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Music

In Miami, a reinvented Duran Duran

On way to Miami, John Taylor describes how @DuranDuran's fresh new sound came together.

With a catalog of hits that stretches back 35 years, it would be easy for Duran Duran to give in to re-enactment, trading creativity and challenge for the black-leather Barca-lounger of nostalgia, rockers in recline.

"For an artist, that's like death," Duran Duran bassist John Taylor says. "We all get in our grooves, and you need somebody to come in and shake it up a little bit. Someone who's going to say, 'No, no, you can do this. You can put this hat on, and it suits you. You don't look stupid. This is cool."

The band that Taylor and keyboardist Nick Rhodes created in 1978 has always been fearless in seeking out new sources of inspiration and collaboration, a trait that continues to pay dividends on the Warner Bros. album, "Paper Gods," a critically lauded collection of modern dance-pop that returned Duran Duran to Billboard's Top 10 on its release in September.

The influences on the record, the British band's first since 2011's Mark Ronson-produced "All You Need Is Now," are a parade of the familiar, surprising and whimsically strange (Lindsay Lohan). Ronson is back, as is Nile Rodgers, leader of the disco-era funky bunch Chic, who will open Duran Duran's concert Friday, April 1, at Miami's Bayfront Park. Janelle Monae and Jack Ü house singer Kiesza also lend support on the album.

With Simon Le Bon's revitalized vocals oozing cynical swagger on songs such as "Kill Me With Silence," the sassy "Butterfly Girl" and the blippy title track, "Paper Gods" is distinguished by what Rolling Stone calls a "youthful sense of invention."

If Duran Duran sounds particularly re-energized, Taylor points to two new collaborators.

"The producer who really turned this album around was Mr Hudson," Taylor says of Kanye West-Jay-Z collaborator Ben "Mr" Hudson. "He was a guy whose work that I really didn't know. I knew he'd worked on a couple of Kanye songs, but I didn't know he was from Birmingham, from our hometown."

Hudson produced and co-wrote more than half of the songs on the album, including "Paper Gods," a multilayered, techno-steeped argument against the superficiality of beauty and celebrity. Taylor says it was "a big day" when that song came together in the studio.

"He was the right man at that moment," Taylor says. "He really expanded the range of what we thought we could get away with."

In the fall of 2014, about six months into the recording of the album, Taylor got an email from a most unlikely source, former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, son of former Broward Circuit Judge John Frusciante Sr.

The idiosyncratic musician, who had turned his attention to synthesizers and acid-house music since leaving the Chili Peppers in 2009, explained that he was thinking about playing guitar again and thought the Duran Duran album would be the perfect setting to experiment with it. Taylor, who says he and Frusciante live near each other in Los Angeles, but met briefly just once, is among the legions of musicians who put Frusciante on a singular pedestal.

"We're reading this email in the studio in England, saying, 'What? Is this for real?'" Taylor recalls. "I mean, for me, in the field of the electric guitar, John is one of the few players in the last 20 years that has moved it forward."

As an "experiment," the band sent Frusciante an early version of "What Are the Chances," without the vocal, which he returned with chunks of scorching rock guitar that were later layered over Le Bon's sweet vocal. Frusciante's guitar also can be heard on " Butterfly Girl," "The Universe Alone" and a bonus track, "Northern Lights."

The notion that the down-and-dirty SoCal funk of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the bedazzled British synth of Duran Duran are incompatible was disproved by Frusciante, Taylor says

"What's John really about? He's about Mick Ronson, who was Bowie's guitar player on 'Ziggy Stardust.' He's about Robert Fripp, who's a massive influence, and another Bowie guitar player," Taylor says. "And, you know, he had a Duran moment when he was a kid. He told me that he'd heard the song 'Save a Prayer.' At that point, he wasn't playing guitar, and he listened to that song, and he thought, 'You know what? If I was playing guitar, that's the kind of music I'd like to make.' And I thought, 'Wow.'"

Not that they're best buds now. Duran Duran tried to get Frusciante to contribute to another song on the album, but he declined. They asked him to join them onstage in Los Angeles. Again, he declined.

"He's not the kind of musician who's made for the red carpet. He's a different breed altogether," Taylor says. "But it was a fantastic gift to play with somebody like that."

Duran Duran, with opening act Chic, will perform 8 p.m. Friday, April 1, at Bayfront Park Amphitheater, 301 Biscayne Blvd., in Miami. Tickets cost $35.70-$135.70 at LiveNation.com and all Ticketmaster outlets. For more information, go to DuranDuran.com.

bcrandell@southflorida.com

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