“These are days of hit and run,” croons Simon LeBon as he slams his way into what may be the most important record of Duran Duran’s nearly 30-year career with album opener “The Valley.” It’s that sort of car-crash immediacy – laced with an unhealthy-but-fuck-off decadence – that arms Red Carpet Massacre, the band’s 13th album, all the way through. Something has clicked in Duran world; they haven’t sounded this visceral and unapologetic since 1982’s Rio, or at least the Mad Max windmill-isms of “The Wild Boys.”
Recorded in record time – the band’s original follow-up to the commercially disappointing reunion effort Astronaut, Reportage, was scrapped following the exit of original guitarist Andy Taylor and a radical rethink of how dreary a political record from Duran Duran might be – Red Carpet Massacre benefits from its currency. Much of that comes from spark-makers Justin Timberlake and Timbaland (the former produced and co-wrote the lead single, “Falling Down,” while the latter had his hands on three other songs), but the fire is in the confidence of the delivery.
With Red Carpet Massacre the band mines the sequins with which they are familiar – tabloid celebrity, drugged-out depravity and the general infection of the public eye – and transforms them into a humility epic on an elecro-pop stage. “Apply your lipstick for dying in public!” screams LeBon in a break from the claustro-punk of the title track. And so they do, picking up the broken heel of their maligned career and throwing it in the public’s face. It’s a good strategy, one that allows them the “SexyBack” indulgences of “Nite-Runner” and “Skin Divers” (both cut from the Timbaland template) but also further distinguishes the signature down-key Duran moments like “Last Man Standing” and “Box Full o’ Honey” (not to mention a wealth of sonic references to past hits throughout). There’s even a blazing Winehouse moment – “Dirty Great Monster” – with maudlin “hoo-wah” backing vocals and scorching saxophone solo. This is Duran Duran rewired for the 21st century, a car wreck worth stopping for.