Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 33]

simple minds - reallife2002UKCDASimple Minds | Real Life – 1

[continued from previous post]

The next track, “Woman,” was one of two cuts on the album co-written with the producer, Steve Lipson. This was another track indebted to the steps taken on the earlier “Sign ‘O The times” cover on “The Amsterdam EP.” With “Woman,” the skeletal rhythm track was clearly carried over from the Prince track, but the overall vibe owed much more to jazz inflected, late 60s post-Psych/MOR pop such as “Time Of The Season.” A world of difference from what we’d heard from this band before.

The third single was the uptempo rocker “Stand By Love.” It was another pseudo-gospel rave up that was in many ways, even worse than “Sanctify Yourself” had been. The rote Hammond organ spoke to the unremitting pull of classic rock clichés on this once proudly Post-Punk band. More troubling, the modus operandi for Charlie Burchill for this album seemed to be for him to try on as many other guitarists styles from the classic rock pantheon as possible. His solo on this number reeks of the tone employed by George Harrison! It comes within a few stones throws of his solo on “My Sweet Lord” while we’re looking at it!

Next came the nadir of this album. Of late, Jim Kerr has famously said that when he heard “Theme For Great Cities” the smartest thing he had ever done was to decide not to sing on it. Such was the state of Simple Minds just ten years later that he just couldn’t resist the no doubt colossal temptation and he gave in to his worst urgings. The end result is so impoverished, that it may come as a shock that I never even realized this after owning and occasionally playing this album every couple years or so! It was not until a year or so ago where I saw an online discussion of “Let The Children Speak” that I had my eyelids ripped off, but good. Adding insult to injury, the backing vocalist here reprises Robin Clark’s vocal hook from the “Once Upon A Time” intro shamelessly. This was without a doubt, the worst thing that Simple Minds had ever done to one of their songs; surpassing even the “Love Song” classic rock medley-slash-evisceration of the 1986 tour!

“African Skies” was absolute filler chock full of sound effects and children’s choruses that would be even sadder without the conga rhythm driving it that had been plucked kicking and screaming from the vastly superior “Help Me Somebody” on “My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts.” There was a time when this would have been relegated to B-side material. No longer. This track featured the only guest guitar on the album, what was described in the liner notes as “Shaft guitar” from the hands of Alfred Bos, the band’s biographer whose incredibly pretentious toms “The Race Is The Prize” I only know from reputation. That Simple Minds would ever have “Shaft guitar” on a cut called “African Skies” [“Shaft In Africa?”] points to huge problems. From that point on out, the album was a savage pummeling of rocker/ballad/rocker/ballad until this listener could barely take any more.

“Ghostrider” was a ham-fisted rocker sporting a near-hair metal solo that I still refuse to believe that Burchill had anything to do with, in spite of the liner notes. “Banging On The Door” showed the band willing to try on the mantle of Bruce Hornsby + The Range to somnolent effect. “Travelling Man” sported a loping backbeat and little else to remember other than a clattering sense of misdirected energy, wasted.

The worst of these was probably the tremulous ballad “Rivers Of Ice. ” The story behind this one suggests that the band were looking for “Belfast Child” lightning to strike twice! In this case, the source material wasn’t exactly a folk classic, but Ian Maclachnan’s theme song [“Dr. Mackay’s Farewell To Creagorry”] to the early 60s BBC serial “Dark Island,” that the Minds lads no doubt watched as boys. In any case, the end result tries to be more intimate than the ridiculous overstatement of “Belfast Child,” but to no avail. Neither was what I felt was honest coming from this band with years of art rock history under their belts.

The album ended with a low-key reprise of the title track, with a severely dialed down energy level that I liked a little better. Kerr’s falsetto vocals were somewhat tragic, but the glissandos of Burchill’s guitar added a pleasing vibe to this subtle number. It almost manages to end this album out on a high note, but not quite. Even so, this would not be the last time the group took a trip to this well, as we will see when our attentions turn to the next Simple Minds album. Finally, the song’s outro managed to bring another distinctive fadeout to mind; this time from Emerson Lake + Palmer’s “From The Beginning!”

I always found it ironic that many of my favorite artists wanted to work with Steve Lipson due to his credit for Propaganda’s “A Secret Wish.” In most of these cases, apart from “Diva,” the resulting albums were pretty ghastly. In Simple Minds’ case, there was a greater irony. After Propaganda fissured following “A Secret Wish,” they obtained Simple Minds’ original [killer] rhythm section and released a second album, “1234,”to little avail. Of course, the MOR second Propaganda album of 1990 was just as bland as this Simple Minds album. “Real Life” was Simple Minds in name only as Kerr and Burchill were adrift in a sea of changing tastes with previously underground dance styles dominating the UK charts and the spectre of grunge looming off in the not so hazy distance. How would Simple Minds react to the crisis of confidence that produced this disjointed and unappealing album under what would be a commercial sea change?

Next: …The waiting is the hardest part

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6 Responses to Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 33]

  1. Echorich says:

    Let The Children Speak is too embarrassing for words…it was a nail piercing right through the heart of their post punk past.

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  2. zoo says:

    My notes for each song as I listened to it yesterday:

    “Real Life” – I like this song. Of course, not what I necessarily want from SM, but not a bad song IMO. Best song on the album.

    “See the Lights” – Boring, too smooth

    “Let There Be Love” – Kerr singing out of range; nice guitar bit in the intro, but it’s a mirage…song turns wimpy in a hurry; lame shuffle

    “Woman” – interesting song that tries for a “mood” that that they can’t quite attain; interesting arrangement; too smooth; Burchill is lost playing the style of music on this album

    “Stand By Love” – boring, smooth; Burchill with a tasty bit–HOWEVER, “tasty” is not what I want from Charlie…I want angular, biting, atmospheric, serpentine, etc., not “tasty.” This music does not fit his style at all. He’s lost. Is this the same guy who wrote those great parts for “70 Cities”?

    “Let The Children Speak” – “TFGC” chord sequence meets “Great Wall of Love” vocal line. This is just a bad song through and through. Burchill gets a little dirty…good for him.

    “African Skies” – lame, bad, boring, etc.

    “Ghostwriter” – boring, lame; Burchill gets in a nice bit, albeit briefly

    “Banging on the Door” – wimpy, smooth; no banging occurs at all; more slide from Charlie

    “Travelling Man” – boring except for a Burchill bit that’s too brief; bad “Waterfront” rewrite

    “Rivers of Ice” – slow, boring piano ballad; thankfully under four minutes

    “When Two Worlds Collide” – nice bass work, but nothing else to recommend

    In my opinion, this is a worse album than SFY. At least SFY takes some chances, and the guys try some new things. They weren’t necessarily good things, and it’s by no means a good album, but SFY at least tries to go somewhere. RL doesn’t even try…it’s just lame, smooth, pop with absolutely no edge. This one’s a zero for me.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      zoo – You have made me laugh, sir. Specifically your comment about the running time of “Rivers Of Ice!” You know, had it been on the previous album it would have been over six minutes long!!

      I think it’s safe that we can conclude that I prefer boring and smooth over pious and bombastic*; and vice versa for yourself. I agree that “Real Life” is definitely the sound of the wheels coming off, even though I actually prefer the shipwreck of this album to the fleet of zeppelins in formation that was the previous LP. The biggest tragedy for me on this album is the virtual elimination of the band’s identity in a swamp of generic classic rock tropes. It’s sad. And listening to it is sad. But after SFY, I’ll take what I can get! That one was the hardest listening I’ve done for this thread. This one was merely an ill-considered and flailing Simple Minds album with one song that I liked in spite of itself… Quite a bit.

      But it’s not as though when recording this album that the band were having an identity crisis. They had already jettisoned their artistic point of view years earlier; they were almost done chipping away the last vestiges of their style. It would be some years before they realized the error in this “growth.”

      * As a China Crisis fan, I come by this distinction honestly.

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      • zoo says:

        I have no problem with smooth if its the band’s style (as you mention, China Crisis). I DO have a problem, however, when it’s the same band that gave me songs such as “30 Frames a Second” and “I Travel.”

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        • Echorich says:

          Agreed! This album was more sell off as the sell out had occured years earlier…

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          zoo – Touchè! That was the despair that I had already undergone several years earlier as Simple Minds had become Stadium Minds. A completely different band. I had already undergone Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and finally Depression. By 1991 I was ready for Acceptance.

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