Duran Duran

Astronaut

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"It's like the Mamas & the Papas meets Kraftwerk." This line, more baffling than a lyric like "Shake up the picture, the lizard mixture, with your dance on the eventide," is how Simon LeBon described Astronaut to Rolling Stone. If it was meant to lower expectations of the first Duran Duran album to feature the Fab Five (meaning LeBon, Nick Rhodes, and the trio of unrelated Taylors) since Seven and the Ragged Tiger, it worked. Astronaut, rest assured, sounds nothing like that match made in hell. Instead, it resembles what the average lapsed Durannie might expect or even hope for -- a modern-sounding mixture of extroverted dance-pop and rock, with a couple of relatively subdued and introverted moments. No sound seems forced, and you can tell that the members are thrilled to be in the same studio with one another. Despite a disparate lineup of producers, including Don Gilmore (Linkin Park, Good Charlotte, Avril Lavigne) and Dallas Austin (Boyz II Men, Janet Jackson, Pink), the songs slide into one another as well as they do on any of the group's early albums. The big, glossy, buoyant songs work best, containing punching choruses and sleekly raucous motifs that manage to trigger faint memories without sounding recycled. The lighthearted mid-tempo funk of "Bedroom Toys," however, is a randy nightmare that's almost as awkward as any of the covers on Thank You. Even with a handful of forgettable songs beyond that, the album is easily the best one credited to the Duran Duran name since 1993's Wedding Album. That's not saying much, but the fact that these five fortysomethings have made something fresh and contemporary -- without acknowledging the '80s revival(s) -- is a feat of some kind. (Note: Short-fused Roxy Music fans are advised to avoid looking inside the accompanying booklet.)

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