Mark Ronson got it.
Duran Duran’s producers on its last four albums didn’t, none more spectacularly than Justin Timberlake. But Mark Ronson, being an avid fan of the band, did. What did he get? The understanding of what constitutes a Duran Duran album.
Many articles and reviews have already paid lip service to Ronson’s goal of making All You Need Is Now, Duran Duran’s 13th studio album, the never-recorded sequel to Rio. So too does this Johnny-come-lately review.
The DNA of Duran Duran’s first two albums can be found in little sonic hints throughout All You Need Is Now — the ethereal ostinato of “The Man Who Stole a Leopard” taking cues from “The Chauffeur”, the disco bass and prominent guitar of “Girl Panic” using “Girls on Film” as a blueprint, and the shimmer synths of “Other People’s Lives” referencing “Planet Earth.”
Some Wedding Album ideas pop up as well — “Leave the Light On” feels more akin to “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone” than to “Save a Prayer”.
Of course, Astronaut attempted the same feat in 2004 and if the outtakes on Beautiful Colors are any indication, it did not succeed. Astronaut certainly sounded like Duran Duran but it didn’t feel like Duran Duran. It was a pastiche of Duran Duran.
But All You Need Is Now? This is a Duran Duran album, in the same vein as Medazzaland, Rio or the self-titled debut.
So that spurs the question — what makes a Duran Duran album?
Ronson succeeded where Dallas Austin, Nile Rodgers, Timbaland, Nate “Danja” Hills and Justin Timberlake failed by recognizing when the band got its hook. Astronaut could have been a completely different album if someone had guided the band to putting “Beautiful Colors”, “Salt in the Rainbow” or “Virus” on the album. (The latter song did appear in the Japanese pressing.)
All You Need Is Now does not have that sense of something missing. “Safe (in the Heat of the Moment)”, “Mediterranea” and the title track all have melodies that could nudge their way into the “classic” Duran Duran oeuvre the way “Nite Runners”, “Nice” or “Someone Else Not Me” never could. And the remaining tracks (“Runaway Runaway”, “Blame the Machines”) are just catchy enough to become selective favorites for individual fans. Think “Friends of Mine”.
Ronson also manages to get the band to relax. Duran Duran is an institution, one that seems to weigh heavily on the people who make up its personnel. The last two albums felt like overeager attempts to connect with too wide an audience — the lapsed fans who were there before, and their children who could be there now.
With All You Need Is Now, Duran Duran lets go of those expectations and makes some of its most honest music in a long, long time.