Simple Minds | New Gold Dream [81, 82, 83, 84] – 4
[continued from previous post]
The album began with the incredible warmth and romance of “Someone, Somewhere [In Summertime],” a song that would have been inconceivable by the band as little as a year earlier. The first words out of Jim Kerr’s mouth were “Stay, I’m burning slow;” an invocation of desire that would have absolutely melted the Teutonic heart of the alienated narrator of epics such as “This Fear Of Gods.” It would have been all the more shocking had this not been the first Simple Minds album I’d purchased, and I’d followed the group of the early years of their development, but it’s not unusual in the grand scheme of things for ice to follow fire, or vice versa. After all, if John Foxx could have gone from the ultimate cold wave of “Metamatic” to the warmth of “Europe, After The Rain” in just 12 months, who’s to say that Simple Minds could also not follow suit?
Charlie Burchill’s flanged guitar sounded more like tubular bells, which were echoed by Mike MacNeil’s keyboards. The steady beat was kept this time by Mel Gaynor. Brian McGee had enough time on the road incessantly after the “Sons + Fascination” tour and bowed out of the band before the recording of the new album commenced. Kenny Hyslop of The Zones had recorded the pre-release single of “Promised You A Miracle” but didn’t stick around long. Mike Ogletree [Ex-Cafe Jacques] gave the drum stool a try, but the band and producer Pete Walsh wanted more power. Enter session man Mel Gaynor, whom Walsh knew and recommended.
His straightforward power fit the new direction that the band was moving in where the old ways of abstract Krautrock trance rock were becoming more warm and funky, as “Sweat In Bullet” had presaged earlier. The earnest yearnings of “Summertime” showed a new interest in the spark of human relationships to ignite the band’s sensual side. Nowhere was this more apparent than on the second track on side one, “Colours Fly And Catherine Wheel;” a sensual and funky meditation on the dark side of love’s power.
First of all, Derek Forbes’ positively voluptuous bass line was one of the most compulsively obsessive sequences of rhythm the band had trafficked in yet. Once I hear it, it remains lodged in my cranium for long hours at a time. As recently as 2008, Jim Kerr opined that it represented “Derek at his best,” and I’m not one to differ. With Mike Ogletree on drums, this gave Forbes the spotlight since Ogletree favored a light and percussive hand not heavy on the drumsticks; a far more different approach than the band had either before or after him.
Following an abrupt and awkward start, like a stack of falling dominos, the track settled into an impossibly funky groove as Charlie Burchill’s guitar wove a languid spell previously known as the “skyscraper riff” to the band. It conjured impressive vistas on the horizon that moved past the viewer as they rolled inexorably, and luxuriantly forward. Most dramatically of all, Jim Kerr was now intoning of femme fatales [Italian ones, presumably] and love that “tranquilized just before it killed.“ The chorus of the number was nothing less than brilliant. In a move that carried on from his reductive but highly memorable chorus of “The American,” Kerr found a way to connect back with Krautrock vocally by repeating the key phrase of the chorus [the verb – to fall] numerous times with the the words weaving a dazzling tapestry that crossed the line into trance repetition most capably.
“Catch a boy fell falling,
Fall in love fell falling,
Catch a boy fell falling,
Fall in love fell falling,
Catch a boy fell falling,
Out of the sky.” – “Colours Fly + Catherine Wheel”
The first single from the album, end the band’s ticket into the UK top 20 was the shimmering and dynamic “Promised You A Miracle.” It carried on from the vitality of “Wonderful In Young Life” from “Sister Feelings Call” in that it leaped like a gazelle from the speakers in the same way; imbued with a light effervescence that was still new to the group’s outlook. Kenny Hyslop only occupied the drummer’s stool long enough to record this track [he’s famously not in the video clip] but his staccato rhythmic hook [echoed by Mike MacNeil’s synth riff] made the track highly memorable.
In fact, the genesis of the cut may come down to Hyslop. He’d brought along radio tapes for road listening on the band’s tour and they were taken with a funk track’s horn riff, which they appropriated for this number. The basslines rolled and crashed like thunderous waves breaking on the shores of Hyslop’s drumrolls throughout this song and when Forbes’ serpentine bass hook flickered like a snake’s tongue before the chorus, it’s all over for any listener’s will to resist “Miracle’s” effulgent charms. This song is the sound of all stops being pulled out in a successful attempt to conquer the listener. Before this track, even Burchill could not imagine the band’s songs on the radio. Now, they would have a good dozen years of a chart run ahead of them following this breakthrough.
The energy of side one ebbed following the dynamism of “Miracle.” “Big Sleep” like many tracks here, is hung upon a colossal, flanged baseline courtesy of Forbes, who plays it slow and deliberately, to allow every note to sink its fangs deep into the listener’s mind. Charlie Burchill proffered open Andy Summers chords in a rare show of New Wave gambits being used here. Elsewhere, his wailing banshee guitar on the song’s coda echoes Kerr’s meditation on the finality of death.
After this crepuscular tune, the final track on side one features the somnolent but ultimately revitalizing vibe of “Somebody Up There Likes You.” After the instrumental began with a gently rising chord like a flatline EEG slowly coming back to life, Mike Ogletree’s shuffling drums began to add subtle energy to the track as Forbes bass stuck to the shadows for a change. Burchill’s subtle guitar licks pushed the song’s gentle rhythmic impetus forward a few tentative steps at a time. MacNeil’s synths avoided midrange as they took both the deepest lows and the airiest high end of the song. Side one of “New Gold Dream [81, 82, 83, 84]” was yearning and exuberant with a hint of backward reflection and meditation that came to a calm ending with the covenant of side two awaiting.
Next: …Worldwide on the widest screen
Descriptives like dark, cold, angular, distant are replaced on New Gold Dream by funky, warm, shimmering and colossal. Your description of Forbes bass as voluptous is spot on Monk! NGD’s multiple drumming styles were used to great effect throughout the songs on side one. It’s probably a credit to Peter Walsh, as a producer interested in the intent of the band he’s producing, that makes this mix of rhythm keeping styles work so well.
In the years since its release I have jumped around from one song to another as my favorite. Currently it’s Big Sleep that drives me. Burchill’s guitar is dynamic and shines through the repetitive nature of MacNeil’s synth lines and Forbes grounding bass. The guitar takes flight with Kerr’s vocals creating a sort of aerial dance above the throbbing beat. Kerr writes a lyric that is at once, a love song/dream sequence/cautionary tale of a soul passed on to another plane. Love and regret co-mingle with a wonder of what is to come and a remembrance of what has passed. At the same time Kerr’s narrator may be the living man about to be left behind, losing one so special to him – the ambiguity adds to the song’s strength.
Really enjoying reading this Monk! I genuinely believe this is one of the greatest albums ever made, certainly for post punk fans of a certain age, maybe it was the pinnacle of the previous three or fours years of post punk musical development. Agree re hopping from track to track in terms of favourites, the day I tire of NGD is the day I tire of music!
Enjoying every word of this great series, particularly the new words like effulgent and crepuscular.
Brian Ware – [insert rimshot here!]
Enjoying the posts very much. As for ‘Colours Fly and Catherine Wheel’, it’s just immense. If you’ve not already seen it, savour Derek’s bass work here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FX0eJkGmYUw
“Big Sleep” is also my current favorite (from side one at least). It’s also one of the better performances on the underwhelming Live in the City of Light. Love those ringing chords, along with the “banshee” wail you noted. “Promised You a Miracle” is probably my least favorite song on the album (other than the instrumental), but that’s like saying I like pepperoni pizza less than I like sausage pizza. I love Burchill’s parts in that song, though. Such an inventive player that is every bit as good as The Edge in my book but never go the same recognition.
I totally agree Zoo!! Burchill is among a number of guitarists who didn’t get the recognition they deserved with the rise of U2. Burchill was threading that sonic fabric before The Edge – and before he heard his first Comsat Angels album and that band’s wholly under-appreciated guitarist Stephen Fellows, whom The Edge took loads of cues from in creating his own style.
Echorich – Not to forget the distinctive guitars of another Scotsman, Alan Rankine! You might not have The Edge if not for the blueprint that was “Paperhouse!” They couldn’t lift the singer though. Could they?
The Edge, for his part, has mentioned the contemporaries which he gained influence from in past interviews. I would think Rankine’s guitar would have been on his radar along with Fellows from The Comsats, John McGeoch and Stuart Adamson.