Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 12]

simple minds - sisterfeelingscallUKLPA

Simple Minds | Sister Feelings Call – 4

When Simple Minds mooted issuing two albums separately at once, it must have occurred to some that this might be the “chaff” from their productive sessions which would have been B-sides in another time. The reality was, however, that the grouping of “Sons + Fascination” resulted a tightly coherent sequence of eight songs that nestled together tightly. The seven tracks on “Sister Feelings” call were not inferior material, but instead were songs that pushed further at the boundaries of where their heads were at during the recording sessions.

It began with a huge instrumental, “Theme For Great Cities.” This was not the first Simple Minds instrumental, but it was the first Simple Minds instrumental classic! In a case of “less is more” Jim Kerr wisely refrained from putting his stamp on the cut; correctly sensing it had a timeless and powerful appeal all its own.

“One of the best moves I ever made was not to sing on ‘Theme For Great Cities’. I remember walking around with that in Glasgow on my new Sony Walkman thinking this is f***ing perfect.” – Jim Kerr

That it may have also been influenced by the fact that time and the budget had run out can also be considered, but in the end, Kerr’s judgement resulted in a song of inexorable power that continues to reverberate decades later, first resurfacing several years later during the Second Summer Of Love as a bonafide Ibiza classic. The band have revisited its well on many occasions since with new versions and even an ill-advised attempt at adding lyrics, which we’ll discuss later in this series.

Mike MacNeil’s synths sounded like horns heralding a new era, and Derek Forbes’ by now compulsively funky bass line interlocked perfectly with the stuttering rhythms that drummer Brian McGee proffered. The end result was a rhythmic stiffness shot through with a fluidity that engages the mind and body in different ways at the same time. Perfect. The ascending chord sequence that propelled the song ever forward was yet another example of the same one the band first used in “Cacophony” two years earlier, now mated with an expansive motorik thrust that radiated vibrance where only dank shadows and illness had existed previously.

simple minds - themericanUK12AThe fact that the pre-release single from Sons/Sister was from the “budget” album “Sister Feelings Call” should give pause to any thoughts that one album was somehow less than the other. “The American” was an absolute stormer of a cut based on the stupidest, most elemental drum pattern imaginable. In that sense, it presaged the appeal of a track like “Waterfront,” wherein the normally hyperdextrous Forbes delivered a bass line of Neanderthaloid simplicity and power.

“The American” was a song of exhilarating impact. Perhaps its relative lack of subtlety relates to the title? The song’s reductively simple chorus, heard once, is not an easy thing to forget, and when I saw Simple Minds [finally] performing this tune on their last tour of The States in 2013, singing along at the top of my lungs was a perfect moment that I had been waiting for over a dozen years. The one shining moment of flourish and finesse that this song was gifted with came at its coda, courtesy of Charlie Burchill’s intricate guitar solo that added the filigree that transported this song from brutal simplicity across the threshold of breathtaking accomplishment.

The album side ended with the minor key introversion of “20th Century Promised Land,” with MacNeil’s synth patch sounding for all the world like a Farfisa organ, took two steps forward but one step back, almost touching on a Latin mambo rhythmic feel. After two ebullient openers, it was almost a throwback to the dense claustrophobia of “Empires + Dance” and “Real To Real Cacophony.” Kerr’s vocals fit the mood with his deep-sunk tones perhaps showing the Ian Curtis influence just below the surface. The kinetic rhythm guitar of Burchill remained the brightest shaft of light in this crepuscular track.

Next: …a wonderful career


About postpunkmonk

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8 Responses to Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 12]

  1. Echorich says:

    Sister Feelings Call is a brilliant coda to the immensity of Sons And Fascination. It gives expansion to the musical pathway of SAF and increases the surety of that sound.
    Theme For Great Cities is the greatest instrumental of the Post Punk Era to these ears. The fact that it was so well received again at the end of the 80s by Ibiza/Rave Culture is evidenced in its influence on bands like Fila Brazilia (who did a proper remix job on it) Future Sounds Of London and Jam + Spoon.
    The American is an anthem with a cautionary message. Simple Minds’ New World view now included the elephant in the room that Europe was still unwilling to acknowledge.
    20th Century Promised Land returns to those themes of Post War/Cold War reality and continues Simple Minds’ preoccupation with the highs and lows of that reality.
    These tracks are far from afterthoughts and play as fully realized ideas complimenting Sons And Fascination.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – The next side will point the way to New Gold Dream. Intense listening to “Wonderful In Young Life” has become a slow burning favorite 33 years later! All versions of “Theme For Great Cities” are worthy… save one, but we’ll get to that much later.


      • Echorich says:

        I concur! THIS is what makes Simple Minds so much more than anyone realized at the time. The relationship between each album through Sparkle In The Rain is such a consistent pathway forward, it’s breathtaking. Each album is informed by the one before it.


        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – It’s true. Their cumulative power was second to none. When it was over, they had covered enormous ground that reveled a range that was second to none. Maybe those punks The Beatles might compare, but I doubt it, personally!


          • Echorich says:

            What makes SM’s achievement so much more amazing is that they managed this with as many as 4 different producers – all of whom were able to harness the sound without pulling tightly on the reigns. From Leckie to Hillage, then Peter Walsh to Steve Lillywhite, you couldn’t have chosen a greater variation in production ethics and styles, yet SM rose above the hands at the mixing board.
            Oh and for those Four from Liverpool, I think the George Martin/Geoff Emerick duo, while amazing in the studio are really the Fifth Element of every Beatles Album, thus integral to their sound and its direction. When The Beatles moved away from this they ended up with Let It Be.


            • postpunkmonk says:

              Echorich – Good point on The Beatles re: Emerick/Martin. I actually find them mundane and pedestrian, even though I almost can be said to have grown up with them. I admit that they broke almost all of the ground in 60s rock, just not the ground that interests me. That would be our friends the VU, instead. I not so secretly thrill to the impression I get that in the last 35 years, the VU were far more artistically influential than the ceaselessly popular Liverpudlians.


              • Echorich says:

                I have to agree on all your points Monk. I take great pleasure in finding The Beatles fairly boring and can list the songs of their’s I find important on one hand. One of the best things about approaching popular music, as a fan, from left field is that you hone in on those bands and artists who propelled popular music forward artistically. It’s almost never mega popular artists, but ones who played from the fringes.


                • postpunkmonk says:

                  Echorich – Try one finger, for me. The only Beatles track I may buy one day from iTunes is “Revolution No. 9” which I have profound memories of encountering as a young boy who was allowed to listen to “The Beatles” on a teenager’s record player. Having no exposure to John Cage until years later, it was intriguing to my seven year old ears.


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