TODAY is a double celebration for Duran Duran as frontman Simon Le Bon turns 65 and the band release their Halloween-inspired album Danse Macabre.
And even though Simon has been unwell, the singer is in high spirits when we connect through a video call.
“I’ve been so offside I was in the back of the net,” he jokes, chatting from the flat he and his family are temporarily living in.
“I’m not even at home for my birthday because we are having renovations done on our house. Did you see the story about our swimming pool?”
He and wife Yasmin, 58, decided to extend their ten-bedroom home in South West London as their three adult daughters still live with them. And reports say the pair have now applied to build a 50ft pool in their garden.
“Most people downsize and go and find a little cottage in the countryside,” Le Bon continues. “But not us, no. We’ve got the grandchildren living at the end of the garden. The babies have taken over the house.”
Duran Duran finished their huge US tour last month and since then it’s been all go for Le Bon.
He says: “We had an amazing time on tour and then I went sailing with my mate and straight back into making a video for Danse Macabre. I have not stopped.
“But it’s nice to be prolific rather than have five years between albums.”
Danse Macabre is the legendary group’s 16th studio album and follows an exceptional two years for the band.
They released acclaimed 2021 album Future Pasts and sold out shows including London’s Hyde Park, New York’s Forest Hills stadium and three nights at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.
An album of covers and reworkings of some of Duran Duran’s less obvious tracks, Danse Macabre shows their darker side.
It features collaborations with original guitarist Andy Taylor, Warren Cuccurullo, who was the band’s guitarist from 1989-2001, Chic’s Nile Rodgers, Maneskin bassist Victoria De Angelis and producer Mr Hudson who they had worked with on 2015 album Paper Gods.
“Danse Macabre is Nick’s fantasy album,” says Le Bon. “I don’t give a f*** about Halloween, to be honest, as it’s always a distraction in my birthday week.
“But it was great fun to make.
“We set ourselves a goal to make an album within a year.
“I think self-consciousness is the biggest enemy of art but this time we didn’t have time to stand back. We had to get on with it.”
The album was inspired by preparations the band were making to perform at last November’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Los Angeles.
Over a video call, strummer Roger Taylor, 63, tells me: “It was a very organic process.”
“We played a couple of shows in Vegas, which were warm-ups for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and we made one a Halloween show. It was a fun night so the album idea grew from there.”
The show, at the Wynn hotel saw the four — Le Bon, Taylor, keyboard player Nick Rhodes and bassist John Taylor — perform in various ghoulish outfits.
“Dressing up is in Duran Duran’s DNA — absolutely,” says Le Bon. “We are good dresser-uppers. The dressing-up box is the most important toy in our house.”
And they wanted to capture the energy and excitement of that show on this album.
New single Black Moonlight is classic Duran Duran and sees them reunite with Chic legend Rodgers. The band first worked with him in 1983 when he produced a remix version of The Reflex — a No1 in the UK and US. He went on to produce their fourth album, 1986’s Notorious.
“The energy Nile has is incredible,” says Taylor.
Le Bon adds: “Working with Nile is so inspiring. He came to the studio, we chatted for ten minutes, then I started singing that melody and Nile goes, ‘We’ve got it’. ‘What? It’s the first thing we’ve done’. People discount their first ideas and think something better is lurking down the path but Nile said, ‘This is as good as it gets’, which was a great decision. I am so pleased we made that song with him.”
Roger Taylor — who left the band in 1985 suffering from exhaustion and anxiety, overwhelmed by the intense spotlight — returned to the group in 2001.
He says: “The good thing about my second tenure is that it has been a slow burn. It wasn’t like jumping back into the cauldron that it was in the Eighties.”
And Le Bon reckons he has largely been left unscathed by fame because of his family.
“I am in a band and I feel the band is the family that I’ve needed to get through it.
“I had a very strong upbringing with my mum and my dad and I always try to be the best person you can be.
“I am not scared of what fame or anything does to me now. I know it’s not everything.
“I’ve got a great family with Yasmin, the girls and their partners and the grandchildren. I’ve a huge network of family who I am very much in touch with.”
Reconnecting with Andy Taylor and asking him to play on four tracks on Danse Macabre was also a special time.”
He had left the band for a second time in 2006 and was due to join Duran Duran at the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame last November. But a letter read out by Le Bon on the night revealed he had stage-four prostate cancer and his illness had stopped him travelling.
Le Bon took the award to him in Ibiza (where Andy lives) and recorded the tracks with him.
“Andy is family. We love him and wanted him on the album,” says Le Bon.
“We wanted to do as much as possible to help his situation and we’ve helped him get into a place where he is able to change his life and mentality.
“I want him around as long as we can have him.
“Recording with Andy was amazing. We recorded seven guitar tracks in two days when he was quite low.
“But Andy has been getting treatment and he is now symptom-free. This new Lutetium-177 targeted radiotherapy can give him another ten years of life, which would be incredible.
“We also played a fundraiser show for him and I heard he played a prostate cancer benefit concert the other night and got Robert Plant to play Stairway To Heaven for the first time in 20 years. Absolutely amazing. I am so proud of Andy. I love him dearly.”
Duran Duran had lots of fun making infectious title song Danse Macabre.
“It’s been called a rap but that track is spoken-word, a chant,” he says with a a smile.
“Our cover of White Lines is massive when we play live — MASSIVE. And I did one of the original white raps on New Religion on Rio. It’s interesting as I’m so melodic and harmonically-centred, so I’m pushing myself.
“The Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Kelis song Got Your Money inspired it. It’s got a cool melody and chant and I love the guitar which Warren plays. We sent it to him to record his part.
“I also love Confession In The Afterlife as our live guitarist Dom Brown plays with us. And our singers Anna Ross and Rachael O’Connor sing through the album — it’s been a real collaboration.”
Taylor adds: “Making this album has been like family all coming back together again. It’s great to have Warren on the record, and Andy and I share incredible history. I’ve never met a musician more talented than Andy — it’s been wonderful to have him back.”
There are some special reworked Duran tracks on the record as well. These include a version of the band’s best B-side Secret Oktober, now Secret Oktober 31st, plus Super Lonely Freak — a mix-up of their 1982 song Lonely In Your Nightmare with Rick James’ Super Freak — and Nightboat from their 1981 self-titled album.
Le Bon says: “Nightboat is dark, moody and atmospheric and it’s even better live than it is on the record. Live, I’m trying to channel one of my heroes Frank Sinatra into the vocal approach.”
Covers on Danse Macabre include The Specials’ Ghost Town, Siouxsie And The Banshees’ Spellbound, the Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black and Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer.
“I love that we covered Psycho Killer, because it’s a seminal piece of music,” says Taylor. “I also love Spellbound as a huge Siouxsie And The Banshees fan. I saw her in Birmingham in 1977. I was stood six feet away from her — it’s an indelible memory so I love that we did that song.”
One song that got knocked back, however, was Witchy Woman by the Eagles.
“I put it forward but Nick said, ‘No way’ and I didn’t get a look-in,” reveals Le Bon.
“Nick came up with the list. He’d wanted to do Spooky, the Dusty Springfield version, but I just couldn’t sing it over the backing and said, ‘It’s not doing it for me, I’m not going to do it’. Nick is still banging on about it.” Duran Duran’s reworking of Billie Eilish’s Bury A Friend is epic.
Le Bon says: “I adore that song and I think our version really takes it in a different direction.”
Duran Duran had to get approval from the Rolling Stones for their version of Paint It Black. Le Bon says: “When you change lyrics you need permission and I felt it needed a little updating.
“I didn’t want to do the same vocal melody all the way through the song like Mick did because it’s a moody teenager song but I am a middle-aged man. It had to be more angsty for me. I wanted to give it a bit of Patti Smith. Her version of Smells Like Teen Spirit is one of my favourite cover versions of all time.”
While there won’t be any Halloween shows following the release of Danse Macabre, the idea of album gigs appeals to the band.
“We keep talking about how amazing it would be to go and play Rio or Seven And The Ragged Tiger in full,” says Taylor.
“I went to see Peter Gabriel play So, a few years ago, and it was incredible. But we’re hopefully working on Reportage [the band’s unfinished 2005 album] next. We’d like to resurrect that.”
I wonder if Le Bon has ever thought about a solo album.
He says: “I have some songs and Yasmin is always trying to get me to record them but I don’t know about a whole album.
“I keep putting it off because Duran Duran is so demanding and I don’t want to distract from the band when we are having such a great time.
“I don’t even know about putting them out, just getting them recorded.
“The sun is really shining on Duran Duran at the moment so I think we should take advantage of that.”
https://www.thesun.co.uk/tvandshowbiz/24540343/duran-duran-danse-macabre-family-reunion-simon-le-bon/ New Duran Duran album Danse Macabre was like a family reunion, says Simon Le Bon