A re-evaluation of Spandau Ballet as they prepare to return to America
This article was inspired by a recent piece of news indicating that the original New Romantic London quintet Spandau Ballet is slated to perform their first gig in America since 1985 in Austin. The gig is part of their promotion of a new documentary about them titled “Soul Boys Of The Western World“. The movie’s premier is also slated to happen in Austin during the SXSW music festival – one of the US’ biggest annual musical festivals.
These days, whenever I ask someone my age if the name Spandau Ballet rings a bell, I get only the following responses.
No, I have no idea who these guys are.
Hmm…aren’t they the guys that recorded the hit single “True“.
Weren’t they a one-hit wonder? Never really heard anything besides “True“.
All of the above responses are quite unfortunate. In our article on “The illusory dream of cracking America“, we delved into how terrestrial radio’s geocentric bias and need to limit the mainstream were the primary reasons for the American market. This unfortunate dynamic did not exist in the years that Spandau Ballet emerged as a potent force in the global music scene (sans the US). In fact, at the time, there were plenty of British acts assaulting the charts in the US – Tears For Fears, Wham, Duran Duran, Culture Club, Simple Minds etc. The list is endless. Is it possibility that Spandau falling off the radar was due to a problem that is the opposite of the one we face today in America – the problem of abundance in the mainstream? Hence, it remains mind-boggling that Spandau Ballet’s legacy in the US revolves almost solely around their US #4 hit single “True“. Here are some factoids that might get the average American to rethink their current views on Spandau Ballet:
- The Spandau story dates back to the late 1970s. Their sound evolved almost entirely from London’s club scene. London was experiencing a movement at the time but that movement had no soundtrack. Spandau Ballet jumped right in and provided that soundtrack with songs built on a foundation of baroque and art-disco theatricality. The band’s chart success started way before “True” was ever recorded.
- The club scene oriented sound of Spandau Ballet relegated them to a cult status and became their limiting factor to global stardom. “True” (the album and the single) was a stylistic overhaul aimed at breaking from the “shackles” of a stardom that was purely domestic. Fortunately, for the five boys, it worked VERY well and gave them the global footprint that they desired.
- It seems like “True” is the last piece of music that the average American has heard. Folks stateside are blissfully unaware of anything that followed. The definition of a one-hit wonder is an act that does not chart in the top 40 more than once. This does NOT apply to Spandau Ballet. They had a top 30 hit with their single “Gold” and another top 40 hit with “Only When You Leave” (from their “Parade” album).
- The band reunited in 2009 against all odds and released a new album of reworked versions of their hits on album titled “Once More“. The title track was one of two new recordings. Both had an acoustic feel and sounded nothing like their earlier material.
- Soon after the release of “Once More“, the band embarked on their sellout “Reformation” tour – an arena tour that took them all over Europe – and then to Australia (where they toured with Tears For Fears). This is a noteworthy achievement for a band that did not split at the height of their career as a 5-piece. In fact, their final album “Heart Like A Sky” went barely noticed outside of Italy and the Netherlands. The album simply got lost in the midst of all the music that was being played in the late 80s. In fact, Radio Creme Brulee just might be the only station that routinely features songs such as “Crashed into love” and “Be free with your love” from the “Heart Like A Sky” album. Not only was the tour a sellout tour, but it was also anything but a “low budget” tour. It was done with the same style and panache that characterized the band even in their heyday. Very rarely can a band that did not quit at their zenith command that type of love and support after a 20-year hiatus. Could it have been a syndrome of “absence makes the heart grow fonder”? Perhaps but as every band from the 80s knows – nostalgia has a shelf-life and a band from yesteryear has to deliver a whole lot more than nostalgia to get the attention of people – especially in light of the fact that they disbanded at a commercial low. In our opinion, the success of the Spandau Ballet reunion was due to a re-evaluation of the band as musicians as opposed to “pretty boys” that duked it out with Duran Duran in the arena of musical rivalry (at least outside the US).
We can only hope the the new documentary and the “Vulcans Gas Co” gig in Austin leads to a re-evaluation of the lost opportunity that Spandau Ballet was on our side of the Atlantic in the 80s. Hopefully the response to the documentary and the gig paves the way for future gigs in the US for Spandau Ballet. It would be even better if the band recorded new material and gave us a 2010s take on the “New Romantics” tradition of songwriting and production.
We would like to leave you all with two forgotten gems that might just have you think of Spandau Ballet as being more than just the band that recorded their global hit “True“. Here is “Round And Round” from their “Parade” album.
and here is “Only When You Leave” – also from the “Parade” album:
Please feel free to share and comment!
We are an American internet radio station that broadcasts worldwide. The station features an eclectic mix of current pop and rock music from both sides of the Atlantic alongside hits, forgotten gems, and rarities from the last three decades. The music of Spandau Ballet is a fairly regular staple on Radio Creme Brulee. We also feature “rare for radio” tracks by the band such as “Be free with your love”, “Round And Round”, and “Once More”.
Give us a spin when you get a chance.
We just might become your alternative of choice!