12
Jun 09

SPANDAU BALLET – “True”

FT + Popular73 comments • 5,917 views

#520, 30th April 1983, video

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.

7

Comments

1 2 3 All
  1. 31
    H. on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Re: “pill on my tongue” as a reference to Ecstasy – I don’t think E. was around as early as 1983, it came in a couple of years later.

  2. 32
    Matthew H on 15 Jun 2009 #

    I’ll second, third, fourth the shouts for the fantastic sax break, but I almost missed it: couldn’t stand ver Ballet at the time, being way more hardcore than that. I was in the, er, Duran camp.

    Took me years to realise this was a fine record, all of it. This is pretty ersatz, obv, yet way ahead of the surface-gloss emptiness of the rest of their stuff. The only Spandau single I own is ‘Gold’, but I have an inkling I bought it to complete a Top 3 – ‘Gold’, ‘A Paris’ and, well, the single that was No.1 at the time. To me, SB were pretty rotten.

  3. 33
    Matthew H on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Oh yeah, I thought it was Hank Marvin.

  4. 34
    Steve Mannion on 15 Jun 2009 #

    love the quote at #22, thanks lonepilgrim

  5. 35
    wichita lineman on 15 Jun 2009 #

    The intro is a sweetie, but so much sweeter with PM Dawn’s additional harmonies and melody. True doesn’t ring True; I think its central problem is that it has no style, much as it wants to evoke the spirit of “Marvin”. The lyric is empty and risible (“See how hard I work for you? For my art? Can you almost hear the beads of sweat?” Err, no), and they could write some glorious gibberish so I’m not damning all of Spandau’s repertoire. “The art is pretending it’s art” from The Freeze, f’rinstance, is a very good line; “This is the sound of my soul” makes me feel all phlegmy.

    With apologies to Lee and Andy, I never understood the 80s Soul Boy thing, mainly because the music seemed almost devoid of Soul* to me (like Wildheartedoutsider, around the time of True I was catching up on relatively recent but more intense late 60s-to-mid 70s stuff on Charly re-issues, things like George Perkins’ Crying In The Streets). Farahs, maroon v-necks, and waffle cardigans I did like, tho.

    I’m only the 9th person to mention this, but I was dj’ing a few years back and this smoothie came over and asked “Got any Marvin?” For once I didn’t have a Shadows record in my box and I’ve kicked myself for the missed opportunity ever since.

    *I’d like to be proved wrong.

  6. 36
    Steve Mannion on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Yeah I conflate the soulboy tag with retro lovers but also those into stuff from around the time inc. Crown Heights Affair, Fatback Band, Eve King, Change etc. (which I assumed wasn’t seen as particularly retro and a distinct shift from Philly/salsoul/disco/raregroove etc.) Is that wrong? I’m at least adamant that it is not wrong to love that stuff as I do.

  7. 37
    Glue Factory on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Re: 31 – I’m not sure that’s true. Soft Cell’s Non-Stop Ecstatic Dancing must have been out or close to being out at this point and was fairly celebratory about MDMA. I get the feeling it was still quite niche though.

  8. 38
    LondonLee on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Re: #29. The sleeve is by Glaswegian artist David Band who also did all Altered Images’ early sleeves and Aztec Camera’s first album.

    I never considered myself a soul boy at all, for a start I always thought Maze were pretty dull and Roy Ayers a bit too noodly, but I was the bloke you’d find putting on ‘Let the Music Play’ and ‘You’re The One For Me’ at college parties. I was listening to a lot of Charly/Kent compilations around this time too.

    I would like to add that my favourite Spandau single is probably the fairly late “I’ll Fly For You”

  9. 39
    AndyPandy on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Steve at 36: At the average suburban soulboy club in 1983 you’d have a lot of what (post 80s) became known as 80s Groove ie Maze, Change, SOS Band, Grover Washington, (80s) Roy Ayers, Al Jarreau, Donald Byrd, some modern soul, the classier end of disco/mainstream funk (Sharon Redd, Evelyn King (for the “ladies”)) interspersed with a lot of more obscure jazz-funk (both 70s and 80s)plus a bit of real jazz and with the occasional soul/funk oldie from possibly as early as the early 70s thrown in too*.
    From about mid-1983 the slightly more progressive djs might have also started adding a bit of early hiphop (Jazzy Dee etc) and less full on electro ie the Shannon and D-Train (who in the latter’s case had been played since the 1981 import/release of ‘Youre The One For Me’)that Lee mentioned.

    * the oldies played would be similar to the kind of “tackle” (to use an 80s soulboy expression) that 3 or 4 years later when the West End clubbin trendies got hold of if became known as Rare Groove but were then just the occasional oldies that were expected to be dropped as the set progressed.

    H at 29: I don’t think anyone in the UK in the 80s had used the term New Wave seriously since about 1978/79 and I should imagine Duran, Spandau or any synth poppers would have recoiled in disbelief if you’d have called them New Wave.It conjured up images of conventional pop/rock bands with skinny ties,slightly shorter hair than pre-punk rockers and who werent quite brave enough to go all the way and be properly punk. And by the end of the 70s was pretty redundant in the UK except when it was used in a pisstaking way when describing certain American Noo Wave bands.
    I’ve noticed to my horror however that probably because of the American domination of the net and the obvious fact that in America they did talk about New Wave post-1970s that it seems to be used to describe acts who were never in a million years called New Wave at the time. Actually I feel quite ill just typing the words New Wave in connection with the New Romantic idols of the earlier part of my teens!Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran were coming from a David Bowie, Roxy Music, Marc Bolan, Kraftwerk and Brass Construction maybe even Frank Sinatra direction New Wave was coming from a very boring place where loads of Radio One djs hung out and talked about Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and maybe even the Boomtown Rats!

  10. 40
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 15 Jun 2009 #

    andy how central were the morgan khan streetsounds comps? were they setting the scene or following it? they began in 82 i think — did people only buy them (or use them) that weren’t on the scene?

    (i bought them, though i found the “mix” element unhelpful for my “never bin to a club”/listen-to-everything purposes: i used to have a near complete set, tho ircc one k0dw0 eshun borrowed some for some project of his in the late 90s and now i haven’t

  11. 41
    LondonLee on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Re: #39 Well, up until “Chant No.1” (which was quite surprising at the time – a funk record! With rapping!) – and even including that if you think it sounds a little like A Certain Ratio/Talking Heads – they were, to use another American label – “alternative” at least.

  12. 42
    LondonLee on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Re: #40 I think they were mostly bought by people on “the scene” – it was a cheap way of getting a bunch of the latest 12″ mixes without spending a fortune at Groove Records.

    Seeing as I’m at home today this seems like a good time to dig out the sleevenotes of ‘Streetsounds Anthems Vol.2’ (from 1987) which take a swipe at the NME/The Face trendies.

    “Over the past couple of years it seems like every semi-literate pillock with a typewriter and a pair of DM brogues has had something to say about the funk. Safely dug in behind a typewriter, tapping one foot out of time with the other, they’ve spewed out all manner of so-called ‘insights’, while attempting to instruct us on what particular funk forms should be putting the steam into out trainers and the steps into our haircuts.

    Do we take any notice? No chance John. The true British soul fraternity carries on regardless, ignoring the bull, picking up on what’s really kicking and having one hell of a good time in the process.”

  13. 43
    AndyPandy on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Lord at 40: among us younger types the Streetsounds compilations were pretty essential at about this time probably peaking in quality and ubiquitousness with (I think) Volume 4 (bang in the middle of 1983!) which was remarkably free of filler and on the case and everyone seemed to have. But I knows there were a few of the more “purist” element who tended to congregate in the jazz rooms at weekenders who would have looked down upon them though. They were often the same people who would frown on electro and later house which made it even more nonsensical when the Boys Own trendy crowd who had moaned at these types for their refusal to get into house were by 1989 trying to dictate what kind of house it was “all right to listen to” (mostly deep house etc) and slagging off a large part of the then acid party-goers including inventing the term “Acid Teds” a catch all insult for them.

    And the Streetsounds electro compilations were pretty unsurpassable when they started (first one about Aug/Sept 1983 I think) but also spelled the beginning of the end for the whole Streetsounds concept because from that moment they started leaving the electro tracks of the main compilations (I remember Newcleus was on Number 5 for instance, COD on No 4 just before the electro ones started).

    Lee at 41: I know what you mean but in my memory the term New Wave if it was used at all by the early 80s had connotations (in the UK at least) far removed from New Romantics/Synth or New Pop.
    “Alternative” could obviously cover all kinds of things and surely the less mainstream side of things in the UK was already more likely to be called post-punk if it was called anything at all.

  14. 44
    H. on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Andypandy@39 I guess you’re right about New Wave as a term, I meant more the post-punk aesthetic which you can also feel in the New Romantics (whom you might say developed from a synthesis of New Wave and Bowie/Roxy). In any case I think there was a sound and an aesthetic which stretches from around 1978 to 1982 or so that you could loosely call post-punk – Cut A Long Story Short belongs to that aesthetic, and True doesn’t. Just as Ashes To Ashes belongs to it and Let’s Dance doesn’t.

  15. 45
    lonepilgrim on 15 Jun 2009 #

    What seems to be a common thread linking many of the post-punk/new wave/new romantic acts was a sense of ‘anything but rock’.
    Punk had been portrayed as a kind of end for the rock ‘project’ and so acts had turned to soul/dance/jazz/electro styles as more fruitful and/or credible models.

    I find myself blinking in disbelief at musical styles and acts that have been rehabilitated as credible in subsequent years when at one stage they were portrayed as dead and buried. Metal has returned as has folk-rock – but I couldn’t credit seeing a Jon Anderson solo track being given consideration in this months Invisible Jukebox in The Wire.

  16. 46
    Conrad on 15 Jun 2009 #

    I think Spandau’s club roots and love of funk and soul were always a big part of their musical heritage. If anything I’d argue the synth-based electronic sound was almost an afterthought. They realised it was a way in through their exposure to Billy’s and Blitz and Gary Kemp started playing a synth.

    No sooner had they released the first couple of identifiably New Romantic singles, then they were favouring their truer love – testing the water by slipping “Glow” on to the flip of the third single as a double-A.

    “Chant No 1” followed and then stuff like “Coffee Club” which lifts wholesale from “One Nation Under A Groove.”

    I didn’t really care much for them by the point of “True”. I was more interested in the artier, experimental, cult-approach to being in a band that Spandau espoused; all manifestos and iconic imagery, being at the right clubs, not playing conventional gigs.

    When they started becoming a conventional pop act they lost their edge.
    As New Pop lost its edge at around this time.

    But I don’t think it’s right to chastise or mock Spandau for not being ‘soulful’. In fact it misses the point. Spandau were kids going to clubs dancing to soul, motown, northern soul, then later bowie and kraftwerk.

    they were the kids Andy is talking about in the mid 80s a decade earlier.

    they went onto make records that reflected their passions and musical heritage. what could be any more authentic then their own experiences?

  17. 47
    LondonLee on 15 Jun 2009 #

    I just remembered that the producers on this were Steve Jolley and Tony Swain who also did Imagination’s records, so Spandau were going right to the source of what was “hot” in Brit Soul at the time.

  18. 48
    Conrad on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Lee, Swain and Jolley were also known for their work with Bananarama! Although I know what you mean.

    I think they initially wanted to use Trevor Horn after his work on Instinction but couldn’t get it together for whatever reason. I guess either way the third album was a conscious attempt to stop being a cult band and start shifting units. The success of “Rio” (released at the same time as their flop second album – their career went in parallel with Duran’s) wouldn’t exactly have gone unnoticed.

  19. 49
    johnny on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Andy + H – yes, on my American side of the ocean, this would definitely be considered New Wave, as would the Durans. this was a major source of confusion for me while growing up, reading all the British mags and wondering what this New Romantic, New Pop, Post-Punk etc was all about. We called it New Wave exclusively, admittedly a wide classification which started with power pop (costello, the knack) in the late ’70s and continued right through the dawn of the MTV era. i think we were still using that term maybe all the way up to A-Ha. As a matter of fact, I recall my sister buying an MTV compilation in the late ’90s called “MTV New Wave: 1983” or something similar. SB was featured, as well as “Our House”, “Mexican Radio”, “Too Shy”….all New Wave to us yanks. These terms were so taken for granted by British readers that it never was explained in NME and MM where the classifications came from. It was only with Reynolds’ post-punk book a few years ago that I understood completely.

  20. 50
    Jonathan Bogart on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Hell, I’ve seen Martika and Roxette called New Wave here in the States; for many, it simply meant “80s (White) Pop.”

  21. 51
    LondonLee on 16 Jun 2009 #

    Or “Not Heavy Metal or R&B and sung by someone under 30”

    I remember Jolley and Swain doing a pretty good job with Bananarama, but Imagination were very much the epitome of aspirational penthouse soul which is obviously what SB were going for. I know they might have seemed a bit of a joke but ‘Body Talk’ was very popular.

  22. 52
    AndyPandy on 16 Jun 2009 #

    Yes it was a pity with Imagination that there slightly tacky image often got in the way of some very worthwhile slinky Britsoul grooves.
    They werent completely ignored however and at the time I remember the “Nightdubbin” remix album was already looked on as quite cutting edge.
    And now many garage/house producers/djs look on it as boundary breaking in the extreme.Larry Levans remix of “Changes” and someone else’s (cant remember who)mix of “Burnin Up” being more or less dry runs for a 90s (not late80s they sound more modern than that!)house/garage sound. When I heard these for the first time in over 20 years quite recently I was stunned how modern they sounded.

  23. 53
    Conrad on 16 Jun 2009 #

    I have a Joey Negro mix of Burning Up – not sure when it was done, but might be the one you are referring to.

    Imagination were an excellent act. Loved all their singles up to and including “Changes”.

  24. 54
    Conrad on 16 Jun 2009 #

    Number 2 Watch:

    A lot of records kept from Number One by “True” during its 4 week reign at the top:

    FR David “Words” – 2 weeks
    Human League “(Keep Feeling) Fascination” – 1 week
    Heaven 17 “Temptation” – 1 week

  25. 55
    AndyPandy on 16 Jun 2009 #

    Conrad at 53 the remix of ‘Burnin Up” on ‘Nightdubbing’ is by Richard Lengyel and the tracks original producers Swain and Jolley. I think the Joey Negro version came out around the time the album got sort of ‘rediscovered’. I’m listening to the Nightdubbing version as I type this and it is unbelievably ahead of its time – it has elements that could come out of a house track from 1988/89 (the piano is straight from such a track) and then as it breaks down it verges on dubby garage from the 1990s.

    I suppose the fact that piano was so important to both Imagination and house music’s sound makes the convergence slightly more likely.

  26. 56
    AndyPandy on 16 Jun 2009 #

    Meant to add this above:

    On the subject of unlikely connections to the coming but still 3 or 4 year away house invasion of the charts just outside the Top Ten during ‘Trues’ run at the top were Galaxy and ‘What Do I Do’ featuring
    Phil Fearon and 2 females one who returned to the charts at the end of 1994 as the voice of the only true hardcore/rave track to ever hit Number One on the pop chart. Phil Fearon himself being the man behind one of the most successful ever hardcore/rave labels responsible for Acen, the House Crew as well as the act I can’t mention and many other early 90s hardcore delights…

  27. 57
    Mark G on 17 Jun 2009 #

    Phil Fearon auditioned as the pianist for the Sex Pistols…

  28. 58
    Stuart P on 19 Jun 2009 #

    Nightdubbin’ etc has inspired a new comp from Dimitri from Paris btw

    http://open.spotify.com/album/3qNnr5sl1OR45NWNM5j16n

    oh, and house piano’s first appearance was probs here … discuss!

    http://open.spotify.com/track/6PFsub5iIJwrBb8qBRqmiV

  29. 59
    Billy Smart on 19 Jun 2009 #

    I really didn’t care for this at all when I was ten. It seemed rather smarmy and plodding to me, and the work of a different band to the kilted and saronged Cut A Long Story Short people of a few years earlier, who seemed much more like my idea of what a pop group should be like.

    Twenty-six years on, I haven’t revised my opinion much, but the sax break is rather lovely, and I wish that it could have appeared in a better song.

    Whenever I see or hear a documentary about eighties pop, Gary Kemp seems to be on it, saying “Of course, the NME hated it, so we knew it was going to be a hit!” This never fails to really irritate me – if critical acclaim was so unimportant to you, then you wouldn’t go on about it at every single opportunity.

    Best Spandau moment: ‘Instiction’, the lone collaboration with Trevor Horn. It is, as I believe that the young people say. “bonkers”.

  30. 60
    Billy Smart on 19 Jun 2009 #

    TOTPWatch: Spandau Ballet performed ‘True’ on Top Of The Pops on three occasions;

    21 April 1983. Also in the studio that week were; Culture Club, FR David, Twisted Sister and Heaven 17. Richard Skinner and Janice Long were the hosts.

    5 May 1983. Also in the studio that week (the 1000th edition) were; Thompson Twins, Human League, The Beat, Heaven 17, Blancmange and Fun Boy Three, plus two appearances from Zoo, interpreting ‘Friday Night’ and ‘Candy Girl’. The hosts were “The Radio 1 DJs” (it says here).

    29 December 1983. Also in the studio that week were; JoBoxers, Thompson Twins, The Cure, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Howard Jones and The Style Council. Richard Skinner and Tommy Vance were the hosts.

1 2 3 All

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)

Required

Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page