Monday, August 4, 2014

Spandau Ballet: Once More (2009)

"So true, funny how it seems
always in time, but never in line for dreams, head over heels and toe to toe
this is the sound of my soul, this is the sound
I bought a ticket to the world, but now I've come back again.

-Spandau Ballet, True, True (1983)-

With the squabbles and court litigation between Gary Kemp and the rest of the Spandau Ballet clan spearheaded by vocalist Tony Hadley behind them, the band returned with Once More (2009). That recording featured rather impressive re-workings of eleven of their own originals sandwiched between two new recordings in Once More (penned by Kemp and Norman) and Love Is All (penned by Hadley). The recording was actually a pleasant surprise. It was their first effort back in the studio since Heart Like A Sky (1989) and reunited the act following some rather turbulent years. But songwriter/guitarist Gary Kemp, vocalist Tony Hadley, multi-instrumentalist Steve Norman, drummer John Keeble and Martin Kemp on bass sound in fine form.

As a brief aside, in that interim Tony Hadley released a number of solo efforts. The most noteworthy and enjoyable of which was Tony Hadley (1997) following the generally awful The State Of Play (1992). Even Gary Kemp was making his solo efforts. With Tony Hadley it was as if Hadley got back to basics and the production was the perfect complement for his voice. Cover tracks on the solo effort included exceptional renditions of Woman In Chains (Tears For Fears), Save A Prayer (Duran Duran), Slave To Love (Roxy Music), She's Gone (Hall And Oates), Free Fallin' (Tom Petty) and a number of other stellar choices from a number of peers and contemporary influences. Wonderful Life and First OF May (The Bee Gees) were two more highlights.

Honestly, the 1980s - it was like another planet!

Who wouldn't want this to land on American soil all over again?

Once More arrived to end a significant dry spell for the band that seemed all but finished once upon a time. But like superheroes, do bands ever truly die? Gold, True, Lifeline, Only When You Leave, Communication and Chant No 1 all received new treatments and Once More was an unexpected pleasure that ended what seemed like the end of a band.

So it was quite a surprise to read that Spandau Ballet were in the studio yet again for a recording of true originals. Billboard touting the project as their first recording of new material in 25 years. Technically that's true, but let's not forget the new efforts behind Once More.

25 years - it always makes for good press.

All the more exciting though is that Spandau Ballet will be working with the legendary and once truly awesome producer Trevor Horn (The Buggles, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, ABC). Unfortunately Horn isn't what he used to be. Are any of us? But if Horn is half as good as he once was for Spandau Ballet I remain optimistic that the end product should delight. Release date likely for 2015. Looking forward to the next Spandau Ballet communication. At least they are back at it once more.

Spandau Ballet Discography:
Journeys To Glory (1981)/ Diamond (1982)/ True (1983) */ Parade (1984) */ Through The Barricades (1986)/ Heart Like A Sky (1989)/ Once More (2009). The collections are too many to count, but get a quality one like Gold: The Best Of Spandau Ballet (2000) * or Reformation (2002) and you won't be disappointed.
* essential

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Outfield: Play Deep (1985)

"Josie's on a vacation far away
Come around and talk it over
So many things that I wanna say
You know I like my girls a little bit older
I just wanna use your love tonight
I don't wanna lose your love tonight"
-The Outfield, Play Deep, Your Love-

For a time in the summer of 1986, Play Deep (1985), by The Outfield, was in heavy rotation in our family CD player. How ironic that such an American sounding power rock album with such strong connotations to one of America's greatest pastimes, baseball, would be pop genius of a London-based trio. In fact, truth be told, Spinks had a thing for American baseball and originally selected The Baseball Furies from Walter Hill's wonderful The Warriors (1979) before settling on The Outfield.

Team Outfield was the work of Tony Lewis (vocals/bass), Alan Jackman (drums) and John Spinks (guitar/songwriter). Sadly, Spinks passed away in early July 2014.

Jackman, Spinks, Lewis.

The sound of the band clearly owed a debt of inspiration to Foreigner, Journey and a number of other great American rock bands.

With Play Deep, The Outfield secured a place on radio for a time thanks to a number of Billboard Hot 100 releases peaking with the classic Your Love and that insanely catchy line that Josie was a on a vacation far away as well as the equally euphoric All The Love In The World.

The entirety of the recording was chock full of power rock gems from I Don't Need Her and Everytime You Cry to Say It Isn't So (not to be confused with the equally amazing Hall And Oates classic) and Talk To Me. There really wasn't a weak number in the bunch. Play Deep nearly reaches the heights of pop perfection that marked unforgettable rock classics such as the legendary and classy Hi Infidelity (1980) by REO Speedwagon.

But thanks to Spinks, Lewis and Jackman there was something special enough about the band from England that assured some staying power. Bangin' (1987) followed with a strong follow-up single in Since You've Been Gone. The title track of Voices Of Babylon (1989) sealed the deal that this trio had an ear for a good tune and a catchy hook.

For those looking to play the field a bit, Big Innings: The Best Of The Outfield (1996) is an absolute homerun in running the pop bases, but you won't strikeout with Play Deep, a quintessential great rock recording from 1985.

This nod to the very best of the 1980s is in tribute to Spinks who lost a battle with liver cancer this summer. I was genuinely saddened to hear of his passing because thanks to Spinks and company many great memories were created with their music as the soundtrack to one of my summers. For me, Play Deep remains the epitome of one of the greats from the 1980s and their music, while not Shakespeare, still inspires good feeling. I still listen to The Outfield along with the American greats today. They were bloody good at making pop plays. Batter up anyone.

The Outfield Discography:

Play Deep (1985) */ Bangin (1987)/ Voices Of Babylon (1989)/ Diamond Days (1990)/ Rockeye (1992)/ Big Innings: The Best Of The Outfield (1996) */ It Ain't Over (1998)/ Extra Innings (1999)/ Any Time Now (2006)/ Replay (2011). *essential

Here is a message on the official The Outfield website announcing the passing of John Spinks by his family:

"It is with great sadness to inform you that John passed away at 09.55 on Wednesday 9th July 2014. He was 60 years old. As many of you know, he had been suffering from liver cancer for many years and bravely fought the disease until the very end. We are relieved that his passing was peaceful and painless. John was a loving husband, inspirational father, doting grandfather and gifted songwriter. His musical career started from a very young age and he wanted more than anything for people to listen and enjoy his music. He passed away knowing he achieved his ambition. If it were possible, we know John would have liked to have thanked each and every fan of The Outfield personally. He admired and respected the emails from thousands of loyal followers who commented on his music and enquired about his health. This alone, gave him motivation to battle through the sometimes dark days.

We would like to thank you for 'Your Love' and the continued support you have given John throughout his career. He loved making music and playing his guitar. He found pleasure knowing that his music made people happy and bought them fond memories. He worked hard with many days in pain to finish the Replay album. There were times when he could barely pick up his guitar, but he refused to give up knowing he would disappoint fans. The hardest day for John was when he put his guitar in its case announcing his hands could no longer play.

During the last months of his life, John, Tony and Alan wrote new material. What the future holds for this is unclear at the time of writing.

There is so much more we could say, but for now, we would like to grieve the loss of John."

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

When In Rome (1988)

"I'm sorry but I'm just thinking of the right words to say. I know they don't sound the way I planned them to be. But if you wait around a while I'll make you fall for me. I promise. I promise you. ...I will."
-When In Rome, When In Rome, The Promise (and sounding awfully applicable to the newly launched Dog In Space)-

If only some act's were more than a footnote in pop history? If only some acts were more than what amounts essentially to one-hit wonders? If Only was the song of choice that inspired this post from the car sound system today.

Every so often a full recording by a newcomer came along in the 1980s that seemed to genuinely capture and achieve pop nirvana. Cutting Crew's Broadcast (1986) had that impact for me. It was a debut of pure magic. Each song was truly epic. The debut of Living In A Box (1987) with the power house voice of Richard Darbyshire had a near similar effect.

So, likewise, the eponymous debut, When In Rome, by When In Rome, yielded a collection of tremendously catchy and memorable pop songs spearheaded by the rhythmically persistent The Promise. Like Broadcast (see here), When In Rome was just such a collection of pure, pristine, and meticulously produced pop magnificence that even a critical darling like U2 would have difficulty unseating it from my more perceptive and appreciative ears.

In fact, for a time, I was so hungry for When In Rome material I managed to collect a handful of the rare b-sides including 1,000 Reasons and Whatever The Weather. Those endangered tracks sprinkled the collector's market and have since become increasingly hard to find. I still have them.

If only most artists had debuts as strong as When In Rome. If only most artists could sustain that magic through a career. If only some acts didn't completely fall apart after just such a promising debut. But that's precisely what happened to When In Rome, a band with a clear ear for the pop hook.

The England-based trio of vocalist Clive Farrington, Andrew Mann and keyboardist Michael Floreale just couldn't deliver beyond a single record. Submitting to internal problems the threesome dismantled despite the classic work produced by Ben Rogan with Richard James Burgess, who also surprisingly worked with Living In A Box.

Not unlike the trajectory of Frankie Goes To Hollywood following the exquisitely produced mayhem of Welcome To The Pleasuredome (1984) with and by Trevor Horn, When In Rome simply imploded. And sadly, we'll never know what might have been. Often times the critical follow-up can work as a proverbial nail in the coffin, while for others it is a springboard that further enables the fruits of one's musical labors. Some wither and die (Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Liverpool) as a result while others endure (Howard Jones' Dream Into Action). There are any number of contributing factors, but such is the fickle reality of the music business and the equally fickle affections of music lovers. The profound influence of the music producer is a conversation for another post.

When In Rome was never received well by critics, but smart fans of 80s music know better. For many, it remains a pop classic and easily registers as one of the finest single recording highlights by a band of the 1980s.

Apart from The Promise, other songs including If Only, Heaven Knows, Sight Of Your Tears, Something Going On, Wide, Wide Sea and the rest hold up marking an infinitely memorable project. Some debuts could only hope to be this strong.

It had been some time since listening to When In Rome in its entirety. Hearing If Only reminded me of this well-crafted pop record. Just beautiful.

How ironic that a band to release a near top ten in The Promise, and demonstrate so much promise for one glimmering pop moment would all but disappear into the footnoted ether of music history with its sole release.

What When In Rome lacks in songwriting brains more than compensates with well-conceived pop hooks.  The production is an underappreciated and forgotten diamond in the rough of the 1980s. Something was indeed going on there.

When In Rome: The Promise/ Heaven Knows/ Something Going On/ I Can't Stop/ If Only/ Sight Of Your Tears/ Wide, Wide Sea/ Child's Play/ Total Devotion/ Everything

Monday, June 30, 2014

Where Are We Going?

"Where are we going? What are we doing? Throwing it away like that. What are you doing? Throwing it away. All that potential. Trickling away like that."
-Howard Jones, One To One, Where Are We Going?-

Yes, where are we going Mr. Jones? I often ask myself these things as active consideration concerning existence. Here I am. The creator behind the newly founded and forged Dog In Space blog. What exactly are my plans here?

After all, this is a brand spanking new idea. Of course no one knows about it. I mean nobody. Currently, there are no readers. In fact, I think at this early stage in the game I am essentially talking to myself. That's okay.

Music is such a personal thing really. It often has me contemplating the ways of the world and existence. The relationship with a song is quite profound really. Sometimes that intimate partnership is all you need to be left with your own thoughts for good company.

But yes, where are we going with this thing called Dog In Space? I'm not sure really. But I suspect it will remain true to music and ruminations connected therein.

It seems only natural really. In truth, it's not that surprising actually. I had given more than ample evidence of my affection and passion for music at my other blog creation, Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic. While mostly exclusive to science fiction examinations I did digress from time to time into my love for music. See here. In fact, I think the music posts were fairly well-received.

But I am here because I love music. So for whatever reason the music kept beckoning to me. I recently reorganized my entire CD collection. Wow. What a stroll down memory lane. I urge you to do the same if you have not done so. Pull out those old records and CDs and have a ball.

For a period I wrote music reviews for my college newspaper as a young man. This led to an opportunity to write for a small (in circulation) but mighty magazine called The Lexicon (clearly a nod to ABC's The Lexicon Of Love from 1982). I had penned several interviews through the years with Duran Duran, Pete Byrne of Naked Eyes, Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet, Richard Darbyshire of Living In A Box and Kurt Maloo, formerly the captain of Double. I did this as a writer with The Lexicon. I guess recently I realized how much I missed all of that. I'm not certain I will land interviews in the future, but I sure would like to try again and hope to do so. So interviews would be nice. But I suspect Dog In Space will be more of a safe haven for me to philosophize on the songs of various artists I've come to love and appreciate over the years.

Funny enough, the very seed that set this blog in motion occurred to me on a drive to work. Listening to my ipod that was now connected to a new car purchase brought back a flood of emotions, a tide of good feelings and good memories and I found I wanted to expound further on that. So one fateful drive to work essentially assured my desire to make that happen. So where was I going? I was going to work. Dog In Space came to me then.  What comes next is anyone's guess, but untethered I am indeed drifting in that space called music and for now I am happy to be there. Honestly, there is nothing better than a good song on your drive to work. It actually makes anything possible.

Where Are We Going? is extracted from the Howard Jones release One To One (1986). His flawless debut Human's Lib (1984) and sophomore release Dream Into Action (1985) are essentially perfect (see here). The fertile launch to his career and creative slide begins a touch with the middling effort One To One, but the Arif Mardin-produced collection is still graced with a number of strong selections and solid highlights including You Know I Love You...Don't You?, All I Want, Where Are We Going?, Will You Still Be There? and a new version of No One Is To Blame originally from Action Replay (1986) and the original version from Dream Into Action. Still, One To One, while maybe not as essential as the aforementioned two discs, is perhaps one of my five favorite productions from Howard Jones' rich and colorful catalogue and is a pleasure on the whole.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Dog In Space Banner

With the advent of digital downloads I'm beginning to feel quite analog. I'm finding myself situated where vinyl collectors probably were in the 1980s and 1990s - a dying breed.  Granted, vinyl and CD are still available, but like the newspaper business, it is shrinking.

Well, amassing a CD collection through the years was a great deal of fun. Lately it sits still collecting dust. Creating Dog In Space allowed me the opportunity to unearth that collection to create the image you see as the Dog In Space Banner/ Header of this blog.

I actually have such an abundance of CDs that I will likely break out another 40-50 discs for a second banner somewhere down the road should I choose to keep this site going. I'm relatively happy with the image but hopefully it will be the first of a handful I can assemble here for Dog In Space.

This is more or less an experiment to rekindle those creative fires. Here's hoping.

This is a cover I created for a music publication called The Lexicon. I was a contributing writer and penned a Duran feature following a wonderful interview with Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and Warren Cuccurullo (Missing Persons) of Duran Duran to coincide with the release of their Pop Trash (2000) recording. The interview took place at The Mercer Hotel in New York City. As you can see it is a montage of music videos, just one of the many remarkable facets of the talented band's legacy. One of the things we immediately think of when it comes to Duran Duran is their rich video history. I snapped the most prominent visual moments from their video cannon (in my mind) that always grabbed me to create this edition's cover. See if you can name all of the videos. The cover really speaks to these musicians not just as musicians but visual artists and designers of their own unique brand in sound and style of which they were unfairly derided for many years.

Dogs In Space

"Dogs out there, floatin' 'round, it's rattling the human race, dogs in space."
-Dogs In Space, Michael Hutchence, 1986-

Bath, England. It was 1988. I had the good fortune of attending the University of Bath the summer of that year as an amazing diversion from four years of college (perhaps the greatest block of time in one's life). One warm summer evening at a university dance I happened upon a beautiful girl also from America. Her name was Melissa. We hit it off. That same week we went out to a local art house theatre, a cinema called The Little Theatre (since 1936) and attended a screening of a little known cult film, Dogs In Space (1986), directed by Richard Lowenstein. The Australian post-punk film starred the late Michael Hutchence of INXS. I have relatively faint memories of that film, and mostly wanted the opportunity to hook up with this beautiful brunette half way across the world. Getting naked was more important if unsuccessful. Hutchence would have been proud of my effort though. There was something exciting and alluring about all of the freedom and unknowns. Being young and thrill-seeking only sweetened the adventure and spirit of those unforgettable days. There was room for the memory of that one-week stand.

The 1980s epitomized, for me, the pinnacle of great music. It seemed every new song by many beloved bands over the decade was indeed a new sensation. Has there been a stronger decade in sound and style? Music was and remains very much a part of who I am today. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, whether in Boston or London, it seemed there was rarely a music store that I didn't seek. From Edinburgh, Scotland to Brighton, England to New York City's Record Runner, I visited them all for the chance at a rare find of an exclusive CD, CD single, promo or video collection. The possibility of finding something special was always met with the sweet sounds of music filling each store. Those were indeed the days.

Take the soundtrack for Dogs In Space, of which Hutchence provided four songs including the haunting Rooms For The Memory. Good luck finding this rare collection.

As a young man growing up in the hey day of creative music yielding from the New Romantics and before that the burgeoning synth era of the 1970s, I was drawn to music like fishes love the sea. There is something primal about the human connection and sound created by us. I would have been lost without it. It was definitely part of who I had become and remains an important part of my existence today.

Also during those influential years were influential films. I loved Lasse Hallstrom's My Life As A Dog (1985; 1987 USA). The sweet, and sometimes difficult trials in coming of age are captured beautifully while the protagonist often compares his journey to that of the fascinating story of Laika, the Russian dog in space. For whatever reason, I connected with the plight of that boy and that dog. That film and the music artists of that defining decade like Michael Hutchence who ironically wound up appearing in a film called Dogs In Space seemed to tap into a certain sense of discovery as well as an inability to put a handle on what it all means. It's something I constantly struggle with. That title seemed to capture the many unknowns of this life. Sometimes it feels like we're just floating along in that way. That, and the connection to Hutchence and the vast talent of the 1980s music scene seemed an awfully fitting title for a music blog.

As The The's Matt Johnson once penned rather eloquently in Slow Emotion Replay from Dusk (1993), "The more I see, the less I know."

So for the launch of this blog, Dog In Space, I really wanted a simple phrase that really sung to me and spoke volumes about the music from the era I loved of which I could wax poetic with connections to my own life. Sing Blue Silver from Duran Duran's The Chauffeur (Rio) was considered but unavailable. The Lizard Mixture (I always loved that phrase)seemed perfect. The lyric from Duran's New Moon On Monday (Seven And The Ragged Tiger) was also unavailable as a blog name. In fact, there's nothing more frustrating than folks who have taken these names and done absolutely nothing with them. I mean, if you have usurped a blog name, for the love of God, start bloody blogging. I actually tormented myself for a good week just trying to come up with a decent name for this blog. I turned to Thompson Twins, a-ha and others for the perfect catch phrase to coin for this blog. Say what you want about Simon Le Bon but the man can turn a phrase. Telegram Force from Union Of The Snake was also considered.

Ultimately I settled on Dog In Space because the blog is just me, in the singular, and it captured the music era that I loved, a feeling from that period that has endured with me from a film from that era that I loved. There was just an all around 80s connection of which this blog will indubitably focus but not be exclusive. This is a music blog and I won't confine myself to a single decade despite being the greatest of all. But music for all of us is intimately connected to memories and experiences. It seemed the perfect vehicle for trying something new while celebrating the past.

Music is in my blood. I wanted very much to reflect and muse about the music I love, inspired me and continues to inspire and hopefully keep the posts short and sweet. I hope you'll take on me and join this pleasure dome.

After all, this dog is still floating through space and aren't we all just dogs in space anyway?

Dogs In Space Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: It featured Dogs In Space, Golf Course, The Green Dragon and Rooms For The Memory by Michael Hutchence. It also included a contribution by Ollie Olsen. Olsen would collaborate with Hutchence on the excellent Max Q (1989) project. The brief INXS side project yielded strong selections including Sometimes, Way Of The World, Ghost Of The Year and Monday Night By Satellite.