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Duran Duran’s seasonal treat Danse Macabre provides some much needed escapism

"Danse Macabre"

Release date: 27 October 2023
Duran Duran Danse Macabre cover
25 October 2023, 09:00 Written by Simon Heavisides

By now even their most hardcore fans know that Duran Duran have a special ability to delight and infuriate in equal measure.

While the haters will probably never admit it, deep down they have a secret admiration for the band that refuses to leave the stage. However you feel, it has to be said - how many artists at this or any point in their career would do something as off-the-wall as making a Halloween-themed album?

Oh, and it features cover versions of some well-loved classics; dangerous territory for an act who almost sabotaged their triumphant 90s comeback by releasing Thank You, a highly divisive covers collection. They also reinterpret themselves and throw a few new songs into the cauldron, leaving with us an intriguing tracklist and concept.

So, do they fall flat on their faces this time?

The omens are good. Danse Macabre’s aesthetic avoids a cartoon rendering of that most spooky of seasons and instead leans into a cool darkness, out where the neon flickers and music spills out onto a pavement slick with rain. It’s an evocative atmosphere; musically Nick Rhodes’ synths are to the fore and John Taylor’s bass prowls pleasingly, both welcome developments. Plus, not one but two ex-guitarists join the party, with Andy Taylor and Warren Cuccurullo dropping in to add muscle.

However, these are notoriously treacherous waters. Attempts to reinterpret acknowledged classics tend to draw a vociferous reaction, but a spectral version of the Specials’ “Ghost Town” defies expectations and actually works, with Le Bon sounding as though he makes an appropriate asylum-seeker referencing lyric update. More impressive is a determined tilt at the Banshees’ “Spellbound” which sounds like they’ve been waiting years to have a go. Not all the cover selections are from old contemporaries - declared fans of When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? they successfully put additional meat on the bones of Billie Eilish’s “Bury a Friend”.

It’s not all smooth sailing - the title track teeters on the edge of silliness but gets by on Simon Le Bon’s enduring chutzpah, it’s a trifle but doesn’t spoil the flow. Much better is the Nile Rogers collaboration, “Black Moonlight”. Grooving on a suitably slinky bassline and leading inevitably out onto the dancefloor, it’s both reassuringly familiar and sufficiently fresh.

Of their own back catalogue, the less brightly illuminated corners are sensibly favoured. A retooled “Night Boat” is sufficiently sinister, while fan favourite B-side “Secret Oktober” returns with an added “31st” and a slower more stately arrangement.

The attention to detail, right from the excellent artwork to calling on Bob Clearmountain for mixing duties, suggests the members of Duran Duran committed themselves to this record, it’s no half-hearted piece of product slipped out to maintain the interest of the fan base. Some may doubt it, but it’s always felt as though Duran Duran care about what they do, even at the heights (or depths) of their superstardom. This band never seemed to allow cynicism to sour their music while also continuing to look for new challenges, which surely is key to their enduring appeal.

Danse Macabre’s press release mentions “fun” a lot – usually a sure-fire indication that such a quality will be in short supply – but on this occasion, the fun does materialise. This is a stylish, warm-hearted album with a sense of humour, it takes a few risks and seeks to entertain, more often than not it does its job, is that such a bad thing right now?

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