Review Summary: An efficient mechanical construct put together with some genuine heart.
Trying to find the exact location of the interface between Simon Le Bon's voice and the technological razzmatazz that Duran Duran call their music has always been a bit like attempting to draw a definitive line between the two apparent sides of a Möbius strip. To the well-trained ear, the trick has always been to hone in on the emotion located within the trenches of Le Bon's voice, and then twist them away from the mechanical processes droning away in the background. It is in many respects the musical equivalent of neurosurgery (steady hands only).
However, on All You Need Is Now
- the band's first outing since 2007's ill-advised Red Carpet Massacre
- that once-porous border has been plugged completely. Gone are the readily-disassociable tonal palettes and their reducible audio segments; in their place we find instead a set of ruthless and efficient vocal performances welded firmly to a studio soundboard. The rest of the ingredients however, remain untouched: Duran Duran remain a band of huge choruses, dirty grooves, and - of course - innuendo-charged lyrics about the fairer sex. What human appeal that remains is strictly introspective and, in many ways, symptomatic of a band entering the first phases of its twilight years.
Nowhere is this better seen than in the album's first single, the titular "All You Need Is Now", which presents itself as a bizarre, self-embellishing commentary delivered in the third person but to no one in particular. Indeed, it is rather difficult to pin down exactly whom Le Bon is really speaking to as he muses, "You sway in the moon/The way you did when you were younger/And we told everybody - all you need is now." Semantical confusion aside, it is a lyric that is both bittersweet and ironic at the same time. Yet, it largely remains of secondary importance thanks to the synthesizer blurting away in the background - an electric horn on steroids that ultimately ends up winning the day for all involved.
Elsewhere, considerably lusher and warmer sounds are employed; the simmering atmosphere of "Mediterranea", for instance, is the leading candidate for the official soundtrack of the world's first electro-beach. Alongside it, the more tuneful "Leave The Light On" sings of a decidedly synthetic-sounding love - despite Le Bon's best attempts to make it sound as carbon-based as possible by using meandering, very human pleas like, "you breathe the will into the weak" and "you ease the lost cause out of me."
On this record, Duran Duran is at their most effective when it elects to play at higher velocities. The energetic "Other People's Lives" borrows some of the drugs left-over from the album's lead single and builds itself into an effective - if awkwardly-placed - mid-album suite of propulsive, bass-driven nuggets. "Too Bad You're So Beautiful" is part of the same compilation, with its pounding hook asserting the song's credentials as the next big dance floor hit; the song's comfortable segue into the elegant "Runway Runaway" also does no harm to its chances of making a good impression.
But it is the record's sixth track - the unsubtly-titled "Girl Panic!" that pledges the best return to the sentiments of early Duran Duran. This number is
, as it turns out, about girls - but in a twisted, neutron-like way. Its rip-roaring mid-section delivers the song's saccharine payload via the biggest chorus available on an album built solely on the damn things. Elsewhere, John Taylor's bold bass licks and Nick Rhodes' more danceable contributions add a bit of a party vibe into the number. As is wont, Le Bon can be heard in the foreground, reliably belting out the massive, soaring refrains of, "it's a crush panic/She's got me atomized". The song is mechanical to the core, yet it is probably the best piece cut to tape on the entire album.
Air-tight it may be, yet All You Need Is Now
is a record that is best enjoyed with the brain checked at the door. It has a blunt, unblinking tone that is focused solely on delivering the goods and not an inch more. That being said, the record is full of poignant moments that are effective enough to make one remember why it's a good thing that the Duran Duran classic line-up decided to get back to recording music together again. This is the four-piece's best effort in a while - even if they are a bit too efficient in dispensing with their humanity at times.