Spandau Ballet Return To US for SXSW Premier Of New Film

It was an odd decision for the uber-European Spandau Ballet to pick Austin, Texas, a town in which they had previously never even performed, to launch a bid for a stateside comeback. But at SXSW on Wednesday, the new career-spanning documentary, “Soul Boys of the Western World” premiered before an enthusiastic crowd at the downtown Paramount Theatre, the film features footage of all the major players on the British pop scene of the time, including the three acts that Spandau songwriter/guitarist Gary Kemp viewed as their top competitors: Culture Club, Wham! and Duran Duran.

“Soul Boys” follows the fledgling five piece from their humble punk-era origins in London through several name changes before finally settling on “Spandau Ballet,” two words of graffiti scrawled in a Berlin toilet which referred to the death throes of prisoners hung at the nearby Spandau Prison. Once the band had a record deal in place, a Top 5 UK hit came immediately with “To Cut a Long Story Short,” a short, punchy number which captured the flash of the then-burgeoning and actually quite avant-garde New Romantic movement (which had a significant influence on the fashion world, and still does to this day). Numerous singles followed, with varying degrees of chart success, until massive international stardom arrived, as we now know, in 1983 in the form of “True”.

Film director George Hencken does a deft job of bringing Spandau’s heyday to life, paring down over 250 hours of material to only the choicest concert footage, Top of the Pops and MTV appearances, and ’80s-specific newsreels of Margaret Thatcher’s time in Parliament for context. The band were too busy living the high life to be overly concerned with politics, at one point in the film even admitting their concern over how the Falklands War would impact a single’s chart position.

After “True” where could it go but down? The scenes of the early days of the “True” world tour is pure youthful frivolity, with the lads parading their tanned chests and blond highlights poolside. But the pop treadmill has a way of wearing a young dandy down and soon members are being a bit too candid in front of the camera and the inevitable grievances about band royalties begin to cut away at Spandau’s solid gold armor. By the close of the 1980s, the band had split, and in 1999 various factions of the group were appearing in court, battling over royalties.

Following the premiere, the reformed band played a SXSW showcase at Vulcan Gas Company, trotting out classics like “Chant No. 1”, “Lifeline” and “Gold.” A full Stateside assault is also in the works.

BlackBook Tracks #48: Around The World

Before Morrissey condemned our turkey-slaying ways this Thanksgiving, he stated that “America Is Not The World” on his 2004 record You Are The Quarry. This is one of the truer things he’s said in the past decade, and just because we’ve had a major holiday doesn’t mean that everything else comes to a grinding halt. Here’s what’s been going on around the world in music this week.

Villa – “If I”

It’s been a solid year for nu-disco, and Villa’s bringing it to a strong close. “If I” is the title track from the Belgian duo’s latest EP, released this week on Partyfine. It’s the kind of come-on that instantly drags you onto the dancefloor (or whatever part of your bedroom floor is currently visible), and that nasty bassline will inspire you to burn off all that pie you totally didn’t eat.

Rainbow Chan -“Haircut” (Nick Zinner remix)
I just saw a dog wearing two sweaters, so it’s safe to say that I already wish it was summer again. One easy way to do that would be to go to Australia, where Rainbow Chan is from. The Sydney-based alt-pop artist just shared this remake of “Haircut” from Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs fame. It’s warm and lightly tropical, perfect for your winter getaway.

London Grammar – “Nightcall”
Earlier this year, London Grammar released their debut album If You Wait to great acclaim. While the folk-pop trio’s original singles “Wasting My Young Years” and “Strong” got plenty of well-deserved attention, the spotlight’s now on their cover of Kavinsky and Lovefoxxx’s “Nightcall” from the Drive soundtrack. It’s haunting, bracing, and every bit as gorgeous as the original. The accompanying video puts an unsettling edge on the track, as the band sets the night on fire.

Maxïmo Park – “Lover, Lover, Lover” (Leonard Cohen cover)
Maxïmo Park have been a band for long enough that they may risk falling into the nostalgia trap, but they’re certainly hustling hard to avoid it. Latest single “Brain Cells” is a minimal, wistful affair that sounds completely fresh; their newest offering is this cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Lover, Lover, Lover.” Sonically, it’s more true to the British rockers’ form, but it’s also their earnest, highly-literate reputation that allows them to pull it off.

Peace – “Last Christmas” (Wham! cover)
Peace were never quite my favorite British buzzband with a name starting with the letter P, but I have to hand it to them for covering the Wham! classic “Last Christmas.” The laid-back rockers  bust out the plaid scarves and tacky sweaters for this clip promoting their UK tour in December. I mean, what else are you going to do to pay tribute to one of the cheesiest extant Christmas songs, which you’ll probably have to hear on a daily basis for the next month? Peace’s debut album In Love is out now.

Leave It To the xx To Make ‘Last Christmas’ More Of A Bummer

One of the most synthtastic, falsetto-packed Christmas songs of all times got a makeup from another UK duo who are also fans of high pitches and synths, but for a completely different result. Wham!’s catchy ditty about holiday heartbreak, “Last Christmas,” got a reimagining from The xx during their session on BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge, and made it, well, sound like The xx. That is to say, the gloomy, contemplative music fits the message of longing rather well. Anyway, have a listen below, via the band’s SoundCloud.