Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 10]

simple minds - sons+fascinationSimple Minds | Sons + Fascination – 4

[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.”

simple minds - sweatuk2x7AThe 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

About postpunkmonk

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4 Responses to Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 10]

  1. Echorich says:

    The one thing Steve Hillage brought to Simple Minds was an immersive production that doesn’t give the listener a chance to avoid the whirlpools and rip currents that the band was creating. Some have complained that Hillage “overproduced” SAF/SFC, but the “depth” of his production lends itself greatly to the enormity of SM’s masterful rhythm section.
    I think Kerr’s vocals take a giant leap forward in confidence on SAF/SFC. Gone is the nervous, breathless staccato, replaced with a strong vocal narration that’s really a one of a kind. While Kerr’s contemporaries – Vox and McCulloch were fighting over who could emote louder and stronger, Kerr traveled closer to the path Devoto was traveling, but not as dismissive or sardonic.
    In Trance Mission is as appropriately placed here as Empires + Dance’s I Travel, in that they both act as heralds. That opening rhythm and lead rondo can stick with you for hours and makes the circlular nature of the track so mesmerizing that it’s almost 7 minutes go by in what feels like moments.
    Sweat in Bullet continues the circular rhythm but adds muscle in Forbes unforgiving bass and McGee’s sharp drum attacks. This is Post Punk dance music. It’s a track played at The Peppermint Lounge all through the fall and winter of 1981 in NYC. In fact I can remember a mix tape where I had Talking Head’s Born Under Punches preceding and Byrne’s My Big Hands following it on a mixtape that got me to and from university that winter.
    The next two tracks are probably my favorites on SAF.
    70 CIties As Love Brings The Fall is one of the greatest song titles of ALL TIME – made even better by being as unique as any Simple Minds song would EVER be. Eno’s polyrhythm treatise is upended and thrown in a blender here creating something that 33 years later sounds new, contemporary and stronger than much of any music coming out today. The backup singing fights with Kerr in a tug of war for who will take over the song while bass and drum beat all the vocals back behind the fences. Someday SM will perform this song with a full choral backing and contemporary orchestra – well that’s my dream. Why it was not done for their Night At The Proms appearance in ’97, ’02 or ’08, I will always wonder.
    Boys From Brazil is a tour de force for Brian McGee. His Burundi Beat drumming is an exciting counterpoint to Forbes bassline which manages to take up the Motorik beat in its place. This is a sister track to Echo And The Bunnymen’s All My Colours (Zimbo) in my mind as both songs are the fruit of their genre defining drummers. Kerr is on top of the mountain calling down to his listener – not messiah like, again more of a herald, full of strength and conviction. MacNeil’s synths shimmer here, weaving – along with Burchill’s treated guitar – through the song’s rhythmic DNA.


  2. zoo says:

    Side 1 is practically flawless. Every song is amazing in its own right, and each band member shines. “Boys From Brazil” is INTENSE!


  3. zoo says:

    Came across this today…thought it applicable to the GPA:

    sound in 70 cities: the European urbanism of Simple Minds


    • postpunkmonk says:

      zoo – I found that last year when digging into Simple Minds imperial period. Nothing beats a well-considered think piece backed up with diligent research! If only I didn’t have a job, that’s how I’d spend my days!


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