It’s probably fair to say that “Duran Duran are making a Halloween album” probably wasn’t on most people’s bingo sheets for 2023. And yet, here we are: the New Romantics have taken a spooky new turn with Danse Macabre, an eerie offering that dodges pure kitsch in favour of some curveball covers and icy, haunted synth-pop.
It’s hardly the Monster Mash, but still has its tongue firmly in cheek. On the title track, Simon Le Bon half-raps in a theatrical boom, channelling the vague vibe of an MC on the Waltzers at a haunted fairground. When the band opted to cover Billie Eilish’s industrial pop mega-hit Bury A Friend, they knew full well that it would raise a few eyebrows.
“To be honest, it seemed kind of cheeky,” says Duran Duran’s John Taylor, of that song choice in particular. “I really thought. ‘Oh, yeah, that'll stir it up a bit’. When you’ve been doing this as long as we have, surprise is an important weapon.”
“I do think you've got to be sensible about it, and not make it too serious,” says the band’s Simon Le Bon. “That would just be risible, if you were really, seriously, trying to scare people. There’s a humorous side to Halloween… and it has to be included otherwise I’m not comfortable with it. I don’t really believe in ghosties and all that stuff, it’s a laugh. I viewed it, and wrote it, in the same sort of spirit as one would dress up for a Halloween party.”
Penning a seasonal theme tune is a tough business; for every Mariah Carey or Wham! gem embroidered into the festive fabric forever, there are countless forgotten duds. Halloween, on the other hand, is a bit neglected. Why did Duran Duran want to go there, then?
The idea of making Danse Macabre, Taylor explains, originally stemmed from a Halloween gig the band played last year at Las Vegas’ Encore Theatre. As well as dressing up like a gang of glamorous vampires for the occasion, Duran Duran had plenty of fun with the setlist: as well as mashing up Rio’s Lonely In Your Nightmare with Rick James’ Super Freak, they covered Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer, Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black, and Siouxsie and the Banshees’ Spellbound. In other words, Halloween catnip.
“Once we'd done the show, we were sitting on these recordings of seven or eight songs that we felt pretty good about,” Taylor says. “So it was just a matter of [thinking]” ‘what's the best way of getting them out there?’”
The band’s keyboard player Nick Rhodes shaped much of the original one-off gig and subsequent album; Le Bon describes it as Rhodes’ “fantasy album” and doesn’t otherwise have much enthusiasm for Halloween. “I tend to scare the children off too much when I dress up,” he says. Taylor leans into things slightly harder. “I've raised three kids in California. So I know a lot about things about Halloween, of course,” he laughs.
Alongside the band, a number of collaborators also feature on Danse Macabre, including Måneskin’s bassist Victoria De Angelis on Psycho Killer. Taylor was originally introduced to her bandmate Ethan Torchio by his GP of all people (“he is a bit of a rock doc,” he quips) and subsequently got to know the rest of the band when they played their first show in LA. “Actually, I asked her [De Angelis] that night, who are your inspirations? She said Tina Weymouth [Talking Heads’ bassist].” When Psycho Killer made the cut, it seemed obvious to invite her to record in London.
“I'm so happy she's on the record,” Taylor says. ”They're a force right now, and she's a force for bass players.”
Elsewhere, Nile Rodgers of Chic brings his distinctive funk guitar to Black Moonlight. “He just brings joy into the studio when he walks in,” says Le Bon. “He's such a happy guy. You know, he got straight off a flight from Hawaii, drove from the airport, and came directly to the studio. We had a ten minute chat, he got his guitar out, and says ‘come on, then’”
Taylor admires Rodgers’ continued relevance and the way that he stays plugged into new music; he also cherishes the way their friendship has travelled from the dancefloor of Studio 54 to the present. “I'm so proud of my relationship with Nile,” Taylor says. “We definitely used to have a lot of fun partying, but we're in a different space today.”
As well as delving into a handful of older Duran Duran songs – a spookified version of their b-side Secret Oktober returns as Secret Oktober 31st, while Night Boat also gets a makeover – former members Warren Cuccurullo and Andy Taylor both play on the album. The latter collaboration holds particular emotional significance; ahead of Duran Duran being inducted to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame last year, the band “reconnected” with Andy Taylor, but “right at the 11th hour, we all got the word that he was battling cancer,” John Taylor says.
“Simon [Le Bon] went down to Ibiza and worked with Andy for a week, and I think it was pretty profound from what I understand,” Taylor says. “Andy was amazing,” Le Bon adds. “His creativity and his passion for music is completely undimmed. It was a joy to work with him.”
Guitarist Andy Taylor originally joined Duran Duran in 1980 and played a vital role in melding the New Romantics’ distinctive dance influences together with punk, but left the band six years later to pursue heavier influences and a solo career. Though he later rejoined for their classic line-up reunion in 2001, he then parted ways a second time. Last year, he sadly announced that he is terminally ill with cancer.
“It is shocking, [but] unfortunately, as you get older, you know, these things happen. But it was really nice to get his contributions on this album,” John Taylor says. “It’s a full circle kind of thing.” Warren Cuccurullo also returns to play on Love Voodoo, a song Duran Duran wrote in the Nineties.
The band were inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame last year. Taylor admits that it came as a surprise. “We've never really been feted in that way,” he says.
Historically, "We just took it all with a pinch of salt,” Le Bon says, “because it was always the kind of thing that we were never included in. But the fact that we've been inducted, Eminem has been inducted, Dolly Parton has been inducted… those facts alone prove how much it's changing. I think it has to adapt, otherwise, it won't survive. They have to broaden their appeal. We’re sort of in this world now, where people are getting a little bit less genre specific. They don't just listen to rap, or just listen to dance music, or just listen to rock or folk, or whatever it is. There's a mixture of things in people's lives and that is because everything's accessible. It's the best thing about the internet.”
Looking to the future, Le Bon confirms that Duran Duran have “got a definite idea of what we want to do next,” and that these plans will involve another album. For now, though, he adds, their attention is completely on Danse Macabre.
Just one important question remains, then. It's Halloween. Taylor and Le Bon both have to pay costume-based homage to a fellow musician. Who are they picking?
“It's either gonna be Ozzy Osbourne, or Madonna,” says Le Bon, slightly reluctantly. “Beethoven,” answers Taylor, quick as a flash. We’ll raise a pumpkin spiced latte to that.
Duran Duran's Danse Macabre is out now via Tape Modern for BMG