Tuesday, March 23, 2010

two before true

It has been a helluva week. I didn't mean to neglect my little corner of the blogosphere. Sometimes things get in the way of our creative endeavors. Thankfully, I have music as my backdrop and soundtrack everyday. So, with apologies behind us, let's move forward with the tunes I've been spinning on my old Victrola all week long. Indeed, it was a LONG week.

Before we knew this much was true, Spandau Ballet released two, bold, slightly rough musical statements. "Journeys To Glory" was their debut which saw the band plucked from the tastemaker, New Romantic glitz of London's Blitz Club and dropped onto "Top Of The Pops", tartan dishcloths and all.

Their second album, "Diamond", traded in the more stately, dramatic elements of the first longplayer for a more urban, funky backdrop. However, both clearly derived their inspiration from the dancefloor.

Now, after nearly 30 years since they were first released, and over 20 since they first appeared on CD, Spandau Ballet's first two sonic offerings have been brushed up just as the band has reformed for a reunion tour. It has been a long time coming.

The Spandau story started in 1980 with their debut single, "To Cut A Long Story Short", which rocketed to #5 in the UK. The insistent, dramatic and somewhat militaristic synth number was followed by another goosestep groover, "The Freeze", and the hunky sleaze of"Musclebound". The parent album pulled in Old English folk influences which, when played on synths, gave the album a futuristic Renaissance flair with a Germanic twist.

Together with Tony Hadley's art house bravado, which has since become a formidable croon, "Journeys To Glory" certainly didn't sound like anything else in the early decade's dawn. Even though they were joined at the hip with Duran Duran in the press, the two bands sounded nothing alike.

At this point, Spandau were mixing slightly Goth and Middle Ages imagery in their videos. Much different than the slightly futuristic and sexualized look of Duran Duran's early clips.

The video for "The Freeze" features the rare sight of a bearded Tony Hadley! I've known Mr. Hadley for nearly two decades and I've never seen him sport whiskers of any sort. However, he's always smartly attired.

As with most reissues, a slew of bonus tracks have been added to the original tracklisting. This expanded, 2 CD edition is plumped up to included non-album b-side and funky favorite, "Glow" in both its 7" and extended 12" versions, both of which have rarely appeared on CD. However, for some odd reason, the 12" mix of "Musclebound" has been strangely omitted. This is a disappointment considering the entire package is nearly complete.

The rest of the set is filled out with 12" mixes, some of which mark their first appearance on CD with this collection. For the generation that grew up in the 80s, many of Spandau's unique remixes became the soundtrack to most weekend club crawls. They were clearly influenced by the likes of late era disco as well as acts like Chic and Roxy Music, both of which are often name checked by Duran Duran as influences.

As an added bonus, previously unreleased BBC recordings fill out the rest of the package which give an inside look into the bands rugged, live roots.

"Diamond", Spandau Ballet's second slab of longplaying vinyl, was a funkier affair that dabbled with Middle Eastern and Turkish flavors. It's quixotic and somewhat confused. Looking back on it, you can hear the shift from the first album and the move toward the smoother, smoochier worldwide breakthrough of "True".

Slap bass is the order of the day for Martin Kemp on groovy numbers like "Chant No. I (I Don't Need This Pressure On)", "Instinction" (which is not a real word, BTW) and "Coffee Club".

More world music undertones are featured on the hushed tones of "Innocence And Science" and the obtuse "Missionary" which conjures up images of David Sylvian and Japan.

"Diamond" went four singles deep with its campaign having been introduced by the high octane funk of "Chant No. 1 (I Don't Need This Pressure On)" highlighted by a signature, metallic guitar riff and Earth Wind & Fire style horn arrangement.

Unfortunately, I'm unable to locate the video clip for the song without the embedding having been disabled. So, instead, let's revisit Spandau Ballet's performance of the hit on "Top Of The Pops" from 1981. Keep your eyes on Martin Kemp's wonky, bedraggled presence. What was he smoking before the show? Oh, the evils of YouTube. There's no where to hide these days.

Subsequent singles failed to crack the top 10 in the UK. However, they are all worthy of attention in the Spandau cannon. For instance, "Paint Me Down", second single from "Diamond", features a darker element and more chanting choruses. It's easy to see why it was considered a formidable follow up to "Chant No. 1".

Perhaps the homo eroticism of the video prevented it moving past its #30 peak, a far cry from the #3 success of previous single, "Chant No. 1". At the time, Mother Beeb didn't take kindly to shirtless men painting each other with tender care.

Third single, "She Loved Like Diamond", a foreshadowing of the soul boy ballads for which they became most remembered, missed the top 40 completely and crashed out at a lowly #49.

"Instinction", the final single lifted from "Diamond", restored the band's fortunes on the singles chart with a little reswizzling from man of the moment, Trevor Horn. If you get a chance to play the album version back to back with Trevor's mix, you can hear how much depth and polish he added to one of Spandau's funkiest moments.

The reissue of "Diamond" follows the same path as its predecessor. The 12" mixes and previously unreleased BBC recordings round out the collection. Of special note is the non-album b-side, "Gently". It's only one of two songs the band recorded that never appeared on one of their longplayers.

Unlike Duran, Spandau weren't prolific and had a more continental appeal. In fact, Gary Kemp as sole songwriter for the band, shows them in complete contrast to their 80s heyday rivals. Of course, the contribution of all the band members brought added depth, color and style to songs. On one of the occasions when we worked together, Gary mentioned to me that he only ever wrote enough material for an album with very little extra material available for inclusion as b-sides.

The inclusion of the remixes that were released as an EP with a limited edition, boxed set of "Diamond", are a nice surprise. Some of them were never issued on CD and appear on this collection for the first time.

Unfortunately, neither reissue was serviced with liner notes. Surely there is a Spandau Ballet historian who could've regaled us with colorful accounts of the band's exploits. But if you want to know more about a band from the big 80s that doesn't get the glory which seems to be reserved for other groups from that era, pick up Spandau Ballet's first two albums. There's more to them than "True".


  1. I honestly feel educated when i come here! I learn so much!! I'm going to track down my brother's vinyl copies and go and listen to them at my parents house this week now...

  2. @Paul - I expect a full report. There will be a quiz. :)

  3. Well if it's liner notes you need, why not use my catty, yet opinionated liner notes for my personally designed/compiled/remastered insane Spandau Ballet 5xCD + DVD Boxed Set Of God® "Canon" as a starting point? Sure, I treat 'em rough, but every f***ing thing is in there, even the weak sauce (and there's a lot of it, in my opinion). If that's not fandom, then what is? Look here and know that this project took the free time of at least two months - possibly three. You'll never find a DVD with both the EMI and SONY videos on it elsewhere... more details and what would be a big fat booklet worth of liner notes dissecting and analyzing the entire pre-2009 career of Spandau Ballet can be found here:


    I will love to get these. Especially the deluxe Diamond! What a magnificently f***ed up album that is! Not their "best" album (that would certainly be "True") but it's certainly their most fascinating album by leaps and bounds! Possibly the most fascinating album of its period, as well!

  4. @REVO - Brilliant! Nicely done job on "Canon". Love your notes.

    I'd say we're two peas in a pod on Spandau. However, I think they are quite good musicians. Having written with both Gary and Tony, I don't understand how they don't get the credit they deserve.

    "Diamond" is a baffling album. But, as I mentioned, in retrospect, you can hear them wanting to move in another direction.

    While Duran kept some of their arty, obtuse side in tact, Spandau went rawk. That may have been part of their undoing.

    I've never known a fan quite as into Spandau as I am. Pleased to meet you!

  5. I love Spandau Ballet. But it's a tough love.

    I never got to see them back in the day. I had tickets for an opening gig they had touring with the false Power Station, but Steve Norman's broken leg put the kibosh on that, damnit. If they came within 200 miles of my home would I see them? Sure, I'd have to. But the first three albums are the goods for me. I'm not even sure I want to hear the new one as I'm fairly certain that it would not sound remotely like what I'd love to hear from these guys. And yes, Martin Kemp is a stylish bass player. Okay, so he's no Derek Forbes, but who is? In retrospect, keys were not the band's strong suit and Jess Bailey came along just in time. Gary Kemp was all over the map with his guitar playing, and for that I am thankful that he didn't stay in a rut. But it's the thin, funky period that I could loop all night on repeat.

    I've thought of making a Chant No. 1 disc with every version I have of that tune. Alone, none of them are long enough!

    All of the bands that I'm a fervent fan of have portions (sometimes large portions) of their career arc where I am less than forgiving. Don't get me started on ABC, Ultravox, Simple Minds, OMD, The Blue Nile...

  6. Seeing Spandau with Tears For Fears as support on April 21st! Can't wait. I love these 2 albums. Although I do think Parade is underrated and the title track from Through The Barricades is a classic. Wonderful post. cheers, hatzij

  7. @REVO - Flitted around your site. We have very similar taste in music. A couple of requests. Do you have a great, clean, digital copy of the 12" extended mix of "Fight For Ourselves" by Spandau Ballet?

    Also, any chance I can get a copy of "Elaine", your Frazier Chorus set? It's lovely! I have everything digitally expect the 4AD stuff. I might have some rarities for you since I'm good friends with Tim Freeman.

    Thanks for all your fantastic comments!

  8. One of the best things about the interweb is that that all of us generation "Jones" - thats the generation that straddles the baby boombers and Gen X'ers can finally have our say and influence others! We are the ones who took Punk and New Wave into the charts by actually buying the records and then the CD's. We are primarily "First Adopters" in fact if it wasn't for us most wouldn't even know what that meant.
    But I digress. Spandau Ballet, for this Queens, NYC boy was one of those pleasures that I chose not to share with friends. I wanted them all to myself - add ABC, Simple Minds, early Duran and so many more. When they played the Savoy in Mid town Manhattan, around the time of True first being released I found myself with tickets to both Big Country at Roseland Ballroom and Spandau! But the music gods were with me and my friends as Big Country went on early and Spandau went on late as they were playing what was normally a nightclub as well as a concert space. We sacrificed Big Country's encore's to make sure we had time to get ourselves down front for Spandau! AND WAS IT EVER A GREAT SHOW! As pop show's go, it ranks up there with ABC's Lexicon of Love tour and Soft Cell's final tour for This Last Night in Sodom!

  9. Well, the reviews are in on the Spandau deluxe remasters. Looks like the same frightful re-mastering that scuttled "Reformation" [http://www.amazon.com/review/RPG1240DCU83S/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm] is at the fore on these new ones:


    I find it amazing that all ten reviews give it a horrible rating due solely to the harsh, compressed remastering. I'm gobsmacked. Can all ten reviewers be audiophile veterans of the "loudness wars"? Or is this RM job so bad as to make casual listeners sit up and notice? Your thoughts, Vinny?

  10. @REVO - Yes. There is compression. Yes. Just like most remasters it suffers from loudness. However, and I've done a lot of these, I didn't think it was awful.

    If you want awful, take a listen to the first disc of the remastered edition of Duran Duran's debut album. I thought my teeth were gonna rattle out of head. Way too much treble. Very brittle. An example how NOT to do it.

    I think a lot of people immediately say the remastering is crappy as a force of habit. But the Duran debacle is truly awful.

  11. Thought I would add to these comments because I went to see Spandau/Tears For Fears on a double bill last night at Sandalford Winery just north of Perth, Australia. It was a beautiful night and both bands were AWESOME. Spandau particularly were in amazing form and really had the crowd screaming and singing along. It was the first date of the Australian tour and if this was any indication, its going to be a barnstormer! Spandau played pretty much everything you would expect for a greatest hits show, so I was only mildly disappointed that they didnt play Be Free With Your Love, which is one of my fave late Spandau songs. As for TFF, they did a shorter set, but managed to cram in a couple of lesser known songs along with the big hits. Unfortunately no encore, but the audience really got carried away with Shout as the final song. I hope both bands come back on their own next time! And not too long away either.
    Am pleased to hear that you dont think the Spandau remasters are too bad, Vinny, cos I wanted to get them, but was put off by some of the comments Id read. Very disappointed to hear about the Duran re-issues, since I was definitely looking forward to both of those as well. I wonder how the next set [Notorious/Big Thing] will sound! At the moment, its not encouraging! Its a pity too, cos if they had been decent then they would definitely have got my dollar. Oh well :)


  12. @OberonOZ - I hope Spandau visit the US. Both Gary and Tony have told me they are working on it. And I'm so glad to hear you like "Be Free With Your Love". One of my faves, too! I was hoping they would have played it when I saw them last October.

  13. For your sake I hope so too! I know you would LOVE it! They were so on form and cool live. I was very impressed. The audience went wild for all the hits, even the ones Revo didnt like!! hehe I would happily have swapped We Are Virgin for Be Free WIth Your Love, but they seemed very happy to be playing it. Said that during soundcheck at the winery, being out in the sun etc reminded them of Live Aid. It really was a great show tho. Id love to have met them, maybe have got some stuff signed, but alas it was not to be. Other than that, it was perfect. Almost every bit as good if not better than that last time I saw them in 86! Alas, if Steve is older now, at least I was a lot closer than back then :)