The Critics: Why I'm a born-again Durannie

Duran Duran Birmingham NEC The Big Re-Wind Tour Birmingham NEC

Well, it's happened. I've become an old fogey. I've watched Top of the Pops and I've had to conclude that it wasn't like that in my young day. I've shaken my greying head at the boy bands and girl bands and boy/girl bands, then I've looked over at Duran Duran's Greatest compilation, and I've noted that - vapid, flat-voiced poseurs they may have been - at least they wrote their own songs and played their own instruments. At this rate, it can be only a matter of weeks before I start saying that Margaret Thatcher was the best Prime Minister we ever had.

What is so upsetting is that I never liked Duran Duran at the time - or any of the other bands which haunted Top of the Pops in the early 1980s. Their music had no oomph to it, no sweat, no rock'n'roll (I was at a difficult age), and I was delighted when it went out of vogue as quickly as the haircuts of the men who made it.

Now the wheel of fashion has spinned right round, baby, right round. Plays are being staged about New Romantics, there are clubs in which people dance to nothing more recent than "I Should Be So Lucky" and The Wedding Singer will not be the last film to look back at the red leather jacket with a wistful tear in its garishly made-up eye. So was I wrong? Was I letting snobbishness deny me the pleasure of some wondrous pop music?

I expected Duran Duran to reassure me that the answer to the above questions is no. Say what you like about an Eighties revival, but Duran Duran are in a pitiable state. They've been dropped by their record company, and three out of the five original members have jumped ship - or rather, jumped Mediterranean yacht - leaving just pouting keyboard player Nick Rhodes and pouting singer Simon Le Bon. And it's been several years since Dawn French joked that the Le Bons must be a very modern couple, what with Simon taking the surname of his famous wife. If you want to be convinced of the duffness of the Eighties, look no further.

No one seems to have mentioned this to the people of the West Midlands. Years after Duran Duran's last hit, the NEC Arena was filled with 12,000 fans, all of whom stood up and sang along with every meaningless word from the first rumblings of "Planet Earth". We can dismiss this reception as biased, perhaps - Duran Duran are locals - but, alas, it's harder to dismiss my own urge to join in. The music was distressingly exciting.

Nor do I think I was wearing rose-tinted, taste-sapping, I-remember-this- one nostalgic spectacles, because this was not how I remember Duran Duran. Yes, I recognised the gigantic tunes, but I don't recall the band ever sounding so dark or spacey. I don't recall their industrial techno edge or their avant-garde guitar: I was expecting garbage, not Garbage.

For the sake of my own credibility, I should point out that Le Bon sings like a drunken middle-manager on karaoke night, and in his grey suit he looks like one, too. "Wild Boys" is an embarrassing Adam and the Ants rip-off, and the "why-yi-yi" bit on "The Reflex" has lost none of its capacity to irritate. Also, I'm reassured that I didn't miss anything out in the 1980s. Those old records are still blighted by the production - the trebly, headless guitars, the drums that clicked like grasshoppers, the trumpets badly impersonated by synthesisers - and by the memory of the hideous yuppies responsible for them. Now, however, in a new context, there's no denying the grandeur of the melodies. Le Bon would be on a golf course today with his near-namesake, Bono, debating the pros and cons of being the British Isles's biggest bands, if only Duran Duran had spent more money in the Eighties on singing lessons and less on Mad Max's cast-offs, hi-tech recording studios, exotic videos and exotic girlfriends. Mind you, when I put it like that, it seems like Duran Duran got things the right way round.

Culture Club, The Human League and ABC were in the same venue the previous night, on the Big Re-Wind Tour. Its recent success in America, with Howard Jones deputising for ABC, is a reminder that the British invasion of 1982-85 scored enough direct hits on the US charts to make Britpop's efforts seem a firing-squad-worthy military disaster. All the same, on tonight's showing, none of these bands seemed as significant as Duran Duran. And that's not a sentence I ever thought I'd type.

ABC's albums have aged much better than the contemporaneous Duran Duran records, but ABC have not. Martin Fry is the only founder member left, and there is little remaining of the sound that made his/their name. The craftily orchestrated lustre of Lexicon of Love has shrunk to decidedly less debonair jazz-funk, with a lot more bongo solos and sax solos than tunes. Only "The Look of Love" and "All of My Heart" shone, not least because the bongos and the sax kept a low profile.

The Human League were more convincing, but as cult oddities rather than pop giants. The women kept changing dresses, and Phil Oakey strode manfully across the stage, but this showpersonship was in stark contrast with the chilly white stage set and the robotic music. When Oakey intones, "It took seconds of your time to take his life," over a severe, one-finger keyboard figure, it's obvious that Christmas nostalgia tours are really not his scene.

Indeed, both bands seem understandably gloomy about their consignment to the oldie circuit. In his new sleeve notes for Lexicon of Love, Fry writes, "It's every band's birthright to be as self-obsessed and 'us against the world' as they can possibly be ... That's what being in a band is all about. Anything less is cabaret." But when he changes into a gold suit for the encore, and when The Human League close with "Don't You Want Me", cabaret is the only word for it.

Culture Club are definitely cabaret, but they have the major advantage that they don't care. As they went their separate ways 15 years ago, and so never had the time to tire of their songs, they're as excited to be playing them now as the audience is to be hearing them. Jon Moss powers into "Church of the Poison Mind"; Roy Hay, on guitar and keyboards, can't stop wiggling; Mikey Craig, on bass and regrettable hat, can't stop grinning. George, naturally, is delighted by the opportunity to dress up. He wears a dark suit with dramatically flared sleeves and shoulders heaped with dandruff (later revealed by the video-screen close-ups to be a layer of embroidered flowers). The costume is topped off by a tight-fitting lace hood and a tall black crown. It's the outfit that Snow White's wicked stepmother wears to the office.

No doubt Culture Club's bubbling confidence has been heated by their reunion single going straight into the top five. I'm happy for them. I'd rather listen to Boy's band than a boy band, and "I just Wanna Be Loved" is a very nice slice of reggae-pop. All the same, there's nothing distinctive about it. Culture Club's music, as ever, is so determinedly, jauntily lightweight that they will never rank alongside the Bee Gees or Abba in the mainstream pop genius stakes. The reason they can make such an effortless comeback as a cabaret act is that they were a cabaret act to begin with.

Duran Duran: Belfast (0990 321321), tonight; Glasgow (0141 248 3000), Mon; Newcastle (0191 401 8000), Tues; Sheffield (0114 256 5656), Wed; Manchester (0161 242 2560), Fri; London (0181 900 1234), 21 Dec.

The Big Re-Wind Tour: Manchester (0161 930 8000), tonight; Brighton (01273 202881), Wed; London (0181 900 1234), Thurs & 22 Dec; Bournemouth (01202 456456), Fri; London (0171 538 1212), Sat; Newcastle (0191 401 8000), 20 Dec.

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot