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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We could chat endlessly about Spandau. One of my faves. Their first four albums are works of art. There is a definitely thread the connects the first five. You can hear the growth and change involved. There was always a hint on an album of the next longplayer’s direction. As you mentioned, “She Loved Like Diamond”, a complete flop as a single, pointed the way toward “True”.
Some people accused “Parade” of being “True” redux. But, I always felt it was less blue eyed soul and more of a movement toward the arena rock they embraced on “Through The Barricades”. Keep in mind that “Parade” is like “True” in that it is stacked with singles.
“Heart Like A Sky” has some top moments. Again, four brilliant singles. But the connective tissue between songs is not as strong as previous efforts.
BTW, the new album is pretty good. Not scary at all. Turns a lot of their songs on their heads. That said, “Diamond”, “True” and “Parade” are my go to elpees.
Vinny Vero – I was re-reading this thread and saw a completely wrong response to something Taffy said here, so I’m getting back to brass tacks and replacing my response… three years later! Very astute remark re: “Heart Like A Sky” with “connective tissue.” I should try the latest album by now. Seeing as I have everything else in house…
Hey, Journeys to Glory may be “cold and brittle,” but that’s a compliment, right? Right up there with Visage’s debut and Ultravox’s Vienna as the holy three of new romanticism. Cold and brittle, but also majestic, moody, stylish, and pompous; the perfect soundtrack to the times (1980-81). I quite like the much maligned Diamond, but Journeys would be my fave album, despite my complete agreement that True was Spandau’s best album.
@Taffy: I’d much rather have the cold & brittle “Journeys To Glory” serenading my ears than, say “Through the Barricades.” I bought “Glory” when it was released but never thought it was half as good as the other two albums you mention. [I’m a huge Ultravox fan.] I actually sat out “Diamond” at the time and when I chanced to hear “Lifeline” that brought me back into the fold. I bought “True” and liked it a lot. What made me a big fan was seeing “Live Over Britain” on MTV. I then went back and got into everything. 30 years later it’s all about “Diamond” for me. But I’m glad you understand what I’m talking about with this whole favorite versus best thread.
p.s. My pick for the third of the holy 3 of New Romanticism would be JAPAN’s “Gentlemen Take Polaroids.” Actually, now that I think about it the three would be “Visage,” “Systems Of Romance” and “Gentlemen Take Polaroids.”
Oh, I totally get the favorite versus best. In a way, one is subjective (fave) while the other is sorta kinda objective (best). As I see it, my favorite is wrapped up with nostalgia, sentimentality, and listening to my heart, while my analytical brain steers me to what is surely “best.”
Meanwhile, having checked out Rusty Egan’s playlist, I see where you’re coming from with Systems of Romance. However, my thinking regarding the three holy new romantic albums stems from the idea of those albums being produced specifically to be a soundtrack to the new romantic scene. Music created by people in the scene so they and their friends could listen, pose, and dance to said music. Hence I regard Kraftwerk, Bowie, and early Ultravox as godfathers to what came out in 1980.
Finally, while I am rambling here, I think it’s a little tough to separate out the” dressing up” from the music. Rarely before or since has clothing, hair and make-up played such a huge role in a musical style.
@Taffy: Yeah, those albums you cite I’d call second generation reactions to albums by Bowie, Ultravox and Kraftwerk. None moreso than the Visage LP, which was really designed from the ground up to appeal to the Blitz crowd, it’s true. So by the time you could put a name to it [New Romantic] it was the second generation response to earlier art. I tend to discount the dressup aspect because the New Romantic scene came, really, just a handful of years after Glam Rock, which visually [and musically – ask Adam Ant] was its progenitor. NewRo seemed to be Glam Rock with cutting edge technology.
I second “Journeys To Glory”; I do own the boxed set for “Diamond”; all later works leave me…brittle and cold. I would not call “Gentlemen Take Polaroids” ‘new romantic’, it’s UK post-progressive, not quite neo-progressive rock. For “New Romantic”, I would think one must involve Adam Ant!
@Ronkanefiles: I see that you subscribe to the New Romantic = dressup theory. To me it’s a sense of European ennui thematically in the music. Detachment. Dislocation. All to a soundtrack of no blues scales. That they dressed snappy/silly means nothing to me. Make no mistake about it, I believe the movement was called “New Romantic” because they were following the template established via “Systems of Romance.” I suppose we could always ask Richard James Burgess, the man credited with coining the term. He was hanging around in the scene and gave it a name. Lord knows that Rusty Egan was spinning tracks from “Systems Of Romance.” Here’s proof. A glance at that playlist reveals a hell of a lot of music in my collection. Next to Bowie, there’s no other band with as many tracks on his playlist other than Ultravox.