[continued from previous post]
It was immediately apparent when the needle dropped on “Sparkle In The Rain” that Simple Minds were undergoing another metamorphosis. The band had already had three distinct phases of artistry under their belts by this time [“Life In A Day” – new wave, “Real To Real Cacophony” – “Sister Feelings Call” – chilled out art rock, “New Gold Dream” – sensual art funk pop a roll] and as soon as the four-count that announced “Up On The Catwalk” happened, it was manifest that the band were now venturing into rock territory, but they were not about to give up all of their mystery just yet.
The drums evidenced the touch of Steve Lillywhite first. He had all but put the technique on the map with his treatment of Phil Collins’ drums on “Intruder” from the third Peter Gabriel album in 1980. Here, the drums sounded almost as sharp as gunfire. Mel Gaynor was playing patterns with infinitely more swing than ears accustomed to his predecessor Brian McGee would be used to. Fortunately, the patterns he was playing were compelling in the same front-and-center fashion that Derek Forbes’ bass had been during the band’s last several albums. This mitigated the production style for my ears. The inexorable forward thrust of Mel Gaynor’s drumming here used powerful backbeats counterpointed with strategic, laser acute fills that were immediately gripping.
The second thing I noticed was that the keyboards were far more conservative in the palette used here. There was immediately a preponderance of the same heavily reverbed piano sound that U2 had used on “New Year’s Day” a year earlier. The next thing I noticed about the keyboards, was that Mike MacNeil was also leaning heavily on Hammond organ patches. MacNeil had never been a Billy Currie type, but here there was a hint of Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman to the proceedings. His background drones were not to be discounted though. They provided the verses with a dark atmosphere to contrast with the impossibly bright drumming.
Fortunately, Jim Kerr’s lyrics were a dazzling kaleidoscope of dropped names and near abstract free association. I have to admit that being American, I had to look Kim Philby up. His one gaffe here would be his unmistakable Bono-phrasing of the first two exhortations of “angel” following the song’s bridge. I didn’t notice it at the time, since U2 were off of my radar, but with the benefit of hindsight, it’s immediately apparent.
The tight riffing that opened up “Book Of Brilliant Things” was an immediate grabber for my ears. Jim Kerr’s ad libs following the finger snaps in the crisp intro are almost the coolest he’s ever sounded. I loved the way that Derek Forbes doubled the keyboard hook on his bass line here. For all of its rock bluster, this song reflects the traditional compositional values of Simple Minds with the rhythm section dominating, and guitarist Charlie Burchill adding melodic filigree rather than toppling melodies. His use of acoustic guitar here marks the first time I can remember hearing acoustics on a Simple Minds record. This was an impeccable deep cut but I would not have looked askance at an extended 12″ A-side of this song, though it would have made the first four songs on this album all single releases.
“Just my imagination, just my imagination.
You go to my head, you go to my head.
With the flames that go higher and higher,
And higher and higher and higher and higher,
Over and over to me, speeds your love.” – Speed Your Love To Me
Back in 1981, Simple Minds were challenged by Steve Hillage as to why they never wrote a love song, with the abstract “Love Song” being the ironic result. This outing featured their latest efforts after experiencing the big thaw on the previous album. “Speed Your Love To Me” resulted in an ecstatic love song that builds and builds on a circular framework towards a climax that is always suggested, occasionally gets close enough to touch “over the moon,” but never really comes. Kirsty MacColl’s ethereal backing vocals seemed to taunt Kerr ever forward as even [is that Forbes of Gaynor?] the backing vocalist adds an off-meter “higher” into the mix, tumbling it forward in an almost recklessly out of control fashion. For all of it being a stab at a more conventional love song, the track adheres to the classic Simple Minds template of ultimately being a song of movement, hurtling forward. This time towards a goal that continually evades their grasp even as they strove harder onward.
Finally, the tumultuous storm that had been circling around this album of busy and clattering beats and featuring a singer caught up in paroxysms of psychedelic allusion and desire finally breaks and lets it pour down from the heavens on the album’s first single, “Waterfront.” The metronomic bass line of Forbes announces its arrival like a harbinger of vast forces of nature that cannot be contained. Gaynor’s brutal and basic drums here serve to help any audience hearing this fuse into a single pulsating organism. This song was built for stadium crowds, but would be a commanding presence in any setting.
On the verses, Charlie Burchill’s guitar licks teased along and advanced the song subtly. They were almost the only subtle thing about the track, really. It’s not until the chorus until his chords began arcing like skyrockets punctuated by brilliant bursts of MacNeil’s massed organ chords doubling the bass line and Gaynor’s crashing cymbals. The climax that was denied on the previous track got delivered here with gusto. In a move that reflected the album as a whole, Jim Kerr had begun singing the song in his then common lower register, before rising in pitch and intensity as the song played out; eventually losing all subtlety in his performance.
In that way, practically the entire album is “in the red” at one point or another. Following an album that was content to smoulder, albeit dazzlingy, this movement towards actual fire was cathartic for the group. Never moreso than on this pulsating, widescreen anthem. It traffics gleefully in bludgeoning power that somehow manages to sail aloft even as it steamrolled right over this listener. Thirty years later, it still manages to thrill me. I can’t say that I ever tire of hearing it, and as I have been listening to it numerous times, it’s gotten harder and harder to even let it play through before I wish to start it over again so I can experience the power of that monolithic bassline yet again.
After that climactic moment of impact, it was time for a retreat from the sort of propulsive dynamics that had typified this album on side one thus far. “East At Easter” was the band’s breather before diving into side two. Booming Mel Gaynor drums were nowhere to be heard here. It was built instead on a subtle foundation of Burchill’s guitar rondo overlaid with loose, percussive playing from Gaynor; almost retreating here into the stylistic shoes favored by Mike Ogletree on the previous album. Then, MacNail’s open piano chords joined into the mix and it became apparent that this track was one more excursion into the fabric of Krautrock. The song never resolved its internal tension, not unlike the title track of “New Gold Dream [81, 82, 83, 84].”
The piano chords played a rising progression as the rhythmic component of the song coiled in upon itself. The one component of the song to obtain release was vocalist Kerr, as usual here gaining volume as he abandoned control; his modus operandi for this album. Then, as he reached the ragged edge of this meditation for peace in the midst of the looming Falklands war, the rest of the song’s elements began to drop out of the mix, leaving only the abstract chords of Burchill’s guitar grinding to a halt along with the now spent vocals of Kerr, trailing off into nothingness.
Next: …A quiet night of a white hot day