Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 3]

PVC Records | US | LP | 1979 | PVC 7910

Simple Minds – Life In A Day | 1979 – 2

[…continued from last post]

Side two got off to a brisk start with the excellent New Wave bopper, “No Cure.” Being in the traditional side two, track one, pole position, it had what it took to perhaps be a successful single. Mick MacNeil’s bouncy organ triplets may have betrayed his wedding band origins in this case, but the band saved the “sure fire single” for the next track.

simple minds - chelseagirlUK7ASimple Minds had looked forward to bands of the immediate generation that preceded them for clues, and they could not help noticing that Cockney Rebel usually managed to have some powerful sing-alongs for getting an audience stoked and in the flow of things. With that brief in mind, they constructed their secret weapon. Single number two would be “Chelsea Girl.” The ornate, baroque 60s pop confection recalled nothing like anything in their salvo of weapons either before or since. This tune sported big, crunch chord riffs courtesy of Burchill that contrasted mightily with the chocolate box harpsichord of MacNeil. Live, the song was said to have been a rousing success; connecting with the concertgoers immediately. On the charts, it was another thing entirely, when it stalled far below the top 50.

“Wasteland” was built on a propulsive galloping riff left over from the Johnny + The Self Abusers days. It managed to offer a dignity that was confirmed when the band selected it for revisiting during their recent “5×5” tour. It wasn’t so eager to please as the relatively promiscuous “Chelsea Girl.” The next cut, “Destiny,” seemed weaker to these ears than the two non-LP B-sides from the album’s the album’s running time, so the reprieve given to a track as undistinguished as “Destiny” could make sense in that light.

The album ended with “Murder Story,” a dynamic cut with an enervated, amphetamine drive that probably reflected the chemical playlands the band were dallying in at the time. MacNeil again trots out piano triplets here that could have come from the Fats Domino songbook, but the stark juxtapositions that the cut features, had more to do with The Velvet Underground, than New Orleans boogie boogie. For the second time at the end of a side, the band managed to capture the feel of what they’d imagined they would be striving for on their first album. They were the sons of Bowie looking towards his antecedent, the VU, and this track honorably pursues that viewpoint.

The track was all edgy paranoia as it built to a frenzied, multifaceted crescendo that almost attained psychedelia as various tracks were looped and layered [this must have kept Leckie on his toes] while dropping in and out of the mix right up to the starkest cold ending imaginable. It had the backing effect of a slap in the face and it surely made a memorable impression to close out a somewhat indifferent album.

“No one else was saying anything, but we went to press it, got the acetates, and as we were about to drive up to Scotland, someone gave me a cassette of “Unknown Pleasures” by Joy Division and I thought, we’ve completely blown it. Our live stuff, our demos were a bit darker, more hints of the Velvets, etc, and no hint at all of The Boomtown Rats!” – Jim Kerr

As soon as they heard the mixed acetates, the band’s collective hearts sunk. While they had gone into the studios for the first time with the best of intentions, their inexperience, coupled with a very different view of the band as pop hit makers by Arista, enabled the album to slip through their fingers and become something else entirely than what they envisioned at the start. When a friend let them hear Joy Division’s just released “Unknown Pleasures,” they were positively despondent.  They knew that they had to turn the rudder, and fast. But how would they do it?

As it turned out, a few seeds of the second album were there, buried deep within “Life In A Day.” The bridge on “All For You” took a dramatic turn from the Farfisa-riff led topline melody of that song. Manager Bruce Findlay had come into the studio, a few sheets to the wind one night an proceeded to play the detuned synth passage that producer Leckie treated with some dub echo and placed into the mix of the song. That would presage a more dramatic track on album number two, even if the band didn’t know it at the time. Meanwhile, they made sure to immediately begin album number two, also with Leckie at the helm, and they would be taking steps to run interference against their label to ensure their vision wouldn’t stray.

Meanwhile, they were saddled with a debut album that sold relatively well, though far below what Arista imagined it would. It’s a professional, if derivative, album that is easy to listen to and managed to evidence some charm on at least half of its tracks to varying degrees. Only the side closers “Pleasantly Disturbed” and “Murder Story” attain what could be called A-list status with their credible evocations of The Velvet Underground and subsequent acolytes like Doctors Of Madness. There have been far worse debut albums out in the wilds before and after this one. To be praised with faint damns like this must have rankled the band and fed their determination not to let the experience replay a second time.

Next: …Sophomore breakthrough

About postpunkmonk

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2 Responses to Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 3]

  1. Echorich says:

    Spot on for the second side Monk! Murder Story is everything that they could have/should have achieved on the debut. No Cure is all Roxy/Sparks in tone and Wasteland seems like a great idea that just didn’t get the care it needed to succeed. Destiny is a bit to New Wave by the numbers, but it does interestingly seem to slow the rhythm down after the intro as Kerr’s vocal come in. There is a kernel of a great song in there, something Devoto and company were already great at.
    I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of Chelsea Girl. I get what they were attempting, but it’s a bit too heavy handed – maybe thats the Cockney Rebel influence – and aside from an interesting synth line buried in among all the goings on, it just has never fired me up.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – I find “Chelsea Girl” fun for being completely atypical of the band’s entire career. Pure novelty value in that context, but no. Not what I’d call a great song either.


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