25 March 2009

"She used to be a diplomat, but now she's down the laundromat..."

Spandau Ballet are reforming. Fellow bloggers, club punters and football fans who are aware of my heritage and musical tastes expect me to be whooping with joy at this news. I'm actually rather nonplussed about it, as when you look at their back catalogue, it's remarkably characterless.

If I were them, I'd go on stage, do extended versions of all the songs on Journeys To Glory, chuck in Chant No.1 and Gold as an encore and then, if the crowd persuades them on a second time, do Through The Barricades for the mums. I'd leave the rest of Diamond, True, Parade and their later, even less relevant albums to one side.

As an 11 year old, I did like them a bit. But even then it was obvious that Duran Duran were far more charismatic, Culture Club far more controversial, Tears For Fears far more talented and Wham! far more exciting. Spandau may have been the New Romantic groundbreakers thanks to the Blitz gig, but they soon got left behind by the groups who, directly or otherwise, benefitted from their success.

Spandau ditched the cossack outfits and tablecloths and put on estate agent suits to embrace white soul (or blue-eyed soul). Duran Duran also ditched the futuristic image but crucially didn't ditch the music. Their second and third albums still utilised the technological knowhow and general musicality of Nick Rhodes. Spandau relied over-heavily on Gary Kemp's songwriting and general monopoly of the situation - songwriting which, incidentally, had become over-reliant on repeating first verses again and again.

The pop kids of 1984 made it plain what they thought when, in the Smash Hits poll, they put Seven And The Ragged Tiger ahead of Parade as the album of the year, even though (as Gary Kemp pointed out) the Duran Duran album had come out the year before. (I voted for Human's Lib, which came fourth).

Duran Duran were now, of course, enormous in America. With the Thompson Twins and Tears For Fears, they were setting up the second so-called British Invasion. Aside from True, Spandau Ballet flopped in the States. They were already dated.

Beyond all career analysis, however, perhaps the proof of their quick irrelevance came when my mum declared she really liked their new single (it was I'll Fly For You, a dirge). Meanwhile, Duran Duran and other contemporaries she still regarded as a 'noise'.

Spandau were barely getting Top 10 entries at all, whereas again their contemporaries were still getting chart entries beyond the Top 10 threshold. As far back as 1982, supposedly a halcyon time, Spandau records were reaching No.30 and even No.49 in the charts (Paint Me Down and She Loved Like Diamond) which would never have happened to Duran Duran. Two of the four singles from Parade diappeared after just one week of climbing outside the Top 20. By the time that album's course had run, Spandau Ballet were spent as a force.

There is no way Gary Kemp could have written Save A Prayer, or Victims, or Head Over Heels, or even I'm Your Man. When they returned in 1986, they had Fight For Ourselves as a comeback single, which was far catchier than the paradoxically soulless Parade and yet still lacked a wow factor. Through The Barricades did get them back into the Top 10 and is still a quite poignant record (and the key and tempo change at "Oh, turn around and I'll be there..." is actually really powerful) but it was a last gasp. How Many Lies was the last Top 40 single, which Wayne Hussey reviewed with "the only lie is that Spandau Ballet make good records". Be Free With Your Love was as turgid a record as they ever made when they half-arsedly had a final go in 1989, missing out on the Top 40 in exactly the same week that Tears For Fears also came back after years away and shot straight into the Top 10.

Beyond all this, once the early clobber had been chucked out, Spandau just didn't have anything to cling on to, image-wise. Each time Nick Rhodes was photographed, his hair was a different colour. Tom Bailey's ponytail was extraordinary. Phil Oakey had his horsetail and two disinterested girly companions. Tears For Fears had the sneer and the smile. There is just simply nothing memorable about Spandau, nothing that sticks in your mind's eye the moment you think of them. Yes, they were almost totally naked in the video for Paint Me Down, but as stated, the song only got to No.30 so nobody ever showed it...

Let's be honest - they're reforming because they all need the money. Even Martin Kemp's television career has stalled substantially enough to make him ponder picking up his bass again. I do wonder, however, just how many people will really want to go see them.

As I said, pre-1982 and Journeys To Glory would be fine. Try this, which I still really like. Be careful of the beard and the string vest, mind.


Louis Barfe said...

Are they doing this tour to make enough money to pay the lawyers for 15 years of suing each other?

Mondo said...

The run up until Lifeline is almost faultless - and Spandau completely capture the changes in sounds and styles of the underground club scene of the time as it happened - (trust me I was there then) including the fashions, going from synths and kilts to horn arrangements, Latin percussion and leather look with great extended 12 mixes (Glow is a great lost nugget) in two albums. Perhaps they have dated - but that's because the context of that scene gets forgotten

Where as Duran were clearly a pop band that wanted to be Roxy Music in disguise as New Romantics.

For an 80s catch up check out Adam Ant's side-kick and co-writer Marco Pirroni's new band The Wolfmen - now that's a class act (pssst - keep it hush, but they're also working on a new album with Sinéad O'Connor)