There was a time, only five short years ago, when John Taylor scoffed at the idea of a Duran Duran reunion.
"That's like sleeping with your ex-wife," the original bassist of the eighties supergroup told The Los Angeles Times. "That's what you do when you have nothing else left in your life. It's a statement of failure."
When those words are read back to him now, Taylor gobbles them up with a disconcertingly loud fit of hysterics.
"Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!" he barks down the line from Manhattan, where the band made a pit stop before tonight's concert in Toronto. Yes, the Fab Five are back together again in all their glittery glory. This isn't the first stab at a Duran Duran comeback, but it is the first time -- since 1985 -- that all five founding members have jumped on board.
"My new wife would have more to say about that, I suppose," says Taylor, still chuckling. He is now married to Juicy Couture co-owner Gela Nash Taylor, and claims to be wearing a pair of her velour designer track pants -- from the men's line, in chocolate brown.
"What can I say?" he finally says over the phone. "I was wrong."
Back in the day, Duran Duran was one of the first British pop groups to wash ashore during the second British Invasion. Propelled by their 1980 self-titled debut, which came with a risqué video for Girls on Film, the Birmingham boys crested across the Atlantic with frosted hair, designer duds and caviar dreams. A string of hits -- Save a Prayer, Rio, Hungry Like a Wolf -- sold millions of records (70 million to date). Teen hysteria shot into the stratosphere. Princess Diana declared it her favourite band. And wherever they went, long-legged models were sure to follow.
The cars, the drugs and the decadent lifestyle soon began to eclipse the music, which was probably never given the critical respect it deserved. Laugh at the high-gloss image if you will, but the band did pioneer the long-form video, the 12-inch remix and the now well-established practice of shooting soft-porn-style videos in ridiculously exotic locales.
Despite their stellar success, and likely because of it, the band began falling apart in 1985. "We became spoiled," Taylor says. "Familiarity breeds contempt. No matter how many sellout crowds you play to, after a while you rebel against it. You can't explain it, but after a while, you come to resent it."
Egos and hairstyles had already divided the band. Taylor and guitarist Andy Taylor (no relation) veered off to form the Power Station and discover their inner rock stars. Lead vocalist Simon LeBon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes and drummer Roger Taylor (again, no relation), still stuck in their art phase, split off to form Arcadia. The five regrouped briefly to play the Live Aid concert in July of 1985. Not long after that, Roger Taylor retired to the country, and Andy Taylor soon followed him out the door.
The three remaining Duranies carried on for a while, but after a few patchy efforts, and a massive flogging for having the audacity to record a collection of classic rock covers called Thank You, their record label sent the band packing.
In 1997, halfway through the making of an album called Madazzaland, John Taylor finally called it quits. "I stopped being a fan of the band," he explains.
Taylor spent a few years running away from his past with a lacklustre solo career. Then in 2002, his yacht came in during a chance encounter with the band's lawyer in Hawaii.
"We decided to work together again," Taylor says. "I can't explain it. All of a sudden, it felt good."
The comeback has been sweet, indeed. In the past year, Duran Duran has played scads of sold-out shows in the United States and Japan, brought London's glitterati to its feet at Fashion Rocks, picked up Lifetime Achievement awards from MTV and Britain's influential Q magazine and released the slick new Greatest Videos DVD collection. The current tour of intimate club gigs is intended to build momentum for a new album, expected next year.
No fans have fainted in Taylor's presence lately, but the excitement does seem to be growing. "Last night we played in Philadelphia." Taylor says. "Our bus was just surrounded by fans. "It's just like it used to be, except now, the fans are all 30-something instead of 20-something."
Getting to this point hasn't been easy, Taylor notes. When the band first decided to regroup, they were still only communicating through documentary videos. They headed into the studio. There was no big rush, but plenty of details to work out. "We had to decide how we should proceed, how the music would sound, who would manage us, what would we wear."
What you would wear?
"Oh, yeah," Taylor says. "It was a major issue."
The recording sessions were just beginning to bog down, when the offer to tour Japan suddenly arose. "It was straight out of Spinal Tap," laughs Taylor. "But we decided to take it. . . . And the reception was great. . . . It gave us all a great amount of confidence. Even the media was very good to us, uncharacteristically so.
"Then the phones started ringing. Every show was an event. We decided to put the album on the shelf for the rest of the year and stay on the road."
Taylor believes the time was ripe for the reunion. That old Duran Duran metrosexuality fits the new Zeitgeist.
"People in North America have changed," Taylor says excitedly. "People are so much more style-conscious than they were in 1980. We used to suffer terrible audience envy. We'd look at Prince's audience and think 'they're so much sexier than ours.' But somehow, our audience has morphed into this really cool, sexy crowd. You should have seen the New York show. You had people in Ramones T-shirts rubbing shoulders with fashionistas."
The whims of style, as Taylor well knows, are fleeting. And no matter how relevant their fashion sense might be, the real challenge for the boys now is to ride this wave back into the studio to produce an album that will prove it's more than just an eighties nostalgia act.
"I believe we can do it," says Taylor, who envisions football stadium concerts in his future. The band is still looking for a producer, and a record contract. But the news songs already laid down give him hope.
"We've got three or four songs. A few more and we'll have an album."
In the meantime, Taylor has no qualms about coasting on the old hits. "We have an incredible catalogue of material. And we're blessed with the right chemistry."
There have been a few squabbles en route. "It's hard to avoid," Taylor says.
"Nobody's stomped out yet," he says chuckling to himself. "And it came pretty . . . close a few times."
Duran Duran plays Toronto's Kool Haus tonight.