Duran Duran’s 13th album, produced by Mark Ronson, is a direct, fresh, revitalized musical statement that explains why the band worked in the first place. It wasn’t just their looks, promo machine, and perfect MTV timing: it was the fact that these guys could write songs. After their ’80s heyday, DD suffered “the Bee Gees curse:” they continued to write great songs and sell tons of records, while still incurring “the wrath or disinterest of the rock-obsessed critical establishment,” as Moby once aptly put it. “I don’t want to go back to the ’80s,” Ronson told them at the beginning of the sessions, “but I do want to go back to the band’s spirit in the early ’80s.” This is the original Duran Duran (Simon LeBon, John and Roger Taylor, and Nick Rhodes) minus Andy Taylor, who left in 2006. Apart from Taylor, nothing else is missing. The melodic sense, the groove, LeBon’s intact voice — it’s all here. Time will tell where they go from here. But the fact that they don’t sound like old farts rehashing a proven formula gives you hope that pop music won’t completely suck in 2011.