Duran Duran 

Astronaut (Epic)

In the 1980s, the members of Duran Duran possessed everything pop stars could want. Perfectly feathered hair! Pouty visages! Swooning devotees! Drug habits! But the group's true talent was creating pop tunes about nothing -- girls named Rio dancing on the sand or "The Reflex," anyone? -- that sounded as if they meant absolutely everything when matched with libido-pumping beats.

Astronaut, Duran Duran's first album made with all five original members since 1985, successfully preserves their flair for abstract dramatics. Take the irresistible title track, a ridiculous tryst tale with alien references, which uses synth throbs and guitar strums to seduce like Kohl-smeared bedroom eyes. Or "Bedroom Toys," whose head-scratching lyrics ("I seen a lot of things/That make your chicken curl") are palatable thanks to the presence of Chic's Nile Rodgers and his inimitable disco slink. Credit goes also to the diva mannerisms of singer Simon LeBon -- whose ageless croon resembles Bryan Ferry sneaking a smoke and then inhaling helium -- for helping Duran Duran modernize its debonair art-funk and New Romantic soul. While his charms can't save the bland ballads that end Astronaut, his urbanity underscores the band's silicone-sleek throwback to its halcyon days.


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