Music is such a complex and abstract entity, that our relationship with it can seem a little odd at times. Some people love to sort and quantify their music into lists and rankings ala the infamous Top Five lists in Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity.” I maintain that it’s not always that simple. I often analyze my feelings about music. I do the same about all of my feelings and actions. Music is such a major part of my life, I can’t help but submit it to the same sort of questing scrutiny. But there arise some musical stimuli that engender feelings that are skewed and complex in ways that make analysis more difficult.
Most of the time picking a favorite album by a group is a straightforward affair. You like album X by group Y best. Album X meets your criteria for musical greatness with resounding success. You are a fan of group Y. Therefore album X is group Y’s “best album.” When asked “what is your favorite album by group Y?” You would reply “album X” without too much forethought and probably an overt level of enthusiasm. It would be a second nature response, in most cases.
But what if their “best record” is not your “favorite record?” Let me give an example.
Spandau Ballet have released seven studio albums. I have albums 1-6 inasmuch as I have a complete collection of Spandau Ballet until their 1990 demise. I’ve not heard their recent reunion album [quite frankly, I’m scared to]. My picks of favorite versus best album for that band are not identical. Their best album is easy to name. The “True” album sold a packet back in the day for good reason. It’s filled with energetic songs, well performed. There were four hit singles pulled from it [five in Germany] and I’m of the opinion that possibly two more [“Foundation” easily and perhaps “Heaven Is A Secret”] could have performed chartwise as well. Sure, I’m sick of the sappy ballad title cut. I only ever indulged in it ironically back in the day at best, but if I live the rest of my life without hearing it again, I’ll be happy.
The “True” album is not a work of genius but it is extremely competent. As much as I love ’em, “genius” and Spandau Ballet aren’t within thousands of miles of each other. “True” is stylistically consistent as the day is long. It’s seven effervescent pop-soul numbers full of vigor and, uh… a power ballad. It holds together like a tank. Songwriter Gary Kemp was firing on all eight cylinders when composing this puppy. But is it my favorite Spandau Ballet album? No. It’s just their best album.
What is my favorite Spandau Ballet album? The one that gets my pulse racing and the pleasure centers of my brain humming away in anticipation [even now just thinking about it] would be their second album, “Diamond.” It preceded “True” and featured four singles, but only two of them were hits. It followed on the heels of their cold and brittle debut album, “Journeys To Glory,” which it resembles in almost no way. Actually, side one of “Diamond” had an antecedent in “Glow,” the B-side of their strange hit “Musclebound.”
Side one is latin sounding funk, abetted with a hot horn section courtesy of Beggar & Company. Heavy on the bass and percussion with melody carried mostly by the vocals and horns. The guitar is mostly rhythm. It definitely works up a sweat. Side two begins with the blue-eyed soul ballad “She Loved Like Diamond.” It’s Spandau’s first ballad and first hints at the direction that their “True” album will move in, but was a real shock at the time and it didn’t bother the charts any when released as a single. The remainder of side two is a trio of ambient, “film music” numbers that are segued together in a flow! “Diamond” isn’t a coherent statement, to put it mildly. It’s like three different albums [by at least two different groups] thrown in a blender! No producer was needed; just hit that “purée” button!
But the chutzpah it took to release such a schizophrenic album and the frissons its dissimilar surfaces generate for me are substantial! To release it may have been a folly, but it was a bold one. It’s unquestionably my favorite album by Spandau Ballet. Just not their best one. Few would agree with that assessment, I suspect.
Now if the whole album were like side one… we’d definitely have a unity in the best and favorite categories! Case closed!
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