NEW YORK — When John Taylor tries to get his fellow bandmates of Duran Duran together he calls them “girls.” As in, “Come on, girls; let’s get ready for the picture.”

It might be disingenuous to say that the boys are back in town, but, after 21 years apart, those Tiger Beat pinups of yesteryear, who still inspire heaves of excitement among women everywhere — Simon LeBon, Nick Rhodes, Andy Taylor, Roger Taylor and John Taylor (none of whom are related) — have returned with a new studio album due Oct. 12, called “Astronaut” (Epic Records) the first since “Seven and the Ragged Tiger” in 1983.

This story first appeared in the September 28, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“We finally made the phone calls we probably should have made a long time ago,” says Nick, sitting with his bandmates who are sipping nothing stronger than Diet Cokes and Evian. Still, they’re very particular about their water. “Water that is real water,” Nick insists when he orders. “Not water that’s been ionized. No Coca-Cola water. No Dasani.”

Though a reconstituted Duran Duran had a hit with “Ordinary World” in 1992 (Nick and Simon have seen the band through), it wasn’t until three years ago that the five original members got together again.“Everybody was just ready at the same time,” Nick says. “It was a real five-way decision.”

“There was a groundswell of feeling,” Simon adds. “Towards the end of the Nineties you just got the sense there was a real hunger out there for Duran Duran.”

When they first reunited, they wanted to collaborate with N.E.R.D., but it didn’t quite turn out that way. “I thought about shagging Jessica Simpson, but that never happened either,” says Andy, who tends to be the most nonchalant of the crew.

Instead they teamed with music producer Dallas Austin, who has worked with Janet Jackson, Gwen Stefani and Pink. And “Astronaut” is a surprisingly optimistic disc, with a few songs that, if they’re not quite “Girls on Film” or “Hungry Like The Wolf,” come awfully close. In the refrain of “(Reach Up for the) Sunrise,” the band sings the lyrics, “Reach up for the sunrise, put your hands into the big sky/you can touch the sunrise/feel the new day enter your life.” Of course, the wily ways of Duran Duran have not gone to Rio, either. On “Bedroom Toys” they sing, “If you’ve got treasure/I’ll pay you for the pleasure/It’ll bring you to your knees.”

“We’re naturally optimistic people,” says Nick. “Then the 9/11 events happened.”

“It changed our mood,” Simon explains. “We started to write darker, introspective music.”

Despite their political awareness, the band has a fondness for the frivolous. “We’re label whores,” admits Nick. “We are insatiable for fashion.” Their favorite treat? A fashion grab. “It means free clothes in our hotel room,” explains Andy.

“We’re down to that clothes rack faster than you can say ‘Azzedine Alaïa,’” Nick adds.

It doesn’t hurt that they can get free Juicy Couture, now that John Taylor is married to Gela Taylor, the cofounder of the brand. He helps his wife design logos for the men’s line, though he insists his contributions are limited.

“If your partner is in the fashion business and only makes girls’ clothes, then of course you’re going to step in and ask her to make boys’ clothes,” John explains.

“At the same time,” interjects Andy, “Never play the wife a record until it’s finished.”

Do the boys feel pressured to wear the sweats on- and off-stage?

“It’s not discouraged,” explains John.

“All the trousers are damn long,” says Nick.

Part of the reason Duran Duran decided to go back on tour was because they like hotels so much, though now that they all live with their families — John in L.A.; Simon, Roger and Nick in London; and Andy, naturally, in Ibiza — they have people waiting for them at home.

“The routine after a show is different now,” Andy says, suggesting that there’s less cruising and boozing, “but the feeling on-stage is still fairly sensational.”

The group is especially pleased that new bands like Franz Ferdinand, The Killers and the Scissor Sisters reference the Duran Duran of old, an era the fivesome is slightly embarrassed about. “Yeah, we watch the Blue Sky Mining video with Gwen Stefani on Friday nights,” John jokes.

“It validates us,” says Simon. “We’ve never had very much critical acclaim, so it’s ironic that the critics’ darlings cite us as an influence.”

“It gives us something to talk about when we meet them,” Andy adds, wryly.

Though they seem to take things in stride, it isn’t easy to be aging rockers.

“There’s a great feeling that comes from experience,” says Simon.

“It’s been suggested that there’s a portrait of us in an attic somewhere, and it’s 82 years old,” John responds, when asked about their somewhat everlasting youth.

“Life beings at 40. Didn’t someone say that?” wonders Andy. “I don’t mind getting old.”

“Can you get old for me?” asks Nick.

— Marshall Heyman