When I saw the pre-release single “Let There Be Love” at a record show, I investigated, and bought one of the two CD singles. It was a big improvement on the band’s recent history, but I could have said that about “Metal Machine Music.” In the end, I wasn’t motivated to buy the album or further singles and when US copies of the album were plentiful [and cheap] in the bins, I didn’t bite. That I bought a copy at all was down to the sick collector in me who happened to be in Park Avenue Discs one day, maybe a year after its release. I spied the Australian “Limited Collectors’ Edition” which sported the white cover seen here and a second disc recorded live on their “Real Life Tour” at Glasgow’s Barrowlands on August 13, 1991. The die was cast. The money was spent. It was in my hands and now I had to listen to it.
The title track led the program off and it opened with ambient orchestral noodling that led me to fear the worst excesses of the “Street Fighting Years” era were still with us. Not quite. Once the track got underway, it was yet another chapter in the twisted tale of Simple Minds. It sported bombastic synths over an almost hip hop beat with Kerr still chasing after U2 while spinning a very different tale of desperate characters in difficult circumstances. I couldn’t help but think that this track had been seriously inspired by their recent cover of Prince’s “Sign ‘O The Times!” The inclusion of gangsters and space shuttles in the lyrical narrative makes that patently obvious. Given that the song was called “Real Life,” it almost functioned as an answer song to the Prince track with Kerr presenting a warts and all picture as the norm and not the cause for alarm that Prince presented. In the end, a derivative and overwrought track. Not what I wanted from this band.
Before I could catch my breath came “See The Lights.” It was a dreaded mid-tempo ballad, my least favorite thing by any of my favorite bands. It sounded very MOR but against all odds, it really got its meat-hooks into me, but good. This is the kind of song that flows freely and effortlessly; as if it had been written in ten minutes. I’d bet money that I’m not far off of the mark. I’ll dispel any drama right now and declare this track the best song Simple Minds had committed to tape during the whole vexing ’85-’94 period.
I love the subtle bass line by The Pretenders’ Malcolm Foster and the inclusion of tubular bells works like a charm for me. I’ll even give the gospel backing choir a pass, and brother, that says a lot about how much I like this song! It’s a simple, direct sort of number that was really not the band’s stock in trade at this time, but having gone through the crucible of fire around this time what with people leaving the band like rats from a sinking ship and their manager unceremoniously booted into the cold after a dozen years, I suspect that Kerr and Burchill were trying their hands at any and everything, to see if anything would stick. The album that follows seems to give credence to this theory. Years later, I was heartened to see that this had in fact been the final Simple Minds US top 40 hit; squeaking in at number 40, but evidence of rare taste on the part of an America just about ready to fall hard for grunge. Sigh.
“Let There Be Love” was the single that was less than convincing up front. It was not quite as bombastic as “Real Life,” but it was still at least partially full of the hot air left over from “Street Fighting Years.” The fact that it sported the 1991 de riguer shuffle beat [which has never been used on a great song, in my opinion] dated it horribly from the beginning. The synthetic pennywhistle from “Belfast Child” was still slumming around on this song for the maximum in Celtic overkill, Oirish style. As was common in the final days of British chart rigging, this and all of the other singles from this album [which I waited over adecade to eventually buy] were ground out like sausages, whereby a handful of tracks that would make a single 12″ EP were doled out across as many formats as the record labels could release, before the BPI severely limited that gambit. Still, it makes for weird listening when an album was toploaded with its singles like “Real Life” had been. All of these were decent UK top 40 hits, with this one hitting as high as number six, but only one of them was a hit for me.
Next: …Deep cuts from Hell