Duran Duran return to the dark side on Halloween album 'Danse Macabre': 'More Pink Floyd than pink lipstick'

Duran Duran (llustration: Yahoo News; Photo: Stephanie Pistel)
Duran Duran (llustration: Yahoo News; Photo: Stephanie Pistel)

Duran Duran first made a big splash on MTV in the iconic and aspirational “Rio” video, riding a chartered yacht, imbibing frothy neon cocktails, and frolicking in the sun with Nagel-painting glamour girls while wearing impeccably tailored pastel Antony Price suits. But on the very same whirlwind excursion where they shot that colorful Caribbean clip with director Russell Mulcahy, the camera-friendly quintet took a very sort of different cruise to the dark side, in “Night Boat.”

“It was a completely different vibe than ‘Rio,’ but it was filmed in the same place, in Antigua. In the daytime, we did the ‘Rio’ video, and in the evening, we did the ‘Night Boat’ video. Russell thought ‘Night Boat’ lent itself to a more of a horror story, a mini-movie,” Duran Duran drummer Roger Taylor tells Yahoo Entertainment. An homage to the Italian cult horror flick Zombi 2, the “Night Boat” video featured Duran Duran frontman Simon Le Bon ominously reciting Shakespeare on a deserted island, while warpainted zombies cornered and groped the terrified Roger and original Duran guitarist Andy Taylor inside an abandoned, decaying seaside cabin.

“The bad news was, I had to act for the first time,” Roger chuckles as he recalls the 2 a.m. video shoot, “but I think that was a great scene.” Andy admits that at the time, “When we started shooting it, I was like, ‘What the f*** is this?’” But for what it’s worth, the freaky “Night Boat” video was shot in May 1982, more than a year and a half before Michael Jackson’s similarly zombie-tastic “Thriller” mini-movie made its MTV premiere.

“I think we were one of the first bands to actually be using horror in our videos,” says Roger. “Nobody had really done that much before us. And those two videos, ‘Rio’ and ‘Night Boat,’ just showed the two very different worlds that we were living in.”

Four decades later, the long-misunderstood Duran Duran, who were finally inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last year, are cruising back to the dark side with their Halloween-themed album, Danse Macabre, a monster mash of originals, creepy cover songs, and eerie remakes of Duran classics. The record features Andy, who hadn’t played with Duran Duran in 17 years, on new versions of both “Night Boat” and what Roger calls one of the band’s “darkest compositions,” the Seven and the Ragged Tiger B-side “Secret Oktober.” The latter is actually one of Le Bon’s favorite semi-lost Duran tracks. “Yeah, that's really a sort of deeper cut, and it’s really beautiful song,” muses Andy. “But because we had to make hits [in Duran’s 1980s heyday], songs like that got overlooked.”

Roger points out that while Danse Macabre may seem like a departure to more casual listeners, Duran Duran have always had a dark side, despite their glossy pop-star image. “I mean, the birth of Duran Duran was really in punk — that's our origin. We've got covers like ‘Spellbound’ on this album; that song takes me right back to when I was 17 and I went to see Siouxsie and the Banshees. I stood about six feet away from Siouxsie in the front row, and it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life, absorbing that. So, I think Danse Macabre is an insight to where our darker side comes from.

“Our career is littered with these darker moments, but the critics just thought we were a ‘teen band’ banging out pop songs,” Roger elaborates, reflecting on Duran Duran’s own body of work. “I think ‘New Moon on Monday’ was pretty dark, actually — when you look at the video, it’s shot in this medieval town in France, and it was all very black-and-white. I think that was quite a dark moment. And if you think of ‘The Chauffeur’ and ‘Tel Aviv’ and ‘New Religion,’ we always had these darker cuts, particularly on the earlier records, that people didn't quite get at the time.”

“If you think about ‘A View to a Kill,’ that's very chilly, that major/minor thing. It's quite a dark melody,” adds Andy. “And [1993’s] ‘Ordinary World’ — I was listening to that the other day, and while I had nothing to do with that, when I was listening to it, it’s a very sad song, very melancholy. Maybe Simon is misunderstood [as a lyricist]. Well… I know he is misunderstood.

‘But all that really early dark stuff, like ‘Night Boat’ and ‘Friends of Mine,’ a lot of that comes off the guitar chords, and that was the side of the band that I really wish we would have explored more as we got older,” continues Andy, who originally quit Duran Duran in 1986 and then played with them again from 2001 to 2006. “I wish we’d went more Pink Floyd than pink lipstick, basically — that we’d been just a little bit more experimental. But we got so niched into ‘pop’ and knocking out hits — and you had to keep coming up with hits! I think in a lot of ways that killed our creativity, because that became the focus, as opposed to being able to make more ambient, layered, beautiful albums. We became very, very f***ing good at nailing pop songs, so that took over. That whole process, I'm still recovering from it.”

Andy is quite literally recovering from stage 4 prostate cancer, after taking a new miracle drug called Lutetium-177 that has added five years to his life. Last year, before he underwent that cutting-edge treatment, he was too ill to appear with his former bandmates at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, so Le Bon traveled to Andy’s home in Ibiza to hand-deliver Andy’s Rock Hall trophy. Just five days before that Hall ceremony, a fancy-dressing Duran Duran had played a special one-off Halloween concert in Las Vegas, dusting the cobwebs off spooky tunes like “Night Boat,” “Secret Oktober,” and “Lonely in Your Nightmare” — the latter mashed up with Rick James’s “Super Freak” — along with Halloween-appropriate covers of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black,” Cerrone’s “Supernature,” Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer,” the Specials’ “Ghost Town,” and Siouxsie’s “Spellbound.” (“There were actually people that turned up thinking it was going to be a normal Duran Duran show, and I think it shocked a few people,” Roger laughs.)

And suddenly, everything came together, almost supernaturally — with Duran Duran not only deciding to record a Halloween album, but Le Bon inviting Andy to play on the above-mentioned two Duran remakes and also a new party-starting original produced by longtime Duran collaborator Nile Rodgers, “Black Moonlight.”

“This has just been completely unexpected, kind of like a baby that's come along unexpectedly. I don't think we've completed an album this quickly since probably the Rio album,” Roger marvels. “Andy's been doing his own thing for a number of years, but we'd noticed that he was talking more and more about Duran Duran again. It seemed like he wanted to get a bit closer with us again. He’d originally accepted the offer of come to play with us at the Rock Hall, although of course at that time, we had no idea that Andy was ill. But we had noticed that he was showing interest in Duran Duran again. So, this was the ideal time for us to reunite with him.”

“It's strange, actually, because Simon came over to see me, and we were hanging out in my music room/studio in Ibiza, and as he was leaving, he just said, ‘Do you reckon I could come back here and work?’ And I'm like, ‘Mate, it's only a two-hour flight. Come any time! I'm going to get treatment and I'm going to get over this and be good for a good few years. I'm not going to pop my clogs,’” Andy recalls.

“Everything happened very quickly,” Roger says of this mini-reunion’s recording sessions for Danse Macabre. “We were sitting on an airplane on the first leg of our U.S. tour, and we came up with the idea of doing a number of cover versions for a Halloween album. [Keyboardist] Nick [Rhodes] had a piece of paper and we were all just shouting out names of songs that we liked, that we thought were very influential to us as a band. I think the list came together in about five or 10 minutes! Andy has the best ear for music out of anybody I know, and we'd worked on a lot on these [arrangements] before we sent them to Andy, but he got them instantly.”

“It's just instinctive for me,” Andy shrugs. “Simon and the engineer came over for a few days in April [2023] and they had about eight tracks or something, and I just rattled through them. They sent me ‘Black Moonlight,’ so I kind of revved up the chorus a little bit, and that worked really well, having me and Nile on that. I really didn't have to do much, to be quite honest. If I take more than three days to play guitar on an album, I shoot myself!”

Along with Andy, Rodgers, and another longtime Duran producer, Mr. Hudson, Danse Macabre also features Måneskin’s Victoria DeAngelis — who Duran Duran’s John Taylor has called “probably the most important electric bassist out there right now” — channeling her idol Tina Weymouth on “Psycho Killer.” The project additionally reunites Duran Duran with Warren Cuccurullo, who was the band's guitarist from 1986 to 2001, on the jaunty title track and a reworking of Duran’s 1993 Wedding Album cut “Love Voodoo.” Roger says, “This album is right up Warren’s street. He's so atmospheric and quite dark in what he plays, so I think this was an absolutely perfect vehicle to have us back with Warren again too.

“It's been kind like a dysfunctional family that's come back together in a totally unexpected way,” Roger says of Duran Duran’s “ultimate Halloween party,” chuckling as he reflects on this full-circle development. “But it's really, really exciting.”

Read more on Yahoo Entertainment:

Follow Lyndsey on Facebook, X, Instagram, Amazon