Reviews

Review: The Best of Spandau Ballet: The Story / 2CD deluxe

spandau_story

Out this week is a new Spandau Ballet collection called The Very Best Of Spandau Ballet: The Story. This compilation (available as a single CD and two-disc deluxe set) coincides with the home video release of a new documentary Soul Boys Of The Western World as well as the recent news that the band are to tour the UK in 2015. There was also a one hour ‘TV Special’ (called ‘True Gold’!) on UK television a few days back where the band performed “their greatest hits” live. If this new compilation doesn’t meet expectations then it won’t be for lack of exposure.

‘The Story’, when it comes to Spandau Ballet, arguably ended almost 30 years ago when the band left Chrysalis for CBS and their former label put out The Singles Collection in 1985 and quickly followed it up a year later with The Twelve Inch Mixes. Those are basically definitive collections – unless you happen to think Through The Barricades rates as some of the band’s best work (not really) – and so in terms of compilations, the truth is you really don’t need much else.

As if to underline this fact, 13 of the 19 tracks on the old compilation are repeated on the single CD version of this new set, The Best Of Spandau Ballet: The Story. Two singles from Through The Barricades (Fight For Ourselves and the title track), Once More from the 2009 ‘refresh’, three new tracks (produced by Trevor Horn) and 29 years are the difference between the two releases.

The deluxe edition adds a second CD which broadens the offering and makes for a more interesting exploration of the band’s back catalogue. This disc is effectively an alternative route from 1981 to 1989 with a few (seemingly random) remixes thrown in along with a dip into ‘deeper cuts’ (what we used to call album tracks) such as Mandolin from 1981 debut Journeys To Glory, Pharaoh from follow-up Diamond and Code of Love from True (1983). This CD also finds a place for two singles from 1989’s forgotten Heart Like A Sky album, a record which isn’t represented at all on the main selection.

It’s the early tracks where much of the listening pleasure is to be found, with Richard James Burgess’s inventive production style far less generic than later records and the often choppy and quirky arrangements always impressing. The band must concur because across the two-disc deluxe set Journeys To Glory is here in full, bar Reformation. The Freeze breezily appropriates the intro from Blondie’s Atomic and Musclebound is a bizarre delight; the almost industrial percussion and slinky guitar figures coupled with the butch chorus should be a bit of a mess, but it just works. Although they sing about not needing ‘this pressure on’ on Chant No. 1 (one of their five UK top 5 hits) they don’t sound like a band under pressure in the 1981-82 period. These early years are the sound of a group of young men producing great music, having fun and hits.

spandau_story_spread

6-panel digi-pack for the deluxe, although the booklet is disappointing

The really successful transatlantic soul years (well, year – 1983) is the least interesting, partly because of over familiarity and partly down to the how less satisfying the production is all these decades later. Does anyone really actively choose to play songs like True or Gold at home these days? Surely they are tracks you just ‘hear’ without actually choosing to listen to them, via radio stations like Absolute ’80s. That’s why the second CD in the deluxe set is so important – we get tracks such as Code Of Love from the True album which benefit from not being stuck in your brain in the way that big singles are.

That’s not to say this writer doesn’t have a soft spot for some of the slick Jolley & Swain-produced tracks. I’ll Fly For You is a personal favourite so it was pleasing to see the rare ‘Glide Mix’ (actually the B-side to the original twelve-inch) make an appearance on CD 2, even if it has the it-only-ever-sounds-naff ‘speaking the lyrics’ thing going on.

After the delicate cotton white production of the mid-eighties the band decided to ‘man up’ and rock out for the 1986 ‘comeback’ album Through The Barricades. Unfortunately, Fight For Ourselves has virtually no redeeming qualities at all. The band seemed to get distracted by making some kind of statement of intent and forgot to write a good song. The title track was the biggest hit, but the weight of earnestness and the lighters-in-the-air stadium rock camaraderie just felt wrong coming from the Spandaus.

All of the new tracks are a significant improvement on the rather feeble Once More. This Is The Love is breezy, pleasant and string-laden affair, while Steal is a satisfying slice of mid-paced sophisti-pop. Soul Boy takes the top step on the podium when it comes to these Trevor Horn produced numbers. The semi-autobiographical lyrics give it some depth and it’s just the best song and best production of the trio, even if the ‘died in your arms’ line brings back memories of Cutting Crew‘s 1987 hit (not actually a bad thing).

The 12-page booklet has a few words from London DJ Robert Elms, but is really disappointing due to lack of information about the tracks. Instead of close-ups of the ridiculous gold dove sculpture, why not offer the listener a track-by-track guide from the band or some other insight? The ‘new’ group photo of the band in the middle is a bit silly – over stylised and as a nod back to the 1980s, cheeks are being sucked in to within inches of their lives. It looks like a menacing promo shot from EastEnders, although Steve Norman didn’t get the memo, so he’s smiling and not looking moody.

This blog recommends you forget about the single disc version and spend the few extra pounds on the two-CD deluxe version of The Story. If you don’t do that, despite the new tracks, Spandau Ballet: The Story  just feels like a new dust jacket on the same book we’ve been reading for decades.

The Very Best of Spandau Ballet: The Story is out now.


2CD Deluxe

Single CD edition


spandau_story_back

The 2CD deluxe is a more interesting ‘story’

Track listing

Disc: 1

1. To Cut A Long Story Short (2010 Remastered Version)
2. The Freeze (7” Version) [2010 Remastered Version]
3. Musclebound (7” Version) [2010 Remastered Version]
4. Chant No 1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On) [2010 Remastered Version]
5. Instinction (2010 Remastered Version)
6. Lifeline (2003 Remastered Version)
7. Communication (2003 Remastered Version)
8. True
9. Gold
10. Only When You Leave (2010 Remastered Version)
11. I’ll Fly For You (2010 Remastered Version)
12. Highly Strung (2010 Remastered Version)
13. Round And Round (Single Version) [2010 Remastered Version]
14. Fight For Ourselves
15. Through The Barricades
16. Once More
17. This Is The Love
18. Steal
19. Soul Boy (Edit)

Disc: 2 (deluxe only)
1. Confused (2010 Remastered Version)
2. Toys (2010 Remastered Version)
3. Mandolin (2010 Remastered Version)
4. Age Of Blows (2010 Remastered Version)
5. Glow (7” Version) [2010 Remastered Version]
6. Chant No 1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On) [Re-Mix] [2010 Remastered Version]
7. Pharaoh (2010 – Remaster)
8. Paint Me Down (2010 Remastered Version)
9. She Loved Like Diamond (2010 Remastered Version)
10. Code Of Love (2003 Remastered Version)
11. Pleasure (2003 Remastered Version)
12. I’ll Fly For You (Glide Mix) [2010 Remastered Version]
13. How Many Lies?
14. Man In Chains
15. Be Free With Your Love
16. Raw

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33 responses to Review: The Best of Spandau Ballet: The Story / 2CD deluxe

  1. Mike 5oppe says:

    Who wrote this? I really enjoy4d your candid assessment.

  2. Kickup80s says:

    Great review, Paul.

    I just wish they’d had the balls to put out a proper brand new album as it’s just another re-hash with 3 new songs added (which I’ll just download separately)

  3. Ben Williams says:

    I still listen to Gold! Great compilation I think – I got the 1-disc version :) perfectly happy with it.

  4. Phil says:

    A very fair assessment Paul – but surely docked several points for including the horribly weak album version of Instinction, rather than the superb Trevor Horn single remake?

  5. Lennie says:

    No Spandau Ballet compilation could ever be complete or worthwhile without their best track “How Many Lies”. Most previous anthologies strangely omitted it, but this new one doesn’t. Therefore, it is definitive and the only one anyone needs to have.

  6. gary c says:

    Good review!
    There is little success to be had commercially by recording/promoting/releasing a full length album of new material by Spandau Ballet (and others) so it is a canny idea to record a couple of new tracks and add them to a 1CD/2CD greatest hits package.
    It should sell the arena tickets, get people buying the DVD…that is the model for many bands now. Some still insist on a full length album though.

  7. Neil says:

    Just a pity they have used those 2010 remasters which were horrendous especially the Journeys To Glory tracks.

  8. didi says:

    So it’s good to know we all have different ears! I’m not with you regarding the “album-ranking” Mr. Sinclair. I absolutely love Spandau’s mideighties albums more than their proceedors . “True” and even more “Parade” sounding good to me these days 30 years after. I can not understand why the Barricades album was and still is so underrated. One could state Mack’s Musicland sound fitted more his Queen and ELO productions, but then again it’s my favourite SB album.The title track,”how many lies” and “swept” are real classics to me- a remastered reissue is long overdue. The fading success in the later 1980’s is possibly caused by a combination of the ending new romantic era (especially its sophisticated caracters), the hard change of the record companies including a failed strategy (US market) and internal band issues.

  9. Alessandro says:

    Who knows if the three new tracks will also be included in a brand new album? If so, I have no need to purchase this set (also because the sound quality is compromised by the poor 2010 remasters made by Andy Walter at Abbey Road): Simple Minds are including “Broken Glass Park” and “Blood Diamonds” on their new “Big Music”, and they were on “Celebrate: The Greatest Hits”. Morrissey did the same years ago: “That’s How People Grow Up” and “All You Need Is Me” are both on “Greatest Hits” and on “Years of Refusal”, which was released later.

    • gary c says:

      Good point Alessandro.
      Morrissey might be a different point given the lions share of any money goes to him in any deal or concert tour, he signs the record deal etc and not his backing band.
      For Simple Minds, at a small stretch the shareholders there are Jim and Charlie, at a stretch Mel too. Again they will get the lions share with the other people in the band only hired guns for the last 25 odd years.
      Both Morrissey and Simple Minds have continued to record since their hey-day in the 80’s (90’s for Moz solo) so there have been fans/an audience buying tickets and new music over an unbroken period, whereas Spandau fans have had to contend with the somewhat dubious proposition of seeing Tony Hadley in concert only and the occasional ‘best of’ and ‘most of’, if I can paraphrase Moz.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      A slightly obscurer example of this is a-ha with Move to Memphis. That was on the Headlines and Deadlines hits set and ended up – re-recorded – on Memorial Beach.

      • gary c says:

        Good one. Need to dig that out sometime.
        They did the same, with different reasons, for The Living Daylights too, with a very different version on the Stay On These Roads album almost a year after the singles release.
        The reissue series seems to have stopped after Scoundrel Days, and I had held out some hope of a release on DVD of the Live in South America footage. On that evidence alone they had turned into a decent live 5 piece band. It is on youtube tho.

        • Paul Sinclair says:

          Yes. I never really liked the album version of Living Daylights, but I think it was done as more of a “fuck you” to John Barry, who – as is fairly well documented – they had a bad experience with. I always think it’s funny how things were fine with Duran Duran and Barry, when arguably Paul and Mags from A-ha were/are much better musicians than Nick Rhodes and the Duran boys.

  10. Bruce says:

    The link to amazon UK for the deluxe edition takes you to the single disc listing instead.

  11. bob says:

    I have read in several places that the group are recording a brand new album, including their website. Tony Hadley even mentions in this months Classic Pop magazine that the album if almost completed.
    It is interesting Paul that of the three new songs you preferred Soul Boys, as that track was written by Ton Hadley, a first for a Spandau album, Gary Kemp has previously written everything, though Steve Norman has had a couple of co writes.
    didi, the main reason that the band faltered in the late 80’s was mainly due to the fact that times had changed. Acid house changed everything, suddenly the ‘old school’ pop stars seems dated and irrelevant ie Duran Duran, Spandau and many others really struggled at this time. George Michael survived mainly due to coming up with something completely different with his brilliant ‘Listen Without Prejudice ‘ album. But as you mention, internal friction within the band also played a part in this. However they were all still getting along with each other and still friends at this late stage.
    The last album Heart like A Sky was crap except for Be Free With Your Love, this really should have been the 1st single from the album.
    Phil, you are right, if the album version of Instinction is the version included this is a huge mistake. Trevor Horn’s production made a poor song into a great single.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Interesting about Tony Hadley writing Soul Boys – that had passed me by. Kudos to him then, because it’s really good. a “hit single” surely if it was ‘the old days’ :)

      Duran struggled commercially, as you rightly say, but artistically I really like Big Thing. Liberty is another matter…

      • Angus says:

        That would be Tony Hadley’s second Spandau writing credit then — he also wrote Love Is All, the second of the two news tracks on Once More.

  12. bob says:

    You are right about ‘the old days’. I really miss the old singles chart, (along with Top Of The Pops and record shops). There have been some great singles recently by ’80’s’ artists that just never stand a chance of charting these days eg Alison Moyet, Holly Johnson and now this Spandau track.

    • Joseph says:

      Speaking of Duran Duran, do you know if The Wedding Album is ever going to get the super deluxe treatment? I believe Warner now owns the master recordings after purchasing Parlophone last year. It’s a shame that the reissues stopped at Big Thing.

      • Paul Sinclair says:

        Can’t imagine them NOT wanting to do an album with two US top ten hits on it, when they did Big Thing. Who knows why it hasn’t emerged – could be to do with the band wanting to focus on new music etc.

  13. André says:

    Great review, Paul.

    I love your last line…

    “If you don’t do that, despite the new tracks, Spandau Ballet: The Story just feels like a new dust jacket on the same book we’ve been reading for decades.”

    A perfect summary of how record companies rehash the same old music (are Polar taking note?)

    • omar says:

      I bought the single disc version. The three Trevor Horn produced tracks are amazing, way better than i thought they’d be. Those are the sole purpose of owning this collection. If you have Gold.. The Best Of or the excellent 3cd Reformation set then this collection seems pretty pointless.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Thanks André!

  14. trash says:

    Liberty by Duran is a great album (in my opinion). I find the production a bit murky but some of the songs are superb, It also contains one of my favourite Duran songs – ‘Serious’. Big Thing is a stronger album overall but for me the quality drops off after The Wedding album. I still buy their albums but tend to find I am disappointed…

    Back to Spandau:
    I actually ordered the single version by mistake and had to get it exchanged for the deluxe. I was quite surprised by the inclusion of pretty much the whole of ‘Journeys…’
    I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of ‘Pharaoh’ one of my favourite tracks (Diamond is my favourite Spandau album which probably makes me weird but then Beauty Stab is my favourite ABC album :-).
    Equally controversially I prefer the album version of Instinction (although I readily acknowledge that getting Trevor Horn to remix it was a masterstroke and the right thing to do to gain them a hit).

  15. Albais says:

    Fof all thanks for the usual great review as always. And for the chance of 3 new ones being included on the next studio album as Alessandro said here’s a funny thing that shows this come from some time ago:

    If u get “The Best Of The Alan Parsons Project” from 1983 could notice that there’s one track, “You Don’t Believe”, which was part of their 1984 next release “Ammonia Avenue”.

    For the compilation itself well, if the “newies” are goin to appear on next i just must pass, if not for sure will get a copy. Meanwhile just to expect what goes on…

  16. trash says:

    By the way – I’m listening to the album now and I can confirm that it is in fact the Trevor Horn remake/remix of Instinction that is included (at least on the deluxe version).

  17. Ramon says:

    As I have all tracks on the Deluxe version I just purchased the download versions of the three new Trevor Horn produced tracks. But I have no info about credits: additional musicians who played on these tracks, backing vocals… Please does anyone have this info?
    Thanks in advance!

  18. Ron de Joode says:

    Who has remastered this? Thinking about a thin can ……

    • Nathan says:

      Just uploaded the CD in iTunes and compared with the very first best of. I can’t agree more, the sound is just so much better not remastered. Turning the volume up just does it to stand up in your library. I’ll use this ‘Deluxe’ only for the tracks I don’t already have elsewhere.

  19. NeilKelly says:

    Can anyone confirm tracks times for this album. I have a download of it and it totals just over 81 minutes. Is this correct?

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