The band wasted no time in jumping off the cliff of commercialism to better put their debut album behind them. John Leckie was retained as producer, though Gary Numan [!] was bandied about as a potential replacement. The band must have had more than a few talks with Numan as they ended up performing handclaps on a track from Numan’s “Telekon” album, [“The Aircrash Bureau”] recorded in much the same time. Meanwhile, the band and producer maintained a cone of silence during the preproduction phase that saw label Arista being denied hearing any demos or sessions; a move that would have repercussions later.
When the needle drops on “Real To Real Cacophony,” the title track [or one half of it since there is another song on side one called “Cacophony”] the immediate sensation is that Kansas has been left far behind… for Düsseldorf climes. “Real To Real” was a brazen, dubbed out re-write of Kraftwerk’s “Electricity,” re-constructed with just rhythm boxes and synths. Well, it was good enough for OMD [see “electricity”] so why not Simple Minds? Brief and potent, it sets the tone for the rest of the album. No tracks flirt with the six to eight minute mark here. Some are brief fragments suggestive of new vistas the band were too impatient to fully explore. The overall effect is not unlike Bowie’s “Low” album [side one, of course]. I can only imagine hardcore fans of “Life In A Day” completely blindsided by the abrupt shift in tone and content.
The next track, “Naked Eye,” sports a completely unconventional structure lets the listener know that familiarity has been completely abandoned as a touchstone for the band. Abrupt changes in thrust and direction suggest a kaleidoscopic tone of shattered identity as John Leckie’s production adds a healthy helping of version dub technique onto the platter to further splinter the vibe.
The dramatic “Citizen [Dance of Youth]” was a stentorian pounder with Charlie Burchill power chords syncopating with Brian McGee’s relentless, phased drumming. Jim Kerr was deep of voice here; scoping out the thematic territory for their next album. What was revealed here was a dystopian vision transmitted through Cold War paranoia and anxious, fragmentary lyrics. This song really could be dropped into “Empires + Dance” with its relentless pounding rhythms and political cut-up lyric shards.
The next track, “Carnival [Shelter In A Suitcase],” moves further left than the band had ever done following the relative ease with which “Citizen” could have been navigated. The chaotic arrangement here sounded like several song ideas stitched together with the sonic glue resulting only from an atonal, descending synth figure. McGee held it all together with unabashed disco rhythms, heavy on the hi-hat. The end result was more than a little redolent of “Low.” “What In The World” in particular with its constant shifts in tone.
After hearing the Simple Minds fabric stretched to the near breaking point, it was perhaps time to reel the listener back in with something a bit more conventional. “Factory” was the first conventional song structure here, but a fully realized track that can be said to have been the band’s first classic tune. They could pull this one out of their war chest nearly 25 years later and it would fit right in some of the 2005 set lists. The highest compliment that I can give it is that one could imagine Magazine performing the track. Given that Simple Minds had been the Manchester act’s opener on their first tour it’s good to see that this time out they were not only aiming at the target but skirting the bullseye.
Then it was time for a significant aspect of Simple Minds to finally manifest. The band’s penchant for instrumentals would come to be seen as one of their distinguishing marks by the time of their commercial breakthrough, and “Cacophony” was the first of these in their repertoire. It’s built around the same chord progression that Bauhaus would revisit as “Lagartija Nick” in four years time. MacNeil’s queasy synths would be afflicted with the tremolo disease as Burchill’s spacious and choppy guitar chords defined the circle that the brief composition trod in.
The next track was another instrumental, but on “Veldt,” the relative unease of the previous track was discarded for an outright sense of dread as the detuned bridge not he previous album’s “All For You” was obviously deemed the jumping off point for this lurching, pseudo-African fever dream of a track. One of the last times that one can hear Burchill’s sax playing was here, and it provided the only comforting thing for the listener’s ear to grab ahold of. The band was obviously besotted with Bowie’ “Lodger” [released before the sessions began for this album] and took “African Night Flight” as a touchstone for this track. They even replicated Eno’s famous “cricket menace” for an appearance. When deep, backward sounding vocals appear near the end, the side of the album can’t end too soon. These seven tracks had been a thoroughly wild ride. What would side two entail?
Next: …Set controls for the heart of the bass