Astronaut marks the return of Duran Duran under its original line-up. Despite the release of several albums in the 90's, the band hadn't been able to successfully bridge the gap between the 80's and the 21st century, except for The Wedding Album and the "White Lines" cover, which for a brief moment reminded us that they were still able to cut catchy glitz-pop tunes. But now that Simon Le Bon, John Taylor and Nick Rhodes are back together and that their former fill-in guitaristthat bare-chested muscle dudehas left, taking with him his air head solos, Duran Duran has gotten back to their roots with a highly anticipated new album.
And the good news is that Astronaut is real Duran Duran, contrary to that 90's fluff they served us under various incarnations. The proof is certainly "Sunrise", the anthemic album opener, which is certainly their catchiest single since "A View To A Kill". Close your eyes and listen to the song and you will travel back to the 80's, even though they have slightly updated their sound, making it contemporary and not just a deliberately old-fashioned. While the light electro-pop is still present, in the background the 2004 edition of Duran Duran is sexy, funky with a hint of disco and more sophisticatedwe even get to hear an orchestra on the closing track, the beautiful and lengthy "Still Breathing".
While these new songs are mostly based on the band's emblematic combination of keyboards, guitars and Le Bon's voice, each track has its own distinctive flavor.
"Bedroom Toys" and "Taste The Summer" are the funkiest and sexiest tracks, as you would expect from their titles and lyrics; a bit surprising at first, they end up growing on you after several spins. "Want You More!" and "Astronaut" are electronic-funk-disco, in the continuation of the precedent CD, Pop Trash. While "Nice" is typical Duran Duranthink Seven & The Ragged Tiger, "Chains" and "One Of These Days" are the weakest entries here, laborious mid-tempo rock ballads that don't seem to go anywhere.
Fortunately, the band hasn't lost its propensity to pen dreamy choruses. The rocking "What Happens Tomorrow" as well as the mellow electronic "Finest Hour" & "Point Of No Return" are viciously seductive, much like in the vein of The Wedding Album's "Ordinary World" and "Come Undone".
Despite its title, Astronaut doesn't explore new territories, rather breathing life back into their own legend. And that's for the better, since that's what we were waiting for after a long and dry decade. Sometimes going back to what you know best is the right step toward a new beginning, rather than risky musical reinvention. Thankfully, Duran Duran were wise enough to play it safe, contrary to their fellow band Tears For Fears who managed to alienate their fans with their suicidal folky turn à la Mighty Wind.