05 October 2009

Arias & Symphonies by Spoons

I sleep in your nova heart
As things come apart

No-one had heard a Canadian record like Arias & Symphonies when it hit the airwaves in 1982. Here was a bona fide New Romantic record from a home-grown talent, sounding as though this relatively unknown band from Burlington, Ontario, were seasoned habitues of the Blitz club in London, England. It wasn't just good. It was great.

This was primarily down to the band landing John Punter, who had produced both Roxy Music and their stylistic successors Japan. It was on a trip to Canada with Japan in 1979 that he became acquainted with Spoons, as they both shared distributor Quality Records. At the beginning of 1982 he worked with them for three days on the "Nova Heart" / "Symmetry" 12". This went top ten on release in April and paved the way to a further collaboration in the form of a full-length album. These sessions were the first time Punter worked with a group outside the UK.

Arias & Symphonies, released in October, is full of the suburban concerns Spoons displayed on their quirky debut single "After the Institution" (1980) and first album Stick Figure Neighbourhood (1981). But the drums have been streamlined and machined, the synths sequenced and arpegiatted, the vocals sheened and the guitars layered. The cover photo, used with permission of the Austrian National Tourist Office, gives the album an air of European grandeur, especially with its elaborate typography and heraldic insignia. The band portraits on the reverse, shot by noted photographer Peter Nobel, further attest to the influence of Ultravox, with the band all kitted out in white and posing before neo-classical buildings.

But it was not simply Punter's polished production and arrangements that make this the very pinnacle of the Canadian New Romantic scene. The song-writing is first rate, melodic and compelling, with a variety of tempos and moods on display. What the songs have in common is a sort of play-acting, extrapolating to the absurd, whether it's about communications theory ("One In Ten Words"), quantum physics ("No Electrons"), pirates ("Walk The Plank") or the ever-dramatic life-or-death struggle known as, um, winter ("Smiling In Winter"). The title song is a sumptuous slice of pop in the grandiose style of "Vienna," with Deppe's vocals approaching the operatic as he laments the things that parents expect of their children.

Smack dab in the middle there's "Nova Heart," with its over-the-top verses and lovely chorus. And the middle eight is a thing of beauty: instruments leisurely encircle the precision drum machine (Derrick Ross, automated), building to a lead synth line from Rob Preuss (only 17, eye-shadow, longing looks) as good as any Billy Currie mustered. Sandy Horne (long hair, ballet shoes, swooning followers) lays down bass grooves and trills expertly in the background. Vox Angelica they used to call it. This one belongs up there with the first Duran Duran and Visage albums, Vienna and Spandau Ballet's "To Cut A Long Story Short."

What follows is our usual high-quality rip of the vinyl album. We've exactly preserved the inter-song timings and have erred on the side of under-processing the audio. No extra compression or noise reduction here, and the high VBR rate ensures you'll enjoy all the top end sizzle of those double time hi hats.

Listen to this rip and then go to the Spoons site and order the Limited Edition compilation. You'll get several later hit tunes you can sing along to in the kitchen, two selections from the debut album and that magnificent "Nova Heart" EP, with its fab b-side, "Symmetry." And just to complete the experience, don't forget the "Nova Heart" video as well.


Arias & Symphonies
01 Trade Winds / Smiling In Winter
02 One In Ten Words
03 No Electrons
04 No More Growing Up
05 Arias & Symphonies
06 Nova Heart
07 South American Vacation
08 A Girl In Two Pieces
09 Walk The Plank
10 Blow Away

Canada LP Ready Records [LR 27] 1982.10
USA LP A&M Records [LP-4920] 1982.10
Canada CD Universal Music [7697421972] 2000

Recorded at Sounds Interchange, Toronto & Air Studios, London.
Mixed at Air Studios, London.

Sandy Horne: Bass, Vocals
Derrick Ross: Drums, Percussion
Rob Preuss: Jupiter IV, SH-2000
Gordon Deppe: Guitar, Vocals

Produced and mixed by John Punter
Photography by P.L. Noble

The album was accompanied by two singles, "Arias & Symphonies" / "Trade Winds" [SR 271] which charted at #18 and "Smiling in Winter" / "South American Vacation" [SR 272] which only made it to #30. That second seven inch is obscure enough that discogs knows not of its existence. That's what you've got us for!

-- The Second Chameleon


  1. here's one vote for Nova Heart as the best single of the 1980s. Thank you.

  2. Hello...

    I really enjoy your blog, and your selections are excellent. Keep up the good work!

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  3. Amazing Blog, would you happen to have Stinky Toys S/T (1979)?

  4. Come now! While I'll grant you this album is certainly the peer of the first Visage LP, it's far better than the ridiculously derivative Duran debut and is laughably superior to anything Spandau Ballet ever released!

  5. The link is dead! If you can, please fix. I'd love to hear this record. Thank you!

  6. Strange how that link, which has worked for more than a year, suddenly goes dead. Darn Rapidshare. It's fixed now, so enjoy!

  7. Although I love all the songs on this album, One In Ten Words still sounds thoroughly contemporary to me - it could have been released yesterday.

  8. Thank you so much... Greetings from Switzerland - Nenest