[continued from last post]
This album began with the admission that it was now all about the bass. “In Trance As Mission” was practically a précis of the band’s compositional methodology by this time. The naked bass line of Derek Forbes that this song [and indeed band] was anchored to was joined by the motorik drumming of Brian McGee that advanced the song forward in hops and skips while the bass kept circling close. McGee eschewed all but the scantest of drum fills and when Mike MacNeil’s synths arrived on the scene, they added wisps of melody that kept to the rondo motif of it all. When Jim Kerr’s vocals entered the song it all achieved a calm, almost paradoxical blend of motorik forward movement mated with a newfound placidity that seemed to take its cues from the last track of “Empires + Dance.”
Producer Steve Hillage was not convinced that this cut needed to start the album at nearly 6:30 with almost no melodic development, but he eventually saw it as the right thing, as the band had all along. Kerr’s vocals harkened back to Bryan Ferry somewhat, but the emotional thrust of the song was far from Ferry’s usual palette. This was a song of gently questing exploration and quite new to the Simple Minds barrel of tropes. If anything, this showed that the band had duly absorbed both Krautrock and Eno’s transitional period, as heard on “Another Green World” or “Before And After Science.”
The vibe shifted dramatically on the next track, “Sweat In Bullet.” This was a dramatic return to the explorative trance funk that first surfaced so dramatically on “Premonition.” The hugely athletic bass line that Forbes pinned the song on was a wonder to hear. He was using fretless to give the deeply funky line a dramatic and breathless portamento. This was a sound far from the Jaco Pastorius/Mick Karn school of fretless bass playing, which by now was managing to become a genre unto itself. If anything, it recalled the space bass of Bootsy Collins, at least in temperament.
McGee kept the drums simple, which was his brief for the album, with funky cowbell adding to the dance floor appeal. Kerr dipped further into the Ferry waters vocally, but his lyrics were as tantalizingly oblique as they ever became here, with words like “airmobility” fairly leaping out of the composition. Combined with the tightly riffing synths of MacNeil and the heavily treated rhythm guitar of Charlie Burchill, it almost sounded like one for the dance floor, but this track remained as tantalizingly left-field as anything on the previous album. It used the trappings of pop music more readily, but was not quite ready to cross the finish line in the race from art to pop.
“70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall” began with dramatically reverberant synth leads [possibly sequenced] from MacNeil and featured either dramatically treated guitar or
bass adding one of the most unique hooks I’d ever heard in a song. I really can’t tell which as it ends up making the instrument in question sound like a cow! I’d like to think it was Burchill’s guitar. Kerr’s call and response doubletracked vocals add melodic
complexity to a track that never takes the easy way out. Various melodic threads counterpoint one another as in a hall of mirrors as the track weaves a complex spell that on occasion had all the various lead lines synching to a dramatic stopping point. The result is less of a song than more of a tapestry of sound that envelopes the listener.
My favorite album track from “Sons + Fascination” is the insistent “Boys From Brazil.” The rhythm bed is not dependent on bass for a change and what a rhythm it is! I could listen to it all day long. Once I hear it, it only reluctantly leaves my receptive brain. The pounding, tribal drums were right up front here with a pattern that was impossible to resist. Kerr invokes here the Ira Levin potboiler [a film in 1978] to obliquely reference the far right National Front party which saw some of its members attracted to the Tories due to Margaret Thatcher’s anti-immigrant viewpoints in the 1979 election. Lovely. One day I would like to attempt an extended remix of the song, which was way too brief for my tastes.
Next: …Love songs and Angels