Wednesday, 1 April 2009

1983 Spandau Ballet: True

In 1983, one of the benchmarks of cultural and social aspiration for any up and coming bright young thing worth their salt would be a drive down the newly opened local inner city winebar-cum-nightclub in a red, spoiler laden XR3i with something typically smooth on the in-car tape machine. It wasn't a ride down Rodeo Drive in a Testarossa with the roof off like the boys in Miami Vice used to do, but it was a typically British alternative - achievable, but not by any old member of the hoi polloi and it gave those who had this privilege the chance to feel a cut above the rest of the population who drove down to the Kings Head in a battered Ford Cortina.

On the face of it, very nice I'm sure. But scratch ever so slightly below the surface and you'd find that the 1983 XR3i was a ghastly, noisy, breakdown prone square box with a 120mph top speed barely fast enough to get out of it's own way, and that the 'winebar' was in fact a converted pub cellar with some garish neon signs and plastic seating that sold lager in long, thin glasses in a feeble attempt to justify the hugely inflated bar prices. Miami Vice it certainly was not.

Which brings us neatly to 'True'. If any song would be a soundtrack to these strange days indeed, it would have to be this one.

In 1983, 'True' would have been playing in the car, in the winebar, in the everywhere young lovers could get all gooey eyed at each other while it hummed in the background. There's no doubt what Gary Kemp had been listening to when he wrote this, and his aspirations to a smooth Motown/Temptations type groove is admirable enough. A step up from 'Musclebound' for sure, but in a marvellous stroke of irony for a song called 'True', the end product is anything but.

Not true to it's soul based source inspiration anyway, and 'product' is an apt description as 'True' has a rather empty, plastic sound about it, like it was constructed from an Airfix 'soul song' kit they'd picked up down the market. Sure, all the component parts are there; it's a laid back ballad carried along on a simple yet seductive guitar riff and highlighted by brushed drums, a suitably tasteful saxophone solo and a massed yet hushed backing 'Ba Ba Ba' lullaby-like vocal accompaniment. But peer below the bonnet and 'True' is to, for example, 'Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)' (a track it's obviously modelled on) as the above mentioned Ford is to the Ferrari - that is, it's an affordable alternative that although at a push can come across as a bit of class, will only really appeal to those who know no better.

'True' is classic white stiletto soul, but though it lacks the crucial ingredients to give it depth and substance, the chief offender to scupper the song is Tony Hadley and his vocals.

"This is the sound of my soul",

he mugs, but if this is in fact true then his soul is a dull, flat and barren landscape that even the most desperate devil would not want to bargain for. He may well have been "Listening to Marvin (all night long)", but from the results it's a toss up as to whether he means Gaye or Hagler, because I can't imagine the boxer would have a singing voice as blandly tone free as Tone's. It's soul by numbers, cynical in it's execution, empty in its presentation
and Hadley could just as well be memorising his shopping list by rote than pondering the mysteries of love. A cheap and cheerful knock off of the real deal in fact.

I'm conscious that I might be being a bit harsh here and that there'll be any number of fortysomethings who will cherish 'True' as being 'their song', the one they had the first kiss or even (shudder) walked down the aisle to. But the sentiment of others can't negate the dry taste that it leaves on my palette. Listening to 'True' is like eating Cream Crackers with no topping - it's bearable and it will do if you're hungry enough, but the experience could have been so much better with a little bit of garnish and imagination.

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