There’s another world, probably many, but the one I think of at this present moment in time is the one whereby Simple Minds remain the more adventurous and experimental compared to U2.
If you’re scoffing at this, then the chances are you haven’t heard Simple Minds’ early stuff – but records like Life In A Day, Reel To Reel Cacophony and Empires And Dance show the sign of a band who had far more in common with arthouses than stadia.
They’re shortly to return with a new album Big Music, due out in November- and this is the first song from it: ‘Blindfolded.’ Frankly, I can live without the overblown likes of ‘She’s A River’ and ‘Belfast Child’ but this is the Minds re-discovering why, thirty years ago, they really were vital.
1989: The Cure release their seventh and best album Disintegration. U2 are still riding high on the release of The Joshua Tree and the resulting Rattle & Hum album and film, and are generally regarded as being the biggest band in the world at this point. Simple Minds release Street Fighting Years. Although it is a no.1 album, it’s bombastic, and way behind their pioneering best work. ‘Belfast Child’ is the band’s only no.1 single, a reworking of the folk song ‘She Moves Through The Fair.’ It is also the last album they will do with keyboardist Michael MacNeil and manager Bruce Findlay.
1979: The Cure release their debut album Three Imaginary Boys. Though within a year they will have reinvented themselves completely, at this point their debut album only offers a hint of how excellent and essential they will become. Over In Ireland Dublin four-piece U2 release their debut EP Three, solely in that country. Simple Minds, in the year that is arguably the greatest ever for music, are streets ahead of both of them…
X5 is a fantastic compilation. In essence, what it is is Simple Minds’ first five albums together as a box set, retailing for around £12.00, with decent extras, like the extended remixes of tracks that are worth hearing, rather than the need for an entire album’s worth of the demos. The box set also deals nicely with the issue of Sons & Fascination and Sister Feelings Call – one album or two? – by placing them together in a gatefold sleeve.
It’s fascinating to track the evolution of ver Minds at this point. Debut Life In A Day wears its’ love of the Velvets and Roxy on its’ sleeve, to the extent that I swear it sounds like Jim Kerr is actually trying to sound like Bryan Ferry (they would eventually work with Lou Reed on, erm, Street Fighting Years). The quantum leap to Real To Real Cacophony (described by then label Arista as being one of the most uncommercial releases they had ever heard) is comparable to the jump between Pablo Honey and The Bends. While U2 were sounding earnest, the Minds were looking to Berlin more than a decade before U2 would make Achtung Baby. And both those Minds albums came out in 1979.
1980’s Empires And Dance showed them progressing yet further. Opener ‘I Travel’ still sounds remarkably fresh thirty years on, and predates much of the dance music of the forthcoming decade, never mind stadium rock. It’s intersting though that on the following year’s double pairing of Sons…and Sisters that the ’20th Century Promised Land’ suddenly hints at the direction they would take. By 1982’s New Gold Dream 81-82-83-84 breakthrough hit ‘Promised You A Miracle’ (what the hell was with that white biker jacket though on Top Of the Pops?) showed that the anthems were coming through. But they were still am excellent bloody band. And they even made it into John Peel’s Festive Fifty that year with no less than 3 entries.
Sure, they got really big, and the quality control dipped, but forget the stadium pomp and focus on the peerless work herein. It’s taken long enough for this era of their work to be re-evaluated – but with bands from the Manics to the Primals to the Horrors lining up to acknowledge their influence, it really is time to embrace them.
They may have receievd a lot of flack over the years (a fair bit of which is almost certainly tall poppy syndrome), but I think it’s time for people to embrace the music of early Simple Minds. Rather like with Roxy Music, the early stuff was genuinely pioneering, and has dated much better than some of the later stuff. And controversial though this may be for some, I think they were far more pioneering in their early days than U2, with whom they were always compared. They didn’t want to be considered Jockrock and the song titles reflected an interest far more in tune with Warhol and European culture.
Take the two early tracks ‘I Travel’ and ‘Theme For Great Cities.’ To me they still sound utterly fresh now.
Simple Minds -‘I Travel.’
Simple Minds -‘Theme For Great Cities.’
This track hints at what was to come later…but also shows that several albums in, they hadn’t compromised.
Simple Minds -‘The American.’
In 1982, they broke through commercially with the album New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) and attendant hits like ‘Promised you A Miracle.’ There were celebrity marriages for singer Jim Kerr (to both Chrissie Hynde and Patsy Kensit), a US no.1 single, and huge, massive gigs. An increasing bombasticness alientated old fans, but there were some utter gems later too:
This was the first time I ever saw Simple Minds’ music on TV, this made it into the UK charts in late 1986. Their manager of the time, Bruce Findlay, has said that this is a re-write of ‘I Travel.’
Simple Minds -‘Ghostdancing.’
Please do yourselves a favour: listen to the early albums: Life In A Day, Reel To Reel Cacophony, Empires And Dance, Sons and Fascination, Sisters Feeling Call. You can almost certainly pick these up very cheaply. Simple Minds are still recording and touring. Their manager of the eighties, Bruce Findlay now manages Aberfeldy and reads this blog, too…