Imagine showing up to a 1%er’s super big fun Halloween party, then discovering that they managed to hire Duran Duran to be the “house” band for the party. The band was asked to play a set of Halloween-themed music for the party.
What if the band decided they enjoyed that Halloween set so much that they decided to make a “Halloween-themed” album? Enter Danse Macabre.
That’s not far from the truth, either.
The album was inspired by the band’s Halloween show in Las Vegas last year during their Future Past tour. The band decided to make the most of it, decorating the stage and appearing in costume, including, at one point, Simon LeBon dressed in drag (gasp!). Along with many of their usual set songs, they threw in a few unique covers, like Spellbound and Psycho Killer.
You can find several videos on YouTube of various numbers from the show.
Anyway, borrowing some of the concepts from that show, their 16th studio album contains 13 tracks: three new songs, three (and a half) reimagined versions of existing songs, and the rest are covers.
I know, I know. Many fans will cringe at the thought of another Duran cover album after 1995’s Thank You. Fortunately, most of that album has faded away, except for White Lines, which the guys have performed live on tours.
I feel like this album was just kind of a “why the fuck not” project, aimed to provide a nice holiday treat to their fans.
Although they can be dark and brooding musically, which would have made sense for a Halloween album, I think the band stuck more with the concept of a Halloween party direction, so the song choices are more things that you can dance to rather than providing a sense of atmosphere.
It also doesn’t hurt that the guys are riding a new wave of popularity with both the recent new album and their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame giving them some long-overdue respect.
Overall, it’s not the best Duran album, but it’s certainly not the worst. I would have preferred they leaned more into the “dark” and “moody”, but overall, most of the songs are fine.
Some nice things about the album: Roger is here. I know it seems weird to say that. They have a perfectly great drummer, so why not use him? But, there are times when it’s felt like Roger has been skipped over on parts of the last couple of albums in favor of machines, or just that the percussions were mixed into the background. Here, it feels like Roger is more front and center than he’s been in years.
Also, the band has reconnected with Warren Cuccurullo and original guitarist Andy Taylor. Warren plays on a couple of tracks, while Andy is on most of the album.
On the new side, Black Moonlight is the catchiest of the bunch. Once again, they’ve partnered up with Nile Rodgers of Chic, and it feels like it’s almost effortless for this combo to crank out a funky dance track that echoes Duran’s past while still sounding fresh.
Danse Macabre is kind of the Halloween jam of the album. Parts of it will bore into your brain, and again, much like Future Past, fans will pick up on echoes of past Duran Duran sounds mixed into the new. My only complaint is that it almost feels too long, so it starts to feel a little repetitive by the end.
Confessions of the Afterlife is the most ethereal track that closes the album. It’s one of the slowest songs on the album; almost like it’s that “after-party” wind down. It’s full-on Duran Duran synths with echoes of the Arcadia days. It’s almost like a tradition anymore for the band to have these deep, even spiritual-sounding tracks at the end of the album. It’s a beautiful song, and Simon really pushes his vocals here.
Most of the covers are pretty good, and when Duran Duran stays in their wheelhouse of pop/funk, they sound great. Obviously,, for the most part, they play it safe with the songs, adding just enough to “Duranaize” the song without straying too far from the originals. Psycho Killer is probably the best of the bunch. Ghost Town and Spellbound are also well done.
Supernature is okay, but between its original sound and the Duranization of it, I had to Google to see if it wasn’t a lost Duran Duran song. It’s actually a cover of a 1978 disco hit, and the theme is appropriate because the lyrics talk about a future where mankind’s abuse of the environment causes the “creatures down below” the ground to rise up and seek revenge.
Things start to go off the rails with Billie Eilish and The Rolling Stones. Musically, Paint It Black is a pretty solid cover, but Simon’s determination to not sound like Mick Jagger really hams it up and ends up sounding kind of lounge-singer-y. This is one where I really wish they’d been more experimental.
Duran Duran really envelopes you with a wall of sound in their music, and Eilish’s minimalist style is the furthest thing from it. Bury A Friend sounds like someone trying really hard to transform the song into a dance track. The result is, well, different. For a Halloween-themed album, though, the original was much spookier, and the guys really suck the life out of it. I’m curious what other fans will think of it.
Then, there’s the Frankenstein track: Super Lonely Freak. The song starts out as a refreshed version of Lonely in Your Nightmare from the band’s Rio album. Perfectly fine, until… it makes a hard right turn into a partial cover of Rick James’ Super Freak. I’m pretty sure that the guys play this as part of their live set. They can definitely cover Rick James, it’s just a weird juxtaposition of the two. I’d really wish they just went full versions of both songs.
The updated tracks:
Nightboat, an update to (Waiting for the) Nightboat from their debut album, is by far the best of the bunch. The band is using the song as their opening number for their live shows. The synths Nick brings into this track really give it a movie soundtrack vibe, even a James Bond-like sound. But, the new version sounds great while maintaining much of the original vibe of the track.
Voudou is an uptempo version of Love Voodoo from the “Wedding Album” in the early 90s. It’s actually pretty good, but to me, the uptempo version takes away some of the spirit of the original. They’ve also covered this one live on occasion, and I really prefer either of them. Again, the other versions were “spookier.”
Secret Oktober 31st is a fan-favorite song. It was originally a B-side from the 1983 single for Union of the Snake. This is one where, although it sounds pretty good, it’s so overproduced that it really strays away from the original. Again, the original was “darker” and “moodier”. There’s a YouTube video of a slower, moodier live version that’s closer to 8 minutes long. The one change I like in this version is the beginning, where it sounds like someone winding a music box, and the melody starts off with those music box chimes.
Duran Duran can certainly do dark and moody, and I really thought that they’d lean into that for a “Halloween-themed” album. That’s probably where I’d say the album misses the most. Sure, the song subjects may be directly or indirectly related to the season, but really the overall mix feels more dance-like than anything.
I say, why not both? They’re more than capable of creating “dark” sounding music while still being something you can tap your feet to.
Overall, is it a bad album? It’s no Thank You, for sure. If anything, it demonstrates that Duran Duran is a perfectly great band that has found a consistent groove over the last several years, and in many ways, 40 years later, they’re at the top of their game.
Most of the songs are fine, and a few are pretty great. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, and I don’t think that was ever the band’s intent. It’s meant to be a treat for their fans, and it’s up to the fans whether they love all of it, some of it, or none of it. If nothing else, it’s some newish Duran Duran content to enjoy until they eventually wander back into the studio for the next album.
There’s nothing wrong with that.