminiscent “do do do’s” in the chorus are the most obvious nods.)
Other collaborators on the wide-ranging album include rising Japanese post-rock duo Chai, Swedish pop sensation Tove Lov, U.K. rapper Ivorian Doll, Bowie pianist Mike Garson, English DJ/producer/remixer Erol Alkan (who has worked with the Killers, Daft Punk, the Chemical Brothers, Tame Impala, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Franz Ferdinand, Interpol, and many others), and super-producer Mark Ronson, who helmed the two albums that kickstarted the new wave elder statesmen’s recent well-deserved and long-overdue surge of critical acclaim, 2010’s All You Need Is Now and 2015’s Paper Gods.
“It’s going to sound like Duran Duran, and it’s going to sound different. But I mean that in the way that Notorious sounded different from Seven and the Ragged Tiger, and the way that Paper Gods was so different from All You Need Is Now, which was so different from Red Carpet Massacre,” Le Bon says of Future Past, seemingly modeling Duran’s shapeshifting career after their aforementioned idol David Bowie, who “made a career out of how to change his style. And he didn’t do it because he wanted to sell more records, and he didn’t do it because he thought the fans would get bored with him. He did it because he was so excited about music. He wanted to do rock, he wanted to do pop, he wanted to do funk and disco, all these different styles. And he made each one of them his own in a very special way.
“And that, to us, was the way you should do it.”
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The above interviews are taken from Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, and Graham Coxon’s appearances on the SiriusXM show “Volume West.” Full audio of those conversations are available via the SiriusXM app.