This is Simple Minds’ masterpiece. The whole album is a work of genius. You just get infected by the songs and the mood of the album in general as the bass lines gets inside your head. Quiet and introspective stuff lyrically, set against the most sumptuous sonic landscape you could wish for.
Then in came Steve Lillywhite to the control booth, out went the subtlety, the rhythm section, so integral to the sound quit the band, Waterfront was released and in rolled the dosh, especially in the US when the next single (Don’t You) Forget About Me hit the top spot. Ironically it was penned by an American song writing factory team, and Kerr had his arm severely twisted by the Stateside record company to get the Band into the studio but they felt it was the way in to the US market and so it proved, as for a year or so it seemed even U2 would be eclipsed as the Celtic darlings of the US radio stations.
I loved the band through this period (yes, I do admit it) and the two gigs we went to were “legendary” in our memories (September 1989 coinciding with Man City thrashing ManUre 5-1 and Laurie tapping his foot, and 91 when what we really needed was another drink) but listen to the post NGD output and it sounds horribly dated, stereotypical Stadium AOR. What used to be called “radio friendly” as a euphemism for bland.
1989, however, saw a partial, if flawed return to form with Street Fighting Years, which with Trevor Horn at the controls sought a subtler, more refined sound, but if you listen to it now, the lyrics are pretentious and the fact that it took over a year to record means it’s just too “slick“.
Simple Minds came from the Glasgow late 70’s Art House Punk scene and were obviously influenced heavily by Bowie, Roxy Music and more modern bands such as Bauhaus.
Life in a Day came out in 1980 and mixed electro pop with the guitar band format to great effect and was seen as new and vibrant by the critics, as was album number two, Reel to Reel Cacophony.
Only one slight problem, chronic sales which saw the band on the verge of being dropped.
Empires and Dance (1981) was another commercial flop, not even the superb electro trance singles I Travel and Celebrate could prevent the inevitable axing by the record label, an experience that scarred the band and, perhaps inevitably made them more conservative especially later in their career where you feel the “need” for a hit single outweighed artistic concerns. Their 90′s output has been nothing short of woeful, and how they can continue to creak on, one can only wonder at.
A change of label (Virgin) and fresh artistic input saw the superb double release Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call which like NGD is a masterpiece albeit a slightly flawed one, but importantly the band had found a sound and a producer (Steve Hillage ex Gong) that worked for them making the music accessible to a mass audience without compromising the artistic roots.
This album includes gems such as The American, Love Song and a brilliant instrumental Theme For Great Cities, but as is often the case a good double would have made a great single album.
The first single from NGD was Promised You a Miracle went Top 20 in the UK but is strangely untypical of the album from whence it came as it has a poppy feel to it which is at odds with the more ambient sound on the record.
The opener, Someone, Somewhere in Summertime sets the bar high and grabs the attention. The first time I heard it in 1983 it just struck something in me, the sweeping, uplifting sound and the optimism of the lyric. “Someone can see what I can see”, positive and full of hope against the ravaged landscape of the individualistic Thatcher era.
Then the beautiful weaving of a bouncing bass line with the offbeat lyrics of Colours Fly and Catherine Wheel where Kerr’s lyrics are about the sound of the words rather than the meaning. I love that, language trawled for sound to convey meaning.
The Big Sleep is about the death of Kerr’s friend and the confusion in his teenage mind. “Where do you go in the big sleep?”. Honest and real.
My two favourite tracks round the album off with the ambient sound to the fore, King is White and in the Crowd is preceded by the shimmering Hunter and the Hunted. On the former the instrumental sound created is just breathtaking and up there with the best Radiohead material, standing the test of time and the final song continues in this vein but added to by Kerr’s best, most mature and rounded vocal.
Kerr summed up his view on the lyrics and sound, and post a counterpoint to the brutal certainties of Thatcher;
“I’m not sure what I’m searching for, Is it a theory? Is it a person? Is it a God? I don’t know, but whatever it is it’s not this, not conflict and division”.
“There’s a line in the Werner Herzog film, Fitzcarraldo: Only dreamers can move mountains. I thought that was great. Dreamers have got a bad reputation, people say, He’s a dreamer, he’ll never do anything. You actually need courage to dream. To go out there and try and uplift people. Cynicism is the cowards way out.”
Spot on my son and relevant as much in 2006 as it was in 1982.
The album peaked at Number 3 in late 1982. It was also greeted by some of the best reviews of their career, with NME’s Paul Morley describing New Gold Dream as “majestic and triumphant”.
Then came commercial success and when Kerr was challenged on “selling out” he said somewhat bafflingly; “We all have a Holy Grail and I like winners”. Umm.
But I remember Simple Minds by this work of outstanding feeling, music to touch the soul which is what it’s all about in my book.