Duran Duran: Red Carpet Massacre

The first moment I heard a bass line fart on a Duran Duran album, I had to declare it "teh SUCK". In the first few minutes of listening to Red Carpet Massacre, I could barely recognize a band of whom I’m still an ardent fan (on some nebulous level.)

Yes, that was certainly Simon Le Bon’s voice coming out of the speakers, and yes, that was John Taylor’s singular fingering on the bass guitar there. Some hint of Nick Rhodes seemed to pop up occasionally with a glittery keyboard pad here and there. Roger Taylor? I think he got buried under a pile of drum machines.

Perhaps, yes, perhaps there is a Duran Duran album lurking somewhere beneath the hip-hop and R&B veneer of Red Carpet Massacre. Something in the chord progressions or the melodies, but wherever it is, producers Nate "Danja" Hills, Timbaland and Justin Timberlake sure couldn’t find it.

In the press, Duran Duran members have talked up a big game of wanting to remain relevant, while also disclaiming the historic pop trappings of the band as an accidental side effect. (We didn’t mean to become teen idols!) It sounds like they’re hedging their bets. They’re reassuring long-time fans who also perceive Duran Duran as an art project, while attempting to court the kids of the soccer moms who listened to them 20 years ago.

Good luck with that.

The result is a Duran Duran album that attempts to keep up instead of a Duran Duran album that establishes the pace.

There is one thing to be thankful about Red Carpet Massacre — it’s not a misguided attempt to modernize the sound that launched Duran Duran in the first place. Astronaut, anyone? That album was a pastiche of a sound that requires no further revision.

Red Carpet Massacre realigns the band with an imperative that’s driven its career — to remodel the art+rock+pop formula with every album. Sometimes the renovations created something beautiful if not particularly hit-friendly (Big Thing, Medazzaland) and sometimes they ended up sounding fun if not particularly memorable (Liberty, Pop Trash.)

Duran Duran hasn’t sounded anything like Red Carpet Massacre before — beat-driven, synth-heavy. Rhodes has always had a heavy hand in the band’s songs, but on this album, Hills, Timbaland and Timberlake steamrolled over him. The blips, bleeps, sawtooth and square wave effects sound beyond Rhodes’ usual ability to play long chords with string pads. It’s the sonic equivalent of a Project Runway contestant ignoring the client and turning out something that raises eyebrows — not in a good way.

And poor Roger Taylor. The reliable, tight rock drummer is pretty much relegated to hitting a cowbell with all the sampled beats coursing through the album.

In essence, Red Carpet Massacre is a costume — a top 40 facade masking a reliable aesthetic. The title track is a rocker on par with "Hold Back the Rain", but it’s drained of any rock. The Timbaland tracks — "Nite Runner" and "Skin Divers" — have terrific beats and could light up a dance floor, but Timberlake’s "Falling Down" is a self-prophetic bore.

"Box Full O’ Honey" is the closest Duran Duran sounds to being recognizable, but the second half of the album — usually the weakest half of a Duran Duran album — gasp under the weight of over-production, something with which the band has never had a problem before.

Duran Duran makes a valiant effort to make the beats work on Red Carpet Massacre, but it just doesn’t come together. To use more phrases ganked from Project Runway, it’s fashion-now, but it’s not fashion-forward.