Simple Minds | Street Fighting Years – 0
[continued from previous post]
It’s official. This thread is now tied with the longest one I’ve ever had at PPM, 2013’s “30 Days – 30 Albums” series. We’ve still got quite a way to go before we can wrap this one up. Our last posting only discussed the title track to this album. We’ll try to get through the rest in a more timely fashion. To at least save my sanity as I end up listening to each album at least 10-15 times during the course of this thread, and I’m so far under water now that if I don’t get some oxygen from this band, it might be fatal.
I just found out recently that “Soul Crying Out” was written due to the infamous Scottish Poll Tax issue that ultimately contributed to the fall of Thatcher in the UK. Knock me over with a feather. One would think that an issue that had provoked that much rioting and passion in the Scottish populace just might have been reflected in the shockingly laid back music, that sounded more like accompaniment to a mild summer romance. Rarely have I heard such a mismatch between form and content in a song! And what was up with Kerr interjecting the phrase “some sweet day” all over the place in songs from the band’s stadium era? That trope got tiresome very quickly… as did the six plus minute track length average for this album.
One of the slightly more palatable songs here was “Wall Of Love,” and that sounded like the best ever Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song with Bono guesting on the lead vocals. By this time I was becoming very tired of the creative choices that Mike MacNeil was making. He was content to occupy his Benmont Tench or Garth Hudson shoes for this album thus far, and both of those keyboardists were hardly in my top 1000. Kerr’s lyrical imagery was typically poor here with devils with chainsaws rubbing shoulders with townships in Soweto in a failed attempt at political relevance hoisted on the feeble shoulders of musical indifference.
To its credit, Mel Gaynor’s drumming was superb here, sadly in service to typically poor material. It seemed that Mel was not the happiest of campers on this album. Apparently, he had the intelligence to come to loggerheads with Horn throughout the production, which is why he was replaced with Manu Kaché and Stewart Copeland throughout the production. This would have repercussions [no pun intended] later in the band’s career.
As it opened with what sounded like a blue whale passing wind, I could only find the intro to “This Is Your Land” an entirely appropriate metaphor for this album. This was picked as the second single which benefitted nothing in the least by having Lou Reed guest on vocals for a verse. I have to wonder what was going through his had at the time, since he had just written his “New York” album and he seemed on top of things for the first time in years of having near artistic misses at best. MacNeil varied atypically from his Hammond Organ patch here, to little avail. As you listen to this, you may be hard pressed to imagine a Bizarro universe where songs as under-powered and hookless as these are selected by clueless executives to be singles.
Any sane person would have faded this tune at the 4:20 point, but it lumbered on, with Lisa Germano sawing away on her fiddle to carry it over the agreed upon six minute mark! With the exception of the sloppy single, “Kick It In,” there is a severe dearth of energy on this album. The song lengths all seem to be well over six minutes per cut, and while they could support that conceit during the “Sons + Fascination” era, where they were mining Krautrock gold to an embarrassment of riches, by now it was a whole different ball game. On this album you feel every dragging minute.
The chugging pulse of the rhythm section not “Take A Step Back” is as good as it gets on this album. Too bad there were 127 other musicians to account for here. MacNeil leans very heavily on the Hammond B3 patch. Like the piano on the last album, he’s got a crutch to carry him through the entire album and boy, is he comfortable with it. Kerr burbles lyrics over the top that sound like a first take that never got refined. It sounded as if he simply gave up attempting to compose lyrics for this song as his vocal input was relegated to the shockingly tentative, timid ad libs from the halfway point throughout the remainder of the song. How in the hell did Trevor Horn let this slip out with his name on it? It sounds like a first run through that somehow got polished to 64 track “majesty.”
“Kick It In” was the third single, and for years I thought this was the only cut on the album which had maintained listenability. It actually had a pulse and the 12″ “unauthorized” remix was the only fruit of the union between Trevor Horn and Simple Minds that sounded like what I had expected. Re-acquainting myself with this track after 25 years of acquired wisdom, it now sounds as if The Band had heard a FGTH 12” and thought, “we want some of that!” Incongruous Hammond B3 organ wailed away in the background along with 2 drummers, beatbox, samplers, grotesque Charlie Burchill slide guitar, and an ever abrupt and arbitrary arrangement until the whole thing suddenly collapses… after the requisite six minutes.
“Let It All Come Down” was a song that bassist John Goblin brought to the table here. This sappy, leaden ballad was definitely the worst Simple Minds song that I had ever heard! By this point, the notion of more of Jim Kerr’s ragged bellowing that had fouled “Once Upon A Time” and “Live In The City of Light” for me on so much material, didn’t seem so bad in retrospect. This song was only five minutes long but it seemed as if it were twice its length. Just when any sane person would have ended it at the 3:30 mark, it roared back to life just like a horror franchise villain complete with a turgid Burchill slide solo and the full orchestral majesty with it clearly did not merit.
Amazingly, this was issued on an EP that followed the chart run of the album. “The Amsterdam EP,” featured “Let It All Come Down,” a baffling cover of Prince’s “Sign O’The Times” [?!], and tellingly, an instrumental cover of the hymn “Jerusalem.” Apart from there latter’s ironic usage by Monty Python, it was known to me in a rock context as being the first track on Emerson Lake + Palmer’s “Brain Salad Surgery” album. So Simple Minds were very happy to wade in Prog waters now?
Finally, the three climactic numbers of the album were staring me in the face like a loaded gun. They were released ahead of the album as the “Ballad Of The Streets” EP and it began with the song that the band had previewed the year prior at the Freedomfest Nelson Mandela 70th birthday concert. Amid the material that surrounded it, the previewed “Mandela Day” track could not help but shine like mica amid all of the chunks of coal that comprised this album. While the song would have only passed muster as a B-side in headier times, it now stood as a beacon of accomplishment, or what passed for it, on this album. At least Kerr managed to provide lyrics that, while not actually poetic, at least had a direct and clear approach to the song’s subject matter, though his vamping in the song’s final quarter, complete with Marvin Gaye quotes, ultimately revealed the haste with which the song had been composed.
Did I say that “Let It All Come Down” was the worst Simple Minds song I had ever heard? Mea culpa! That sentiment goes in spades for the horror that was “Belfast Child!” Though I’m of the opinion that there should be a law against bands who aren’t Irish ever writing about The Troubles, I think that it would be even easier to draft legislation against once great bands releasing such bloated and pompous, not to mention overweeningly pious codswallop such as this track! Worse still, the song was based on the traditional Irish folk song melody as “And She Walked Through The Fair,” so one would have a vivid idea of how far outside of their knowledge base that the Bowie/Roxy/Krautrock influenced band seriously were. The ballad was given a new set of lyrics by Kerr and every atom of orchestral bombast that Trevor Horn could muster. I can only imagine that deep in the hidden lair of U2, that band were howling uncontrollably at how eagerly their erstwhile rivals had swallowed the bait and sealed the fate of their once comparable career.
It managed to shockingly reach number one in the UK charts as the lead track on the “Ballad Of The Streets” EP following an edit down to merely 5:17 in length! Kerr’s mother Maureen was credited for pennywhistle on this album, presumably on this track, but it really sounded like a sampler filling in for Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute®! As the track was a solemn dirge, Jim Kerr milked the lethargic pace of this song for all the magnitude he could wring from this as it doesn’t even begin to resemble rock music until the halfway point, and then than only meant that Kerr was yowling in full Bono-mode, much to my dismay. Somewhere, I can’t help but feel that a kitten is drowned every time Kerr bellowed “Sweet Sereni-TAY!!”
Next came the final track from the “Ballad Of The Streets” EP, a truly misbegotten cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Biko.” I imagine that Simple Minds thought that they needed a hat trick of “politically relevant” material to cobble together on that EP and shame on the suckers who had bought it up front thinking that at least a few of the tracks would have been non-LP! Never had I been so grateful at not being able to find a record! With “Biko” the leaden, messianic posturing of the band finally reached toxic levels. Let me state that I have no enmity towards the song. Far from it! I had always found Peter Gabriel’s original to be a moving and compelling piece of work that had managed the neat trick of being musically fascinating, while shedding light on the sobering facts that the South African government had pursued a policy of death and torture to maintain their institutionalized racist imperialism.
When I hear Gabriel deliver the lines “you can blow a candle, but you can’t blow out a fire, once the flame begins to catch, the wind will blow it higher” its beauty and spare poeticism makes me weep. When Kerr follows suit, it only make me wonder how much longer this will last. Astoundingly, both tracks are the same length; approximately 7:30, but while Gabriel’s original sprints by, the turgid soundscapes of Simple Minds’s version seem to be almost twice as long. The bagpipes which were an unexpected touch in the original were blindingly obvious here, and what’s more, in spite of a piper credit on the album, they certainly sounded like a sampler to my ears. The telltale ADSR envelope that accompanied their sound seemed to have been a dead giveaway. By the time this song drags to its conclusion, the last three songs on this interminable album have lasted almost 20 minutes, yet they seemed like so much more.
With that, it the album was technically over, but the cassette and CD formats had one more trick up their sleeve, “When Spirits Rise,” a would-be instrumental coda. How about “When Bile Rises?” That would be a more apt description of this formless and unnecessary closure that stands as the worst instrumental that Simple Minds ever committed to tape. The tuneless piece meanders melodically with yet more bagpipes, at least this time sounding like the real thing. The bagpipes sounded like they were breathing on this track. By the time this album ended, it’s a miracle that I still was!
This is my go-to album for the most disappointing release that a band I ever loved had ever released; a distinction that this album still holds 25 years later. It was difficult to listen to it sufficiently without becoming angry. Albums that can make actually me angry are not that commonplace. Finally reaching the end of this post has been a huge relief, since I must have listened to this album many times more in the last three weeks that the whole first 25 years I’ve owned a copy. I vow here and now that I will never listen to this overly solemn, often tuneless, and certainly pretentious tripe again!
Next: …They’ve been so down it looks like up to me
As Bloom County’s Bill The Cat would say ACK! Yup, this album is a musical hairball. You’ve convinced me that the least likely song on the album, Mandela Day, is actually the best song on the album. It sounds as if, in it’s bones, there’s an attempt to capture the jamming quality that their Imperial Post Punk period so benefited from. Burchill actually captures my attention on the track. Kerr sings with a bit more reverence – removing the bluster. But yeah, that’s all there is here for me.
Echorich – This album is simply indigestible; like a huge mound of Crisco© with bulk but no flavor. A nauseating concept.
Don’t hold back, Monk — tell us how you really feel!
Monk, we appreciate your sacrifice. :) I said earlier that I don’t think this album is that bad; however, if I listened to it as many times as you did over a 3-wk period, I would probably come to a different conclusion. Once every 8 years or so and it goes down a little easier. “Biko,” though, is horrendous no matter the listening frequency. I like Gabriel, but this is not a song I like very much, and SM render it even more unlistenable than the original.