Disclosure: I collect Simple Minds. I have most of their records. They have their ups and they have their downs. I disparage almost a full decade of their output, but those first seven albums are magic to me. If I had only a single Simple Minds album to take to a desert island, this unique, US-only compilation, would probably take the cake.
Simple Minds: Themes For Great Cities US LP
- I Travel
- In Trance As Mission
- 30 Frames A Second
- Sweat In Bullet [7″ remix]
- Love Song [7″ edit]
- The American
- Theme For Great Cities
This album is anything I think you’d need to play cold to a person in order to infect them with the Simple Minds virus in a strong way. Material from this record was my entreé to Simple Minds fandom and look at me; I kept listening through nearly a decade of really lame efforts from these guys. People I met later in life, who didn’t grow up with this music and only knew them from their chart topping mush period, looked at me funny when I extolled their virtues.
What is delivered here is a band combining unique and disparate influences into a unique whole. The set opens up with the LP mix of “I Travel,” my pick for the most thrilling post-punk record ever. To hear Jim Kerr talk about it, this record was the result of hearing the seminal “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder. The Minds also used a sequenced, repetitive riff to build the song on but they seriously upped the b.p.m. of the track and introduced what sound for all the world like acid house synth voices eight years early. Original drummer Brian McGee set down an unvarying, slamming motorik beat ripped straight from the Krautrock playbook. Then they let guitarist Charlie Burchill loose on it during the time that he was determined to sound like anything but a guitar. The effects are layered on so heavy that the guitar sounds like a flexidisc of a recording of a guitar. The net effect is not unlike a freight train threatening to skid off of the rails. Magnificent. And it namechecks Brian Eno!
The rest of this album is the créme de la créme of the “Real to Real Cacophony,” “Empires + Dance,” “Sons + Fascination” and “Sister Feelings Call” albums, when the band was inarguably at their zenith. “Premonition” is the band’s first example of peaking from the “Cacophony” album. The cut is based on a sinuous bass riff courtesy of Derek Forbes, as were most of these songs at the time. They obviously evolved from open jamming and give the tracks a groove emphasis that simply can’t be beat. The band heard this track actually played in a German disco and it opened their eyes to the power of uniting trance rock forms with eurofunk.
“30 Frames A Second” should have been the third hit single from “Empires + Dance” but the first two singles [“I Travel” and “Celebrate”] inexplicably stiffed. The trance-inducing cut about returning home to an existence that you no longer recognize is amazing, cinematic songcraft and performance. “Sweat In Bullet” is based around Derek Forbes muscular fretless bassmanship. The man gets huge accolades for picking up a fretless yet sounding nothing like Mick Karn or Jaco Pastorius. The man is undeniably the Scot god of bass; right up there with Bootsy Collins or Mick Karn, yet I sometimes feel like I’m the only member of his fan club.
“Love Song” is best heard in the LP version. The 7″ edit loses the incredible random sawtooth waveform intro but the track still retains its anthemic qualities. “The American” is also best appreciated in the full-blown 12″ mix, but to be honest, this is the same version on “Sister Feelings Call.” The interplay of drums, guitars and keyboards builds an inexorable cycle of power that climaxes at the guitar solo/cold ending here, but the 12″ version then leads into a fantastic breakdown of the vocal chant of the chorus.
A-mer-i, A-mer-i, A-mer-i, A-mer-i, A-mer-i-can!
Finally, “Theme For Great Cities” ends the album with a cut that’s since become a classic chillout track, made almost a decade before there were classic chillout tracks. The band have since revisited this cut with a ’91 version on the flipside of their “See The Lights” single and again with ’98 Fila Brazillia remix of the original track. When I saw the band in 2002, this cut was their first encore and it didn’t sound dated at all.
This album distills the excitement that I found the band had to offer before becoming soft and bloated stadium fodder. I suppose that artistic [if not commercial] downfall may have been a natural progression of producing seven album in just four years to much commercial indifference. This particular album existed because the band were touring in America in 1981 and someone noticed that they had not had an album released in the States since their debut in 1979. A one-off deal was signed with… Stiff America…? This album was the result. Designer to the stars Malcolm Garrett, who has a long and storied career with the band, produced a unique cover that fits with his single covers from the 1981 period rather well. This album is an interesting curio for the aficionado and a powerful gateway drug to the uninitiated. If your experience of Simple Minds begins and ends with “Don’t You Forget About Me” than by all means look for this rarity in the bins and get ready for an education.
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