In the early 1980s, Duran Duran's one-two punch of strapping dance-rock and male-model looks made the British quintet the biggest band of the New Romantic age.
Inspired by David Bowie, Roxy Music, The Clash, The Sex Pistols and the American disco band Chic, Duran Duran surged into MTV music-video stardom. Cinematic visualizations for the hits "Rio" and "Hungry Like the Wolf" matched the band's wild pretty boys against elusive beauties in paradise.
Critics recoiled. They predicted Duran Duran and its contemporary, Madonna, would flash in the pop-culture pan and disappear.
"There was so much negative press around the band," Duran Duran bassist John Taylor told Gambit in an interview recently from New York City. "You start to think maybe you're a fraud, you aren't the real thing."
Madonna proved her staying power, ruling charts and concert venues for decades. Duran Duran wasn't that consistent, but 35 years after its synth-washed first hit, "Planet Earth," four of the group's five core members still tour and record. In 2015, the band released its 14th studio album, Paper Gods.
Duran Duran returns to New Orleans on Sunday to play the Smoothie King Center. Chic, featuring songwriter-producer Nile Rodgers (Madonna's Like a Virgin, Bowie's Let's Dance, Duran Duran's "The Reflex"), opens the show.
"We're strangely driven," Taylor says. "But then, as soon as you feel like sort of chilling, you look at The (Rolling) Stones and it's like, 'We gotta keep going.' Because it's a privileged position doing this. You shouldn't take it for granted."
Duran Duran's early critics didn't know that Taylor, singer Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes and drummer Roger Taylor were sincere about making music. That earnestness animates Paper Gods, which features collaborations with Rodgers, Janelle Monae, Kiesza and former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante. The music is both classic and new, thanks in part to producers Mark Ronson (Bruno Mars, Amy Winehouse) and Benjamin "Mr. Hudson" McIldowie (Kanye West, Jay Z).
"What defines the Paper Gods album within our catalog is that it has a lot of voices on it," Taylor says. "That's made for a much more beautiful and colorful story."
Echoing the title of Duran Duran's 2011 album, All You Need Is Now, the tour with Rodgers and Chic is one of the band's happiest experiences. "It's almighty," Taylor says.
Rodgers probably is the most important musician to enter the Duran Duran circle. The partnership began in 1983 with the hit "The Reflex," and Rodgers produced 1986's Notorious and The Power Station, a side project band with Robert Palmer and Chic's Tony Thompson.
"When you were a 17-year-old white kid from Birmingham (England), it was one thing to be influenced by The Clash," Taylor says. "But Chic, those guys were gods. And the distance between what we were and what they were was seismic. I'm English. We're so uptight and class-structured."
Duran Duran and Rodgers connected instantly when they met in 1981.
"The friendship and the language were immediate," Taylor says. "In that moment, there was a thought, 'Hey, maybe we can do something together one day.' Because Nile and Tony Thompson were so open."
During the Paper Gods tour, Taylor loves arriving at venues early.
"Hearing Chic on stage before we play is an insane dream realized," he says. "For the audience, it's a real gift."
Rodgers sticks around after Chic's set to make a guest appearance with Duran Duran.
"Nile has the generosity, after having given all in his own show, to join us halfway through our performance," Taylor says. "There is a message in that. The message is spoken through the music. A lot of the fans have taken the ride with us. They've read the narrative. They understand. They know there's nothing cynical about it."