Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 17]

simple-minds---sparkleintherainUSCDASimple Minds | Sparkle In The Rain – 4

Following on the commercial breakthrough of “New Gold Dream [81, 82, 83, 84],” Simple Minds found themselves moving up in the world. The end of their previous “Sons + Fascination” world tour saw the band invited to European festivals for the first time and the 1982 “New Gold Dream” tour followed suit. The experience of playing for thousands of people in the open air had a galvanizing effect of the formerly effete art rockers. Their earlier phase of claustrophobic, paranoid trance grooves were somehow inappropriate for festival settings. The artistic mood shift that resulted in the expansive positivity of “New Gold Dream [81, 82, 83, 84]” moved the band far closer to the direction that would be most congruent with these large shows. Somewhere along the way, the notion arose that it would be great if they had a number that could really pop in such a setting.

From those seeds arose “Waterfront.” The band maintain that once they set out to play to the vastly different vibe that festivals offered, that they were able to hammer the song into shape from its humble beginnings fairly quickly. It made its debut in their set in August 1983 at the Phoenix Festival in Ireland as the invited guests of headliners… U2. The two bands had met earlier and had formed a mutual admiration society. Simple Minds had been gunning to have Steve Lillywhite produce one of their albums ever since the decision had been made to try someone different from John Leckie. Undoubtedly, his helping of the standard-bearing third Peter Gabriel album that turned countless heads [including this one] was what initially brought Lily-white to their attention, but his cost, among other factors, led to his name being rejected by Virgin early on.

After “New Gold Dream [81, 82, 83, 84]” peaked in the UK LP charts, Virgin relented on the budget, or Lillywhite’s schedule synched with the band. Possibly both. In September of ’83, the band and Lily-white began cutting demos. Another difference this time was that new drummer Mel Gaynor was in place as the last album had seen a revolving door with three drummers coming and going. Gaynor was the last one on the drum stool and he found favor with the band on their previous tour. His muscular, more conventional rock drum sound would undoubtedly color the proceedings as well. In November of 1983, the pre-release single, “Waterfront,” hit the stores.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard this single. A friend and I were in Murmur Records and I was looking for the 12″ on import. There had been a single copy in the store, but it had been pull for someone else who was coming in to purchase it. That, of course, didn’t stop the proprietor, Don Gilliland, from playing it for us to hear. The dramatic shift in tone was not quite what I had expected having listened thus far to only the previous Simple Minds album. I remarked to Don that “this sort of sounds like U2,” to which he remarked “…yeah.”

By that time in 1983, U2’s star was definitely on the rise. With the commercial breakthrough of their “War” album, I had managed to finally hear the band after only reading about them for what seemed like two years. It was hard to turn on MTV and miss the videos for “New Year’s Day” or, to a lesser extent, “Two Hearts Beat As One.” I was previously cold to U2 due to interviews I had read with the band around the time of their “October” album. I really didn’t like where they were coming from. I didn’t like how they were flaunting their Christianity at all, and by the time I actually heard their music, it wasn’t so good as to cause me cognitive dissonance. In particular, I disliked Bono’s phrasing. I wrote them off early on and over the years, the more I learned about them, [actually just Bono and The Edge – you never see or hear the other two guys] the lower my opinion of them has sunk. I have never heard a note from their first album, even now.

With Lillywhite providing his patented sound of the minute [as heard on U2’s “War” and Big Country’s “The Crossing”] it’s no wonder that I was not decisively moved by the extended 12” mix the first time that I had heard it. While I didn’t like U2 for personal reasons, I didn’t care for Big Country for musical ones. I couldn’t get past the strained vocals of Stuart Adamson so any exploration of Big Country was doomed to fail. Now Simple Minds were moving in these circles, and I didn’t know what to think. Having only had “Sweat In Bullet” and the previous album in the Record Cell, any decisive thoughts would have to wait until I heard the record in my home.

My friend Jayne obtained the record earlier than I did, since she worked part time in Record City Casselberry at the time. I recall her playing me “Up On The Catwalk” over the phone [not an optimal experience] and sharing her impressions of the album as we were both big fans of “New Gold Dream [81, 82, 83, 84].” It was shortly after that when I bought a copy of the album on my next visit to a record store. I was pleased to see that it was the same low $6.98 list price as their last album on A+M Records had been, and we’ll continue on that note tomorrow.

Next: …Dollars and Deutschmarks

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21 Responses to Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 17]

  1. Echorich says:

    While, yes, the sound Lillywhite would bring to Simple Minds was in league with that of their Celtic Brethren, the band would manage to keep a focused point of view throughout Sparkle In The Rain. It’s their first and greatest attempt at Big Music – a sound which they have found a way to positively embrace again this year with the new album of the same name.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – In some ways, the new album is more progressive. The keys on “Sparkle” were very conservative [piano, organ patches] but the writing was on the wall on the previous album. Truthfully, I never found MacNeil all that compelling as a soloist. Simple Minds were strongest as team players. They gelled in a way that bands with better musicians [apart from Mr. Forbes – who was clearly a world class talent] didn’t quite manage. Together, they could beat their peers any day.

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      • Echorich says:

        Big Music succeeds because of collective aspirations of the band to make music that is respectful of their past and reflective of their present. I think there is a commonality with Sparkle In The Rain on that front. Simple Minds could not have achieved that lofty heights they chose to scale on SITR had they not learned from and respected what they had produced before it. It is an album stabilized by the ballast of those past achievements for the journey it embarks upon.

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  2. Steve says:

    “Sparkle in the Rain” was on heavy, heavy rotation on my turntable and in my Walkman for much of 1984 and 1985–and was probably one of the most meaningful albums of my high school years (along with Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Ocean Rain” and The English Beat’s “Special Beat Service,” and a few others).

    Many years on, I find that I still like it (particularly “Book of Brilliant Things,” “C Moon Cry Like a Baby,” “The Kick Inside of Me,” and “Shake Off the Ghosts”), but favor “New Gold Dream” and “Sons”/”Sister” much more, as you can discern some of the elements (arena rock, the beginnings of unchecked bombast) in “Sparkle” that led to them to create the despicable “Once Upon A Time” (which I tried so very hard to like back in 1985).

    Thanks so much for your excellent write-ups of “New Gold Dream” and “Sons”/”Sister”! Great stuff!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Steve – Thanks for the personal insight. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that my experience mirrors yours to the point that, yes, I played this album constantly for a good 18 months! The seeds of doom are clearly in it, but it manages to easily forestall the spirit of compromise that manifested fully on the next album. Still, it didn’t take a navigator to see where they were headed.

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      • Echorich says:

        Okay, yes the demons of success were certainly surrounding Simple Minds, but I will never subscribe to the idea that Sparkle In The Rain is anything more than the natural progression of their musical journey. For me it would be their agreeing to record Don’t You (Forget About Me) that was the band giving into temptation, signing a pact with the Devil, and derailing the natural progression Simple Minds would have followed. Sparkle In The Rain is filled with magic and majesty, strength and conviction. It also contains one of the most free-wheeling Post Punk tracks I have ever heard…but we will be getting to that.

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  3. Brian Ware says:

    I’ve always struggled with this one. I always felt it was ground zero for the “Let me see your hands” era.

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  4. stellaVista says:

    Growing up in Germanies sprawling industrial Rhine/Ruhr cityscape had one positive aspect: you had a great infrasturcture of small concert venues and big stadiums. Every band from all over the world would come and play literally at the end of my street. Being populated by mostly working-class people the overbearing music was (and probably still is) ROCK. But Punk and New Wave was falling on fertile ground too and so even the most obscure acts would play some venue in the earliest stages of their career.

    In 1983 I actually saw The Cocteau Twins opening for OMD and I had to walk a mere 10 minutes to witness this strange spectacle. By this time most popular New Wave bands were in transition from playing the small 600 people venues to filling bigger venues with capacities of up to 10.000 people. The crowning achievement (and most likely the threshold of being a sell-out) was playing the Westfalenhalle, which was back then Europe´s biggest Arena and packed up to 22.000 people.

    One of the most magical live experiences I ever had was seeing Simple Minds playing “New Gold Dream” together with 3000 ecstatic people in early 1983. At this momen in time they were young Gods, fully in command of their sound and their presence. There was this promise in the air, that you COULD captivate and excite your (ever growing) audience with these transcendent waves of sound and ideas without falling back into dreaded rock-ism.
    Jim Kerr was floating IN the sound of the band, his arms were held mostly sideways as he was gliding along, as entranced as everybody else. It was indeed like dreaming in the New Gold Dream and being promised a miracle!

    With “Sparkle in the Rain” the band was playing at Westfalenhalle, filling it to capacity and Jim Kerr was holding his arms over his head and asked us to do the same.

    The New Dream was over as promised: 81, 82, 83, 84 indeed!

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  5. zoo says:

    Monk, I’m perplexed why you’re so sour on BC and more specifically Stu Adamson’s vocals (not the first time you’ve noted your dislike), but love Duran Duran (and Le Bon’s equally strained vocals). Of course, I’m a huge Big Country apologist, so I’m not the most objective on the subject.

    I don’t want to veer to far of topic, though, so I’ll say this about SITR…it doesn’t get a “4” in my book. If NGD is a 4, then by comparison, SITR is a 3. I’ll say more when we get to the individual songs.

    As usual, I can’t wait to read more!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      zoo – It’s easy! Duran Duran have synthesizers to make LeBon’s strained vocals go down easier. I will usually opt for synths over guitars. It’s that simple. Plus, SLB sounds like he’s straining less than Adamson, for what it’s worth.

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    • Echorich says:

      Here we go! I suspect Sparkle In The Rain will be the razor’s edge which slices SM fans down the middle. Yes, it’s obvious that SM’s sound on SITR would fill larger venues, but was it really a “rockist” sound? By 82/83, a number of Post Punk bands would begin to be accused of “rockist” tendencies – even Echo + The Bunnymen, who were still far left of Rock’s center, would be accused, in NME and Melody Maker, of abandoning the new wave in favor of chart centered music. I, for one, don’t fall on this side of the razor, yet I also never expected bands like Simple Minds, or Echo for that matter, to ever make music just to worry the charts, rather I think they made music they expected fans to embrace on it’s merits.

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      • postpunkmonk says:

        Echorich – As much as I found “rockism” to be troubling and regressive in this time period, I feel it’s worst practitioners were those who used it as an aesthetic fig leaf to attack various minorities for not propping up white straight male privilege. In that respect the rockist brigade were not far removed from the “disco sucks” contingent. At it’s most benign, rockism was merely boring. This album showed SM moving closer to rockism, but still with left field elements buried under the booming drums. Later albums would differ, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. And let’s not forget ABC’s volte-face to rockism! At least they dared to merge Sheffield socialism with the form in a valiant attempt.

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        • Echorich says:

          Not sure I’m going to go with you all the way there Monk. Beauty Stab, as an album, is more complex – and a complexity partially formed by a desire NOT to repeat themselves – a noble, yet maybe tenuous stance to have taken when you’re on top of the Pop world. I think the “rock” elements point more towards Martin Fry’s heroes than looking to a new audience.
          But I agree that the rockist journo’s of the time were looking for their own relevance in an increasing environment of multiple pop and rock trends. Journalists at NME and Melody Maker were more concerned with building up and tearing down artists, especially frontmen and what they had to say and less concerned with investigating their music. Sure, not really a lot new there, but I saw so many bands I loved abandoned by the media after their second albums back in those days and no so much over the music but because they were in search of the next new thing.

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  6. Simon H says:

    My deluxe box has arrived, it’s a lovely thing. Hours of enjoyment ahead:)
    Imagine one for Sons or NGD…

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Simon H – I’m afraid I’ve no cash for that right now, though it is on the want list. I’ve got the Big Ears Festival coming up at the end of the month in Knoxville [Harold Budd, Laurie Anderson + Kronos Quartet] and the attendant travel costs involved with even one night of that. The first thing I want, when I accrue enough music sales cash, is to get up to date on the last year of Visage releases after all money went to my big vacation last Fall. This was primary in my goals even before the tragedy of Steve’s recent death. Then there’s various crowd source projects clamoring for my attention [Black, Blow Monkeys, China Crisis] and boy howdy, coupled with the SM box, I’d need upwards to $250 to pay for it all! Not getting anywhere near that as I see it any time soon.

      As for S+F, anything extra was issued on SFC! We have the demos. I wouldn’t look askance at 5.1 for that album, but as with SITR DLX box, the live concert recordings would be the jewel in the crown. Virgin had recorded the Sept. 6th show in Stafford, but Jim got sick during the set. The Sept. 19th show at Glasgow, Apollo would be another. The Sept. 25th Hammersmith Odeon material had already shown up as B-sides, but the house sound was allegedly poor that night, resulting in the firing of their engineer. Maybe what we’ve heard [on “Sweat In Bullet” and the 2nd Arista “I Travel” 12″] was what could be salvaged. I’ll place bets on Glasgow. Here’s the set list: Sons + Fascination, Changeling, 30 Frames A Second, Premonition, Sweat In Bullet, League Of Nations, Love Song, I Travel, Celebrate, The American, Seeing Out The Angel, I Travel, Sweat In Bullet. Identical to the other, flawed shows that Virgin recorded. So…S+F DLX box:
      Disc 1 – probably a new mix of album 2.0 since Hillage was hospitalized at the end of production and the band mixed the album with the engineer! Disc 2 – Sister Feelings Call new 2.0 mix + B-sides/remixes. Disc 3 – Live at Glasgow Apollo. Disc 4 – DVD with 5.1 + any video appearances/music videos can you see where a fifth disc would result?

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  7. Simon H says:

    Forgot to mention – extensive JIm Kerr interview re SITR over at SuperDeluxe.com

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  8. Simon H says:

    Four discs would do….would love to see the artwork in box form as well. There’s some nice period live footage out there as well, in ok quality from what I’ve seen on YouTube.
    The live discs in the SITR box sound good, I’d read somewhere they weren’t great quality but I have no issues!
    Have to admit I’ve spent far too much recently, helps distract from work issues though, always a good by-product of music purchasing:)
    Am seeing SMs here in Bristol next month, the current set list is a bit short on early stuff but I’m still looking forward to it. I appreciate having the opportunity!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Simon H – I am very concerned about many aspects of the current tour. Specifically the singing of Simple Minds songs by Catherine AD and Sarah Brown, medleys, and most troubling, acoustic numbers. I thought the acoustic “American” was abominable – only idiots would perform acoustic versions of any tracks from S+F! It just would not work! I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts, so please share them after you see them.

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  9. Simon H says:

    Will do! Yes why would anyone want an acoustic The American, bizarre.
    Didn’t realise the lead vocals were handed over like that, oh dear!
    i hope the Big Music songs bring the energy to make up for any miss-steps, fingers crossed.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Simon H – Believe me. This tour is a hot topic at the SoSimpleMinded forum! With such a strong album under their belts, some would have it that they found a way to shoot themselves in the foot with the tour. It’s my hope that the “Big Music” portions of the show would carry through any other gaffes. It’s also my hope that should the tour cross the big pond [never a given] that it would reflect a re-think of many of its current aspects.

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  10. Simon H says:

    Must look in there. Yes this seemed like the time for a dream setlist making the most of old and new, but they rarely make it easy do they?! (Well I guess 5×5 was about as on the button as you can get!). Hope you get a tour with an improved setlist this year. By the way have picked up Black and White and GS due to your epic SMs series, really enjoying them. Will fill in a few more gaps eventually!

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