Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 8]

simple minds - empires+danceUKCDASimple Minds | Empires + Dance – 4

[…continued from past post]

Following the slow-paced, monumental “This Fear Of Gods” comes the first song on side two that is even slower, and more deliberate. “Capital City” was based on a four note bass line sequence that was repeated for the song’s entire 6:15 running time! Often without any drums present in the mix for long measures at aa time. On this track, Simple Minds took deliberate pacing to new extremes. Kerr did not enter the song until over a minute into its length. The lyrics once again invoked cities and train travel albeit much more minimally than in “I Travel,” which represented the urgent opposite extreme of pacing on this largely methodical album.

“Constantinople Line” continued the theme with the most explicitly rail travel oriented song in this collection. Kerr’s lyrics were as dramatically straight forward as they had yet ever been here, with the lyrics consisting largely of dialogue between a bourgeois traveler [possibly a Western journalist] and the wait staff of the train he is riding, in flight from a possible political revolution. The whiff of the Soviet Union and the Domino Theory hangs over this unsettling number like a pall of red smoke. Kerr masterfully matches the meter of the music with the lyrical coda below.

Red star.
Red star.
Red.” – Constantinople Line

As the song fades out, train sound effects similar to those that were used in the introduction of David Bowie’s “Station To Station” were briefly heard before the track trailed off to nothing, then a heavily reverberant “clunk” was heard, following which, the most atypical Simple Minds song ever began.

“Twist/Run/Repulsion” was a breathtaking, almost chaotic number with almost no melody to speak of that took the already extreme repetition of the album into new realms of radicalism. The song was built on a circular bass line that dropped out of the song for a measure at a time with Burchill’s guitar reduced to a single chord, played strictly for rhythmic impetus. The tempo was a return to the freneticism of “I Travel” with none of that song’s positivism. This was a song a frayed nerves and extreme anxiety that consisted of two separate vocal lines juxtaposed over the busy rhythm bed.

The first vocal interlude, was a woman reciting French words [actually from the pen of Russian writer Nicolas Gogol – “La Perspective Nevski”] over the rhythm bed while the saxophone of Charlie Burchill accentuates the bass rhythms with what sound like subtle peals of laughter in the mix. The result is nightmarish, yet somehow exhilarating. It sounds like a kind of Beat Jazz gone terribly wrong. After several measures of this, then Kerr’s vocals replace the French dictation in the mix. Kerr recites [raps?] a methodical, seemingly free-form flow that acted as a form of percussion to the already melody-free music.


Then, it started again and repeated, with the French recitation followed once again by Kerr. The jarring sequence was repeated a third time before the song finally ended abruptly with a slurred, reverberated halt.

After the bracing track, the listener was rewarded with one of the finest songs on the album and one which pointed the way forward for the band, out of the Eastern Bloc claustrophobia which had dominated the sound of this astonishing album. “Thirty Frames A Second” was a single begging for release from the album, but alas,  it only reached the public in a live rendition on the B-side of the late 1980 re-issue of “I Travel” once Arista thought that people were beginning to pay attention to the band. Naturally, the song had a compulsive bass line since Derek Forbes was constructing relentless bass lines as if his life depended on them by this time. McGee provided an arrhythmic backbeat which was compulsively addictive, but the cherry on the top of this song was the evasive synth line that wended its way across the skies of this song from MacNeil. After the previous track, the melody seemed to be bursting with vitality, even though the song’s lyrics were as dark and introverted as anything else on the album.

After this final peak, the album had its instrumental coda in the contemplative and dub-like instrumental “Kant-Kino,” named for the Berlin club where the band were now regulars. It seemed to be a dub mix of the coda of the previous song as the two were segued together. Then came “Room,” the lurching finale to the challenging and ultimately rewarding album. The lyrics hinted of blood, razors, and murder in the most oblique way possible, while the music had dizzy dub interludes where the foundation of the song lost its stability while ultimately regaining its composure for the placid fade out.

It’s hard to believe it now, but Peter Gabriel was so impressed with “Real To real Cacophony” that he asked Simple Minds to be his opening act for his 1980 tour behind his astonishing third album so that they were touring “Empires + Dance” while the headliner was pushing his equally uncompromising and expansive breakthrough album on the same bill. I can hardly believe that it was once possible to see and hear two such acts who were at their respective artistic peaks simultaneously! What I would have given to have seen either act in the Fall of 1980!

The injection of cash and the patronage of one of their heroes hopefully offset the hostility they received from Gabriel’s Prog-minded audience who were obviously deaf to the absolutely progressive music being proffered by Simple Minds at this time. Sad to say, but the tour was an exercise in abuse and hostility from Gabriel’s audience. If their relationship with their touring audience was a case of pearls before swine, the relationship the band had with their label was coming to a head. Arista only reluctantly released the album at all, and were sorely disappointed in their signing from a year earlier. After creating an album that was clearly their most successful and idiosyncratic offering yet, it was time for things to change for Simple Minds if they were to continue. They were not getting the label oxygen needed to support them and they obviously still had much more to give at this point.

Next: …A Virgin cocktail…and make it a double

About postpunkmonk

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1 Response to Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 8]

  1. Echorich says:

    Side tow of E+D seems to take our Simple Minds’ travelogue out of Europe – heading further East and South. There is a literal feel to Constantinople Line. All that racing out of Post War “New” Europe, the traveler finds himself on the edges of The East. The slow deliberately circular sound of bass and drums a sort of reorientation to a new land. Twist/Run/Repulsion is the cacophony of the old world, experienced by that New European – something is going on, but what exactly. It’s a glorious melange of languages and attitudes which seem out of place.
    Side two’s masterpiece and my second favorite track on the album is Thirty Frames A Second. It’s claustrophobic and angry and very sinister thanks to Mick MacNeil’s brilliant angular synth work. If I am following on my European Traveler train of thought, this is where that same traveler reveals himself to be an agent of some specific design – a spy, an agent of Western Government there to cause chaos and thus maintain The West’s control over the growing pains of the Near East.
    Yes this travelogue I’ve constructed around Empires + Dance may seem a bit contrived, but it’s not something I’ve come to lightly. I’ve always considered E+D to be one of the gems of the Post Punk Imperial Era. Like many of the albums of the era, it created a concept in this listener’s mind rather than laid out a concept which was forced down the throat of the listener like so many Prog albums of the preceding era.
    Kant-Kino and Room bring our protagonist back to his “safe European home.” His mission accomplished, likely debriefed in some West Berlin bar or club – Kant-Kino. With Room he can take off his public persona and be himself again, ordinary but maybe never the same again.
    Where Empires + Dance starts basically out of control, it walls itself in at the end with Rooms. Musically, Rooms is the final time the shadow of Roxy Music would rise from Simple Minds’ music – it’s subtle, but there’s a hint in there, just a hint.


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