The effect of “True” – potent for some, emetic for others – is a function of how it rubs two impulses up against each other. One is a yearning for depth and the authentic, in the form of soul music. The other is a wish to make your records gleam, to emphasise their sleekness and luxury. Understand this combination and you understand pop in the mid-80s. On the one hand, “You are Gold!” On the other, “Always believe in your soul!”
Both these urges are aspirational, but from some perspectives they create an intolerable friction. If – for instance – you believe soul music is something raw and unbiddable then the unctious shine of the Spandau approach is a laughable betrayal. Meanwhile, if you like your pop to be a shiny futurist bauble then their smooth reverence can come over as embarrassing cultural cringe. But the friction is also what gives this music its character, helps it capture its time and place. Today’s soul revivalists – and the slickers who consume them – are too savvy or tasteful to seem as foolish or brazen as Spandau Ballet, and this is one reason “True” is more interesting than anything Duffy (say) has done or will ever do.
“True” is an appropriate hit for this discussion because it’s a song about writing songs, fumbling for inspiration, finding it in “Maaarvin” and the music of the past. Oh, it comes dressed as a love song, but it’s utterly self-centred: its “you” is a cypher. Its best legacy, PM Dawn’s gorgeous “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss”, captures “True”‘s selfishness and pushes it even further into dreamy solipsism. And “Set Adrift” also dumps the song’s obvious ballast: Tony Hadley’s oily, overdetermined vocals. Strip them out, seaside arms and all, and what you have left is a lovely meringue of a record, particularly the delicious horn solo. Unfortunately, we had to wait for others to do this and realise “True”‘s potential – what we have is flawed and earthbound, but there’s enough here to turn a kind eye to its vanities and faults.