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‘True’: Behind Spandau Ballet’s Masterpiece 80s Pop Album
Ralf Liebhold / Alamy Stock Photo
In Depth

‘True’: Behind Spandau Ballet’s Masterpiece 80s Pop Album

Make-or-break for Spandau Ballet, the ‘True’ album lived up to Gary Kemp’s ambition to record ‘an album that would… become timeless’.

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There was a lot riding on Spandau Ballet’s third album, True. With singles such as its soulful title track Gold and Communication, the band bounced back stronger than ever, and helped to define the new pop of the 80s.

Listen to ‘True’ here.

The backstory: “I honestly wanted to make an album that would cross all ages and become timeless”

The make-or-break brief for Spandau Ballet’s third album must have been daunting. What became True may have been crafted amid the laidback charm of the legendary Compass Point Studios, in Nassau, The Bahamas, with recording sessions punctuated by soaking up the sun and larking around in swimming pools, but the London-based five-piece had a lot to prove. If Trevor Horn’s remix of Instinction, released in the spring of 1982, had bought them a bit more time, songwriter Gary Kemp knew he had to deliver hits. Everyone wanted to improve on the performance of their previous album, Diamond.

Of course, Kemp found that winning formula. Across slightly more than 35 minutes and a focused eight tracks (acts in the 80s had yet to discover the bloated, false economy of issuing more than a dozen songs on a record to demonstrate some sort of value), the True album boasted four international successes, including two bona fide classics, and a fifth, great single that would be released in some markets. This was, indeed, the power pop the band’s label bosses at Chrysalis had hoped for.

The recording: “I want the album to sound smooth as Hall & Oates, but with a British edge to it”

Just ahead of the True album’s release, on 4 March 1983, Kemp shared his ambition for the record with pop weekly Record Mirror. “I honestly wanted to make an album that would cross all ages and become timeless. I said to [producer] Tony Swain: ‘I like Daryl Hall and John Oates and I want the album to sound as smooth as that but with a British edge to it.’ I think it’s got that.”

The choice of Swain and Steve Jolley as the production team for True was a smart one. While not quite up there with Stock Aitken Waterman’s Hit Factory, Jolley & Swain were something of a sure bet, with previous successes such as Imagination’s Body Talk and Bananarama’s Shy Boy to their name.

Spandau Ballet trialled the partnership on the recording of the slick, midtempo Lifeline, in London, and the chemistry clicked. Issued as a single in the latter half of 1982, the song peaked inside the UK Top 10 and became the de-facto green light on the soul-pop sound Gary Kemp had seized upon as the new direction for the group. Spandau Ballet had demonstrated an ability to develop from New Romantic art-pop to Brit funk across previous releases. This was arguably their biggest evolution yet.

The singles: Everything great about Spandau Ballet at their peak

Communication was picked as the official launch single for the album, and its infectious Euro-pop telegraphed the band’s renewed confidence. It was another Top 10 hit, of course, but better was to come.

From the outset, True’s title track seemed to be in a league of its own, with radio DJs immediately seizing on its smooth soul melody and lyrics that spoke an everyman truth. Issued in April 1983, it soared to the top of the British charts just as the band were on a record-breaking UK tour. Thanks in part to a majestic sax solo by Steve Norman, the single also broke around the planet, with a critical Top 5 placing in the US Billboard charts. It remains a radio staple to this day, and would eventually earn its own No.1 placing in the States, when it was heavily sampled on PM Dawn’s Set Adrift On Memory Bliss in 1991.

Gold, arguably the album’s muscular, beating heart, has campaigned to match True’s globe-conquering profile among the best Spandau Ballet songs, and this single represents everything great about Spandau Ballet at their peak, courtesy of an energetic melody, a powerhouse vocal from Tony Hadley and a slick, Bond-inspired promo video that showcased Gary Kemp’s future wife, Sadie Frost. (The album, which would reach platinum certification in many markets, perhaps didn’t need another single, but this was the excess-fuelled 80s!)

The rest: A focused new pop direction

Gold’s companion piece and True’s album opener, Pleasure, tones it down a notch and was issued in a number of European markets as a single in its own right, while Code Of Love pre-echoes the adult-pop sophistication that Sade and Alison Moyet would make their own in 1984.

The single that should have been is perhaps the hook-heavy gem Heaven Is A Secret; it’s been alleged that, though Chrysalis wanted to issue the song in the UK, the release was blocked by the band, who had enough clout to be able to say no. Elsewhere, only the choppy dance of Foundation cast a backwards glance, but Jolley & Swain’s commercial production cements the song into the focused new pop direction the band now owned.

The legacy: The high-water mark of the band’s commercial fortunes

Asserting their place among the best 80s musicians, Spandau Ballet were the era’s ultimate survivors and, with the True album, they had found a smart escape route from their past. There would be plenty more to come from the group, but True remains the high-water mark of the band’s commercial fortunes. That legendary title song might have spoken of buying a ticket to the world, but Spandau Ballet were certainly now on top of it.

Buy Spandau Ballet vinyl at the Dig! store.

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