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Spandau Ballet: Journeys to Glory (1981) and True (1983) April 4, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Music.
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Spandau Ballet: Journeys to Glory

Spandau Ballet: Journeys to Glory

Like I said a few posts back, talking about all the Ultravox-related activity these days, the 1980s never ended. Following Ultravox’s lead, New Romantics turned soul boys Spandau Ballet have reformed for a concert tour. I’m not interested in seeing them live, but the news got me to dig out the two Spandau albums I own, for the first listen in a few years.

Spandau Ballet initially seemed to be more about being fashionable young things in the right scene than about music. I remember hearing their first album, 1981’s Journeys to Glory, the same night I first heard New Order’s debut album, Movement. I went out and bought my own copy of Movement shortly thereafter; I didn’t get around to Journeys until several years later, when I found a cheap copy in a delete bin.

Unlike the people who made up New Romantic forebears Japan, Visage, and Ultravox, Spandau Ballet were young and inexperienced, and the album shows it. The songwriting, musicianship, and singing all leave a lot to be desired. Tony Hadley’s singing ranges from pompous bellow to awkward croon, and the band’s music tends to robotic, stiff attempts at synth-led funk rock that’s neither funky nor rocking. But it’s not without its charms.

Side one has the hit songs (well, hits in the UK, at least) with “To Cut a Long Story Short,” an undeniably catchy dance stomper driven by a sharp synthesizer riff, and “Musclebound,” a slow thumper of a tune. Side two’s “The Freeze” and “Confused” hold up relatively well, as more straightforward dance and pop songs respectively. But Journeys to Glory is still a first effort that’s very much of its moment.

I never heard their second album Diamond, just a couple singles that didn’t really catch my attention. But in 1983 everyone would hear Spandau Ballet, as they hit big with their breakthrough album True.

Spandau Ballet: True

Spandau Ballet: True

True sounded like the work of a different band entirely. Hadley’s mannered singing had improved considerably, as had the rest of the band’s musicianship, but more importantly, they were moving into another UK musical scene, the early ’80s pop revival drawing heavily on soul and R&B. ABC, Culture Club, Heaven 17, and the Style Council were doing something somewhat similar, as would Sade a year later. True was a blend of slick pop with soul, light funk, and a touch of jazz, much catchier and lighter on its feet than the often leaden Journeys to Glory.

Not that the critics appreciated the new direction much more than the old one; though the album, and especially the single “True,” was a huge commercial hit, the album didn’t get a lot of critical respect. It’s true, listening to “listening to Marvin all night long,” to quote one line, is not really like listening to Marvin Gaye. But so what? If it’s plastic whiteboy soul revivalism that’s not really anything like real soul music, why not see it as its own thing and judge it accordingly? It’s light, airy, catchy, disposable fun. It’s certainly aged a lot better than Spandau’s other albums, and they never recaptured True’s popularity.

In theory, I shouldn’t like True at all. I didn’t care much for some of the other stuff in this style, like Level 42, and this album is all surface sheen, devoid of real substance. But for some reason I let my guard down in 1983, and I can still enjoy True for what it is, without needing any ironic detachment or mutterings about guilty pleasures. It’s well crafted pop, and sometimes that’s enough.

Besides, if not for this album, we’d never have had P.M. Dawn’s “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss,” and who’d want to live in a world without that song?

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