Lost in the ’80s: Spandau Ballet, “Through the Barricades”

lit80s

It was feast and famine in 1986 for former New Romantics turned MOR balladeers Spandau Ballet. While the previous two years saw the group score more chart hits in the UK with their Parade album, plus a triumphant performance at Live Aid, the quintet’s fortunes in the States were less impressive. Their last US hit, “Only When You Leave,” peaked at a paltry #34 and none of the follow-ups even charted. It was another example of a group huge in Europe, but ignored in the States.

The band tried to change their luck by leaving longtime label Chrysalis and moving over to Epic Records (although both were distributed by CBS Records).  Spandau also began talk of refining their sound a bit, moving away from the smooth-jazz crooning to a more rock direction — at least as rock as Spandau Ballet could muster.  The results of this shift were hardly evident in Through the Barricades‘ first UK single, “Fight for Ourselves,” a limp attempt at a fist-raising anthem hampered by rinky-dink production from Art of Noise co-conspirator Gary Langan. Don’t believe me?  See and hear for yourself:

Meanwhile, the States lucked out by getting a superior track, “How Many Lies?” (download) as the lead single. A ballad in the classic “True” sense, “How Many Lies?” actually benefited from Langan’s production, as the background “ooo’s” were reminiscent of the Art of Noise’s “Moments In Love,” not a bad thing at all.  And Tony Hadley’s hammy voice was well-suited for this material, as opposed to wanna-be mullet rock. But Epic dropped the ball on this single, failing to get MTV even remotely interested in the video, much less getting American radio to take the Spandau plunge again.

Things may have gone better for the band had Epic released the title track, “Through the Barricades,” (download) as the first single here. It was the album’s second single in the UK and became a Top Ten smash, the band’s best showing there in more than two years. The acoustic tune and restrained performance from Hadley may have struck a chord with American audiences had it been the lead single here, even if the lyrics about Northern Ireland’s struggle were lost on us.

The big Spandau Ballet geek I was, I remember having to special order this album from my local Camelot Music to get it, since no stores in Northeast Ohio stocked it.  That’s how persona non grata the band were in the States at that point. It would be another three years until the group released their final studio album, Heart Like A Sky, and Epic failed to even pick up their US option and release it Stateside.

But 2009 is a banner year for the group, as the original lineup has reunited after many years of bitter lawsuits, infighting, and attempts at acting by the Kemp brothers (Look!  It’s Gary Kemp in The Bodyguard!). The band is currently selling out arenas in Europe for their autumn tour, but of course, no US dates are planned.

Can you blame them?

Neither single charted.

Get Spandau Ballet music at Amazon or on Spandau Ballet




  • kingofgrief

    I remember a review (though I forget the magazine) for Through the Barricades that described it as “stinky fake crotch-rock” and advised the listener “[not to] listen without a rubber”. It didn't surprise me that I never heard a note from the album on the radio after reading that blurb. I have the UK best-of with all three tracks featured here; “How Many Lies?” is my favorite by far as it mines comfortable territory. Is there an extended version on that maxi pictured at the top?

  • http://www.lancereviews.homestead.com/ Lance

    Thanks for the insightful article, John. I honestly never realized SB had such a fairly lengthy history. I thought they had pretty much come and gone after their first LP.

    I always loved True(who doesn't?) and enjoyed Only When You Leave. After years of hemming and hawing, I finally purchased a copy of the album True via Ebay, and immediately regretted it upon listening! I can deal with esoteric lyrics, but some lines had me wondering if the goody-goody looking preppie group had been doing some serious lines in between recording sessions. The CD is a true(no pun intended) snooze-fest, and when I heard they were getting together again after all these years, I couldn't stop laughing for about ten minutes.

    I don't mean them any ill will, though. After reading your piece, I'm sure they'll continue to have bigger success back home than they ever could here in the States, and I wish them well.

  • JohnHughes

    While a great chunk of Gary Kemp's lyrics do certainly seem 'shroom induced, every once in a while, he'll hit one out of the park, like “When I'm under you, I'm overjoyed” or “I thought we were the human race / But we were just another borderline case.”

  • Antti

    Of course, he also came up with this genius couplet from Highly Strung: “She used to be a diplomat / But now she's down the laundromat”

  • JerryM

    I agree that “Fight For Ourselves” is pretty atrocious, but I thought a couple of the mullet-rock songs on this album were actually kinda fun: “Man in Chains” and “Snakes and Lovers”.

    And I have to toss in a couple more classic Spandau couplets:

    “These are my salad days/ Slowly being eaten away.” – “Gold”

    “We're the artisans/ And we've been crafted.” – “Round and Round”

  • jocko

    One of my most fondest memories is seeing Spandau Ballet play the old Variety Theatre in Cleveland Ohio. Tickets were a mere 8 dollars, an all ages show, of course. They were AMAZING, really, they had a wicked tight sound. Back in April they were on Friday Night w/Jonathan Ross and sounded decent: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjPMHrTowvc

  • jocko

    One of my most fondest memories is seeing Spandau Ballet play the old Variety Theatre in Cleveland Ohio. Tickets were a mere 8 dollars, an all ages show, of course. They were AMAZING, really, they had a wicked tight sound. Back in April they were on Friday Night w/Jonathan Ross and sounded decent: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjPMHrTowvc

  • jocko

    One of my most fondest memories is seeing Spandau Ballet play the old Variety Theatre in Cleveland Ohio. Tickets were a mere 8 dollars, an all ages show, of course. They were AMAZING, really, they had a wicked tight sound. Back in April they were on Friday Night w/Jonathan Ross and sounded decent: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjPMHrTowvc