Phantom Songs: Spandau Ballet – “True”

Phantom Songs is an ongoing series of musical pieces that you can’t quite put your finger on. You have most definitely heard the song before, but are most likely not able to pinpoint who made it, when it was released, and/or what the song is really about. All of the artist’s history and biography was either stolen from wikipedia or made up entirely.

An excerpt from the diary of Mickey Forkenstein, Jr – June 11, 2000:

This is going to be the best night of my life. Jeffy brought a case of Rum Jugglers and Ronnie’s got enough speed to wake a bear. In the back of the Astrovan, chewing down on my 6th Rum Juggler, I’ve come with terms with the fact that life will probably not get any better than this. Pre-gaming for the Party of the Century™ with my best bro’s, getting hammered, watching porno on the VCR, perfect. Oh man, and my girl is gonna be there, with her smokin’ bod and her…smokin’ bod. Fuck it. I’m ready! Let’s do this! We rush the door and give the dude with the 3-D glasses a couple of Sacagaweas. He gives us our change and welcomes us aboard. This is it, boys! Party central! Party O’Clock! Fuggin…party time! Woooooooo!

Wait, what is this ’80s bullshit?!? We’ve walked ourselves into a nightmare. The place is deader than my Stepdad. A few misfit dancers are scattered around, as everyone else looks generally bored. The fuckface DJ is clearly on better speed than us, as he’s dancing up a storm in his stupid little booth. I should go over there and punch the booth. Yeah. That’ll show his gumpy ass. Oh, shit, there’s my girl. She’s slow-dancing with some mustachioed fuckstick in a bandanna. He’s whispering sweet nothings in her ear. I have to save her! Wait up, Girl! I’m here to save you! Oh, shit, I gotta hurl. But if she catches me running to the bathroom, she’ll never speak to me again! I just have to let it dribble down my chin. Yeah. Casual. This party sucks. Why does this song have to exist?

spandau-balletWe’ve all experienced this sensation before. Slow jams are nature’s buzzkill. Even if it’s a good slow jam, nobody likes a slow jam. Not even slow jammers. The words “jam” and “slow” should never even be placed together. Jams should be hot, or groovy, never slow. And the slowest of all slow jams, “True”, has been killing buzzes around the world for 30 years. I promise you that every time you hear this song, you think to yourself, “Well, whatever is going on right now is not interesting to me at all”. Just 10 seconds of the chorus puts me in a trance, in which I think of better songs that could be playing, but aren’t. What group of evil bastards made this chart-topping blackhole? I’ve asked quite a few people and the responses were varied:

– Tears For Fears
– Flock of Seagulls
– Steve Buscemi
– The Thompson Twins
– The guys that did that one song that went like “Dun dun dun dun dun dun dun”. Something about touch. Nevermind, was it Flock of Seagulls?

Although none of these answers were correct, it could be assessed that all of the bands of that era were comprised of the same people. They all play the same, sing the same and write the same. The real name of our culprit is Spandau Ballet. Judging from the music that they make, I can totally imagine them creepily standing in the window of a dance studio, drinking Olde English 800 [they drink that there, right?] and drooling their faces off watching the ballerinas stretch and whatnot. At one point, a guy [presumably the drummer] yells out “Spandauuuuuuu!!!!” in a fit of drunken excitement. Naturally, they decide to start a band named after their experience. “The Peeping Tommies” was already taken.

They immediately found fame in their homeland, while still being strangers to America, the only country that matters. They felt that in order to appeal to an American audience, they needed to write something with a vague-yet-catchy chorus. The rest of the lyrics can be some bullshit that the listeners will never pay attention to. In other words, they took the Phantom Song Formula. Lend out a few words that people will identify and be able to point out, but just mumble over the rest so that nobody has to know that the song is meaningless. After appearing in over 20 popular movies and TV Shows, the chorus is painfully identifiable. But unless you actually heard the song outside of these mediums, chances are, you haven’t even heard the verses. Let’s analyze:

So true funny how it seems
Always in time, but never in line for dreams.

He starts off with exclaiming how it’s “so true”. What’s true? Is that his way of telling the bandmates “Good point”? Some sort of inside joke? As in:

-“Yeah, these kids are gonna eat this shit up”
-“So true.”
-“I hate you.”

The singer also finds it “funny” that he’s always in time and never in line for dreams. So, does that mean that he falls asleep quickly? Is that why I don’t remember my dreams? Because I’m always late for them after waiting all night in line? If that’s true, then why does he get to cut all the time? Let other people dream. You can’t play god.

Head over heels when toe to toe.
This is the sound of my soul,
This is the sound

That just sounds like some sort of weird sex position, when you’re doing some mid-air hanky panky. Or maybe that’s just how acrobats make out. Is that what this song’s about? Acrobats in love?

I bought a ticket to the world,
But now I’ve come back again

Oh, now it’s starting to make sense. Our protagonist is clearly some sort of alien being that can perform coitus while stretching upside-down. He took a quick vacation to Earth and now he’s back, throwing down his suitcase and proclaiming, “Honey, I’m home!” or something of that cliché.

spandauWhy do I find it hard to write the next line?
Oh I want the truth to be said

That’s how lazily this song was written: he actually complains about how hard it is to write a song in the first verse! That’s a line you save for at least the 4th or 5th. That way, maybe the audience would be able to sympathise. But to have that kind of complaining 30 seconds in? Maybe he shouldn’t be writing songs in the first place.

Huh huh huh hu-uh huh
I know this much is true

He doesn’t know where this song is going. He’s got aliens pleasuring each other and conjured-up dreams about dream lines. But if there is one thing that he knows to be true, it’s that the chorus will sound like this. In other words, he’s saying, “Huh, yep, this is the chorus for sure”. For 1983, this song was progressively self-aware.

With a thrill in my head and a pill on my tongue
Dissolve the nerves that just begun

He’s getting in over his head. All this dreaming about making a hit song is making him jittery. So he takes a Chill Pill. This actually makes a lot of sense. Chill Pills were becoming increasingly popular in 1983. I believe Reagan started endorsing them around that time, as a last-ditch effort to get young votes in the ’84 election. It wasn’t until a decade later [during the Clinton Scandal] that we realized the dark side of Chill Pills. Sometimes…you just end up being too chill…and that’s not cool.

Listening to Marvin (all night long)
This is the sound of my soul,
This is the sound…

So now he’s already revealing the inner-most secrets that went into the production of this track. It was heavily influenced by Marvin Gaye, who I guess happens to be the “sound of his soul”.

Always slipping from my head,
Sands of time I’ve been told
Take your seats & I’ll write the next line
Oh I want the truth to be known

The singer is now self-aware that this is an overly-long composition. Clocking in at 6:29, it’s a slog of epic proportions. So he urges us to stop complaining, sit our asses down and he’ll finish this crap up. And by finishing it, he means including a wickedly bombastique Sax solo and repeating the chorus over & over ad nauseum.

So there we have it: It’s a song about the process of writing a song. The singer is confident about what the chorus will sound like, he knows he has to add in some fantasy elements to make it sound vaguely meaningful and he thoughtfully announces to us his writing process. It’s funny how something that sounds like a touchy-feely love song can have nothing to with love at all.

Going back to the video, there really isn’t too much to point out. It’s a very cut-and-dry ’80s video, complete with the blurry/classy backdrop and editing that’s irritatingly on the beat. The one thing that I find to be hilarious is that they appear to be playing in an empty swimming pool, while the prominently moving light patterns suggest that they are standing in front of said pool.

Just like any band that experiences a small taste of success, Spandau Ballet failed to make another international hit and eventually broke up. In even more stereotypical fashion, there was also a lawsuit involving the writing credits to certain songs. Once again, another typical move. Brother band members, Gary and Martin Kemp, pursued a career in acting. Their breakout hit was some gangstering art-housery entitled “The Krays”:

On the heels of a hot-streak, Martin spent a good chunk of the ’90s being a soap opera actor. Meanwhile, the other non-Kemp members of the band started touring under the name, “Henry, Norman and Keeble, ex-Spandau Ballet”. Really rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? In even more typical fashion, the entire band got back together a few years ago and made a new album, “Once More”. It is comprised mostly of re-recordings of their greatest hits, plus two new tracks that I’m sure are totally golden.

Thank you for sounding exactly the same. Reunions are for the birds. You’re officially no different than any other British New Wave band. Church.