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.

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