Simple Minds | Real To Real Cacophony – 3.5
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 on the 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
Those syncopations and rhythms hinted to on Life In A Day, find full bloom on RTRC!! Yes there are lots of references to the Düsseldorf Mob here as well as a very healthy and instructive helping of Low & Lodger. But if Simple Minds were being heavily influenced by the change in direction coming from the Continent, they were also listening closely to what was beginning to come out of the North of England, Sheffield in particular.
Citizen and Carnival raise the bar very high and I feel like Factory should have been a massive hit. It may actually equal about anything coming out of Manchester, Liverpool or Sheffield at the time, but I’m sure Arista had NO idea what to do with it. Sure there are some obvious Joy Division and Magazine references in the track, but it’s much more majestic than anything either band was releasing.
Cacophony has an almost Metal/Synth vibe, some 30 years before anyone, albeit Bauhaus, was really exploring that corner of the Darkwave. That it come and goes with a sinister menace so quickly leaves you waiting for the other foot to drop. When it drops, it’s Veldt’s dark no-wave jungle that the listener falls into. Veldt is all about the sounds you hear in your nightmares, in those dark, uncomfortable places. It’s way more mature than anything else that came before it from the band.
But yes, the meat of the beast is coming up next…
Echorich – I can’t believe it that I bought “Empires + Dance” and Real To Real Cacophony” at the same time! Talk about impact! Re: Arista. It’s crazy, but the band signed with them because they had Reed, Smith, and Iggy Pop! How did all of these misfits end up on Manilow’s label?
I’ve always looked at Arista as the means to an end – not a great choice or a means to an end, but Bruce Findlay had a reputation and Arista likely bit based on that. That they couldn’t figure out how to market Simple Minds remains a shame.
A few years ago I happened to listen to Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” and RTRC back-to-back and was struck by how similar in style the two albums were. They didn’t sound the same, but they had the same feel (at least in my mind on that day). I should try it again and see if I come to the same conclusion. Anyway, my fav track from side 1 is definitely “Factory.” The version on 5X5 Live is pretty good, but it has the current Kerr styling of elongating words (“Fac-tor-ee-eeee”) when the original was a quick staccato blast.
zoo – I should maybe give Radiohead another try. So many people seem to like them. I only heard “Creep” back in the day. Then years later, a wife’s co-worker insisted we hear his copy of either “Kid A” or “OK Computer.” I had to turn it off after 2-3 songs! I had a viscerally strong reaction against it, and have not heard Radiohead since, but I thought Thom Yorke’s vocals on the “Velvet Goldmine” OST were just fine.
“Creep” remains the highlight of Radiohead for me, but I prefer Tears For Fears’ brilliant cover of it.
chasinvictoria – The last time I saw TFF [“Elemental” tour] we were all very surprised when they worked that one into their set list!