Anyway, I suppose this homily leads us as to why they slipped down the Steve Lilywhite breast beating path. And our answer (apparently) leads to the door of Bono.
Hmmm. How to start this one; I mean, its an open and shut case, m'lud, is it not? Ponderous but well meaning, those lumpen power chords, lowing vocals, (and those bloody tights Jim Kerr had circa 1987), stadia full of stone washed denim; (I notice that thus far no one has tried, even ironically, to revive That). I concede that I am "batting on a sticky/facing an uphill struggle/going into the lions den" blah blah fucking blah...I mean how can I start this? Maybe it is time for a bit of personal history.
Back in the dark days of 1985/6/7 all the football lads, the "Neds" the "Scallies", the "Larry Heads" (or indeed Lads in Lumpen General), would all fairly cheerfully admit that Simple Minds were, if not their fave band, at least someone they liked well enough. Like U2. All the precocious arty types like yours truly, (who pretended to read Wilde AND Jung whilst reading neither), and hung around looking glum, Would Not Be Seen Dead with a 'Minds record. I mean, did anyone see them on Live Aid? Sweet Jesus... Terrible fist thumping anthems, with Herr Kerr dancing in that awful cod-Jagger way, legs apart, wiggling his arse as if he was trying to dislodge a hen's nest.
Anyway around this time there was this kid at our school who would brazenly walk around with this early Simple Minds album; I mean quite brazenly. And he was no "lad" in the normal currency of the word; far from it, he was a fully paid up member of the 5th & 6th form art squad. Being timid, I was aware that this act scored shed loads of points, and could be worth aping in front of the girls. I mean, this was what being Morrisey was about; being Ironic, wasn't it? So I asked him; wow, carrying the devils spawn around; that was a cool thing to do. "Post modern" was on the cusp of being invented; maybe this was the first post modern act. Actually, on reflection, maybe it wasn't. I certainly (and thankfully) didn't accuse him of being post modern. Anyway, I digress; his answer and manner shocked me. He angrily told me to fuck off and stop taking the piss out of one of the best records made. As proof of his anger, (and I bet he got this kind of thing quite a lot from the art squad), he offered to lend it me. Christ. So I timidly took it from him, hid it under my coat, and furtively smuggled it outta school.
The album was Empires and Dance and had been made in 1980. I shoved my Smiths records aside and put it on. Bloody heck. How do I describe it to you? I mean you youthful types are probably grooving away right now to Chicks on Speed, or some electroclash or whaddever. Let me tell you know that Empires and Dance IS THE BLUEPRINT. Set as a futuristic, nihilistic soundtrack around Europe, with Kerr dramatizing what he sees in a brittle, caustic way. Better than that, the sound of it, grandiose (with an old pre 1914 feel), thumping, DANCEY; (there I was, I still remember thinking, Simple Minds? Groovy?) To this day I still back this album. I just never tell anyone who it is when I put it on at a party. No one ever believes me.
Anyway, after that night, I began to cautiously check out other releases, keeping strictly to a date that was pre Waterfront (i.e. pre 1983). (Waterfront was the first sign of bombast, by the way). And I have to say that I was rarely disappointed. Top marks went to Reel to Reel Cacophony, the fabulously sparky 1979 art collage/Eno/Low rip off and Sons and Fascination the 1981 follow up; a richer more sprawling sound; whilst not being as perfect in concept as Empires and Dance, it was still pretty great. As for New Gold Dream, (their "breakthrough/crossover" album), I was fascinated that a band could degenerate from this sublime, ethereal, gentle dance pop to thumping out slabs of condemned meat like Ghostdancing. Get this as well, during this period Simple Minds wore fucking mascara and lippy! I mean, Jim Juan-Kerr, the saviour of the planet, in lippy? I mean.
Anyway, I suppose this homily leads us as to why they slipped down the Steve Lilywhite breast beating path. And our answer (apparently) leads to the door of Bono. For it was whilst Simple Minds were having trouble with the follow-up to New Gold Dream, (how do you out perfect the perfect?), U2 came a calling. The bands got on well, (as far as I know, anyway), so much so that Kerr had a "revelation". This was 1983; maybe experimentation and impressionistic motorik soundtracks were dated; after all four years of cussed artistic experiment had resulted in no money and only modest general acclaim. Look at U2; they kept it simple and they were on the cusp of becoming big.. Hmm.
Out went the lippy, out went the balance and rhythm, out went the dark undercurrents. Welcome big sounds, happy/positive/meaningless/dribble lyrics and JK balancing up a pole (literally). Sparkle in the Rain is just a messy disappointment. At the time, I suppose it fitted the times beautifully. As for 1985's Once Upon a Time, released just after the Live Aid appearance, well, that was just massive; people loved it, its glossy banal confidence confirmed everything about the shitty ol' mid 1980s. However much the band would have disclaimed it, this was the soundtrack to the "young", "entrepreneuring" "meat and two veg" aspiring-mullet crowd. (Dare I, do I need to, mention the T word?).. Despite 1989's "attempt" to return to New Gold Dream territory,
With Street Fighting Years, the album revealed itself to be just wind and water wank. To be honest I couldn't name another album of theirs, but I can safely assume they are all shit.
Apparently a few years ago, they did a covers LP with a Bunnymen track on it I'd like to hear that, just for a laugh. But I won't bother, and neither should you. Get Empires and Dance though. You'll be amazed.
Words : Richard Foster