The Story is a strong collection from a classic British '80s pop band. New subscribers could sign up here, but anyone with a passing acquaintance will find nothing new.
This is indeed a story -- one of a band who became less vital as they became increasingly proficient pop musicians. A shame, but undoubtedly true.
In 1980 a new youth, music, and culture magazine called The Face was launched in the UK. The Face was hip, extremely fashion-conscious, staffed by the new breed of irreverent writers who dominated the post-punk era, and edited by Nick Logan (who had rescued the New Musical Express from irrelevance and near-extinction in the '70s). Pretty well off from the outset, The Face began to write about a youth movement hanging out in London clubs like The Blitz and Billy’s: a bunch of kids who drew their inspiration (and punk attitude) from David Bowie and Roxy Music, and who treated dressing up and making up as an art. The house band of that movement were five North London lads who gave themselves the esoteric but zeitgeisty name of Spandau Ballet.
Given the number of youth cults that have flowed under the bridge since then, it’s hard to appreciate the buzz that greeted Spandau Ballet’s first single, "To Cut a Long Story Short", when it was released in November 1980. This album tells their story in a greatest hits format, from Spandau’s halcyon days to their eventual break up in 1987. Like so many of their '80s generation peers, the band have reformed in recent years and a couple of new recordings produced by Trevor Horn have been tagged on to this new release. But this is essentially Spandau Ballet in their '80s pomp, not the first greatest hits album they’ve released, but a re-packaging to coincide with a tour next year and the release of a DVD entitled Playboys of the Western World, chronicling their rise and descent three decades ago.
Spandau’s greatest hits can be separated into four chronological phases: the blitz-kids; the soul boys; the pop band; the social commentators. Each phase made steadily less impact and, arguably, their greatest moment was the dynamic intro to "To Cut A Long Story Short". This was the North London gang at the cutting edge of a new movement, buoyed by the confidence and impetuosity of youth. The next single, "The Freeze", was an even better piece of music, a slab of white funk coiled tightly around the most muscular of bass lines.
But the band’s initial star burst had fizzled out by the time of the third single, the turgid "Musclebound". So they reinvented themselves as soul boys and the summer heat of 1981 produced their second great moment, the roaring and triumphant, brass-laden "Chant No 1". Again, Spandau were at the fore front of youth culture and blazing the trail. But it didn’t last long and '82 / '83 saw them transition -- "Lifeline" being the pivotal single -- into a mainstream pop band and reach the peak of their popularity with the love song "True" (which sounds oddly stately and old fashioned in 2014 / 15).
Spandau Ballet were now no longer the fashion culture pioneers synonymous with The Blitz. Those hit-filled years saw them scuffling with Duran Duran and Culture Club for chart supremacy (they lost, incidentally, partly because their particularly English nature never cracked the States). However, the summer of ’83 did herald one last glorious moment, the soaring "Gold", to be linked forevermore with Olympics theme tunes and gold medal triumphs.
In 1986, the band released "Through The Barricades", a single about a couple in love battling the bigoted divides of Northern Ireland. It’s easy to see why Spandau’s main songwriter, Gary Kemp, should consider this atmospheric ballad his best piece of writing. But despite the record’s undoubted class, it was no innovator, and "Through The Barricades" was the band’s last attempt to take it to the top before they broke up.
For anyone without a Spandau Ballet record in their collection, Diamond would be a very good introduction, just as much for how it captures the spirit of the age as for its consistent quality. Others who feature Spandau on their playlist would be better advised to buy the DVD, which is a fascinating cultural history. Or catch them live -- they can still play.