Gorge Yourself On Disco: Spandau Ballet’s “Diamond” Boxed Set Edition [part 4]

The very artifact on the Record Cell racks…

[…continued from previous post]

And after “Coffee Club,” this album manifested several other, radically different forms. This was the crucial factor that made “Diamond” such an arresting, almost stupefying album. Their first album was generally of a consistent piece; rock disco with a flavoring of synthesizers to make it au courant. It was a success, and one can only assume that the band thought they were invincible, because their last single from “Journeys To Glory”  was the eerily prophetic UK top ten single “Musclebound” b/w “Glow.” In every sense, the two sides were an outlier to the next phase of the band. The B-side “Glow,” prefaced their turn to Latin Funk as a cohesive thread through side one of “Diamond.” The sound of the A-side would soon come home to roost, but the next song in this boxed set would be something else entirely.

Ostensibly the title track of the album, “She Loved Like Diamond” was something new under the Spandau Ballet sun… an attractive ballad with some subtlety to it, with the glaring exception of the overblown vocals of Tony “Foghorn” Hadley, who all but decimated the track with his stentorian bellowing. For decades I had considered this song the outlier to their third, also radically different album “True,” but the more I listen to this I don’t find myself thinking of “True.” Now, to me it sounds more like a track from “Parade,” the follow-up album to “True.”

When I listen to this I can only wonder how much better it would have sounded with Gary Kemp taking the lead vocals on it, but alas, we’ll never know. Apart from Hadley flattening walls at 30 paces, the main point of interest here was the delicate arrangement with Gary Kemp using a guitar synthesizer for understated effect throughout the song. I also liked the flute-like synth that floated on top of it all. The album track was a brief 2:54. How did the re-mix included here stack up? For starters, the extended version was all of 3:41, and the extra 50 seconds went into a long instrumental buildup that didn’t see Hadley begin to sing until almost a minute in.

Like many other songs in this boxed set, producer Richard James Burgess took a more traditional producer’s way of remixing by altering the EQ to the tracks for a literal remix. As with most of the tracks in this boxed set, he opted for a drier sound that favored rhythm elements in the re-mix. It was immediately apparent that the copious reverb that was liberally applied to Hadley on the LP/7″ mix was cut back severely on this 12″ version. Given that the “Diamond” boxed set version was released a month or two in advance of “She Loved Like Diamond” as a single, the label opted to use the boxed set version on conventional 12″ single come January, when the third single from the album was released. This meant that the boxed set had exclusivity on the mix for only a brief time.

Having cleansed the palate with something different, the band next plowed into deep space with a series of “soundtrack music” tracks. “Pharaoh” was a long, dirgelike, faux-ethnic tromp through the desert. At least it got to build up a few minutes of drama before the singing began. The rest of the band handled the chanted backing vocals, and even Hadley dialed it down for a change. The middle eight featured a backwards vocal which we can listen to forward below.

Hmm. It sort of sounds like Gary Kemp was saying “4000 years to be working under the great house.” Your mileage may vary. Crucially, the last three songs on side two of “Diamond” were all segued together for a continuous flow. Obviously, this could no happen here with each song on a single 12″ side, so there were some differences to account for.  While the LP track was listed at 6:37, the boxed version was twelve seconds longer. The LP mix has bubbling spring water sound effects in between each of the three tracks. Those sounds were absent from the boxed mixes. Instead, the last note of the song had a 16 second sustain until it faded out.

The next song was the actually delicate “Innocence and Science,” a faux-ethnic [Persian!] piece with haiku-like lyrics that actually featured Hadley singing in whispered tones, belying his reputation at only singing at full throttle. Here, Gary Kemp played the chang, which sounded like a Japanese koto to these philistine ears. It was a delicate piece more than a little indebted to “Moss Garden” from side two of Bowie’s “Heroes.” Then again, the very idea of Spandau making this radically uncommercial, heavily instrumental music [on side two of their album!] would not have happened without the Guiding Hand of Bowie®. Count on it! The track here differed from the LP version by having a long 15 second fade-in on a synth patch that sounded not a million miles away from the sort used by Eno on the breathtaking “Evening Star” album recorded with Robert Fripp. Then the track faded for 22 seconds on exactly the same sustained chord and patch as on the intro. Symmetrical.

Finally, The track “Missionary” ended the box. It was built on the sort of ham-fisted, yet cinematic rhythm that their earlier hit “Musclebound” had trafficked in. This was music to row a longboat to. Hearing it, you can almost smell the brute hammering the drum in the hold of the slave ship. It sounded like Gary Kemp was now playing a sitar, though none was credited in the liner notes. Steve Norman was playing tablas for percussion. There was what I can only call “water torture percussion” throughout the song, as presumably played by Norman. It sounded like an amplified water drop. It certainly helped the long, 7:35 track sustain an oppressive, foreboding mood throughout its length. It differed from the LP mix by an additional 32 seconds for a 7:35 running length.

As with all of the segues on the LP mix, the bubbling water effects [coupled on this last segue with the sound of panting] were absent from “Missionary” as isolated on a 12” in the boxed set. Instead of six measured beats over the water sound before the rest of the song began in earnest, this 12” version had eight beats before the tablas began playing. While “Musclebound” was certainly a harbinger for this cut, commenter Echorich has already pointed out that Japan’s “Tin Drum” opus may have also been a harbinger. I certainly see that in the late 1981 zeitgeist all eyes were on Japan, certainly, but by the same token, I could also point to Andy MacKay’s second solo album of simulated Communist Chinese folk music, “Resolving Contradictions” as having some influence as a predecessor. As the chanted backing vocals were doubled, then multiplied on the long outro of the song, I can only shake my head in wonder at the audacity of it all.

That Spandau Ballet were coming off the heels of a successful debut album was certainly the motivator [wink] for the band plowing doggedly ahead with their somewhat eccentric vision. While following in David Bowie’s footsteps was what dozens of other bands had done before [and certainly afterward, as well], what made this all so head-scratchingly bamboozling was the fact that Spandau Ballet were not peak musicians by a long shot. This was a journeyman dance band that was stretched to their limits to achieve what they did here. Let’s not forget that it was the addition of Beggar + Co. who had made side one such a successful prospect. While Japan could indulge in exotic time signatures like they were born to it on “Tin Drum,” one got the sense that if not for hot-headed bravado, Spandau may have been flying blind on the seriously out-of-their-league mood pieces on side two of “Diamond.” But it’s that cocky sense of invulnerability that, I think, made “Diamond” such a riveting prospect to listen to.

Never moreso than on the least-likely deluxe boxed set edition of the damndest album to ever come down the pike by this or almost any other competing band! Their rivals Duran Duran may have made good albums, mediocre albums, or outright stinkers, but they were incapable of shocking the listener in the way that “Diamond” did. The fact that it seemed like three distinct albums thrown in a blender set to “frappé” made it all the more beguiling to my ears. It remained by far my favorite Spandau Ballet album over the years, and it has only cemented that position with the countless number of plays that I have given it. Every time I played “Diamond” over the last 35 years, it seemed like an adventure where my comfort and security was not entirely assured. I still can’t believe that they talked Chrysalis into letting them make it to this very day! That reckless spirit impressed me enormously. To the point where if the album had been two sides of either Latin Funk or Sturm und Drang “soundtrack music” that it might not have been so doggedly fascinating to me. Sometimes you have to color outside of the outlines, and just sprawl! This album did that in spades.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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3 Responses to Gorge Yourself On Disco: Spandau Ballet’s “Diamond” Boxed Set Edition [part 4]

  1. SimonH says:

    I bought the standard version of this album at the time, pretty sure it was savaged by many critics here in the UK, commercial success wise it looked like their time was potentially over. I enjoyed it and loved the fact that they had the nerve to throw a curve ball like this. What band today would follow up a successful debut with such a stylistic swerve?

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      SimonH – Don’t worry. It was critically savaged over here as well!! Here’s the official Trouser Press review from TP #76:

      “At least the band’s first album, “Journeys To Glory” pretended to rock. “Diamond” shown them at their formulaic worst, employing disco beats with Las Vegas overtones. Tony Hadley’s vocals are Americanized in the extreme: colorless, toneless and sore with overwrought inflections. The band? Pure technical virtuosity. Do we really need a mutant Chicago? Do Spandau Ballet themselves listen to this junk?”

      “Sore with overwrought inflections!” Hah! That’s poetry.

      Like

  2. SimonH says:

    Ouch!!

    Like

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