After their last studio album in 1991, Simple Minds seemed to vanish outright. Considering their artistic trajectory over the previous six years, this was perhaps he kindest conclusion I could have come to. Musically, I was adrift at this time. Most British acts I liked were dabbling in house and techno; two styles whose charms I was largely resistant to. By 1993 grunge was crunching its armored treads over the face of pop music on a world wide basis. I was appalled to hear what sounded like a redux of 1971 sludge rock; as if Bloodrock had shockingly become the hottest sound of contemporary music. Young men with too many drugs and too much testosterone bellowing over dire hard rock were the order of the day. Around this time, my friend chasinvictoria started hosting an “Old Wave” radio show on the local college/community station. It felt like time to look backward since looking forward hurt my eyes.
A seminal encounter with The Associates “Popera” CD in Park Avenue CD’s used bins happened to be a life-altering occurrence for this Monk. With my discovery of this album, the notion, heretofore unthinkable, that there might be a lot more great music that I had missed in the ’78-’85 years than was coming down the pike currently, began to manifest. I started becoming interested in the vinyl that had not yet made the leap to CD. The groundwork for my PPM persona was being laid.
After not thinking much about Simple Minds for four years, I was rocked by their re-emergence into the environment of 1995. I was driving around and happened to hear a new single of theirs on the radio. “She’s A River” was a fairly appealing song that motivated me to actually buy their new album, “Good News From The Next World.” I can’t remember if I bought it at Alobar [née Murmur] Books and Music or at Park Avenue Discs; both stores my CD go-to at the time. By that time, I thought I was really over this band, but the novelty of a strongly appealing Simple Minds track was bait I could not resist. Much to my surprise, the album was produced by Keith Forsey,” who wrote and produced their US mega-smash “Don’t You [Forget About Me].”
It seemed that he was helming another Hollywood soundtrack and hit up the band to contribute a track to the [shudder] “Super Mario Brothers” movie. Fortunately, for my brain cells, the track turned out well enough that Simple Minds pulled it for consideration for the soundtrack album and instead asked Forsey to produce their next record. This was fine for me since I always liked Forsey’s production work. “Don’t You” may have been more banal track than what I was expecting from Simple Minds at the time, but time has proven it to be a better track than many which followed, and the cut always sounded good. As it turned out, the band’s run with A+M Records was over and done with after eight discs, so rights for this new album reverted back to the Virgin Records mothership. In the previous decade, the UK juggernaut had finally succeeded in launching a US branch of its worldwide label; this time without pairing up with other US majors as earlier, abortive attempts had done.
The ringing guitar hook on “She’s A River” that alternately pushed and pulled fished me in fairly easily. Since the “band” had by now dwindled to Kerr and Burchill, the emphasis on this album was guitar. Straightforward rock guitar. Burchill’s style, which had begun with songs in the earliest days, and had taken a turn towards the abstract with the second Simple Minds album, had now come full circle. “Real Life” was the first step in the return to riff based rock guitar as opposed to more abstract textural chording, but this album made no bones about it. The rhythm sections and keys were hired session guys. The spotlight was on the duo. I even bought the US CD single of “She’s A River” since it had all but one of the B-sides on the two UK CD singles.
As the last ten years had Burchill covering much ground, so had Jim Kerr. He started out sounding almost afraid to front the band. He was certainly a shrinking violet of a lead vocalist like few others. It wasn’t until the time of “Sparkle In the Rain” in 1984 that he got “passionate” …and sloppy. Like a kid with a new toy after the experience of singing to a few thousand Europeans at rock festivals got under his belt. At first, it had some charm with me, plus the band were on fire on “Sparkle In The Rain,” so I could cut him some slack. Then came “Once Upon A Time” and he seemed to delight in going overboard on the over emoting even as the music was locked down and tightly “professional.” The disjoint between the fury of his singing and the boredom of the playing on that album was part of what made it so annoying to me.
The live album showcased Kerr at his overbearing worst. “Street Fighting Years” had him reeling in his overwrought tendencies even as the backing tracks became celestial in size; leading to an even worse experience than “Once Upon A Time,” only with the singing and playing roles in the conflicting vibe reversed. “Real Life” suggested an improvement and I could only conclude that this was the album the small gains evidenced on “Real Life” were leading to. And it was. This was a tight, professional modern rock album that had nine good songs, was well produced, sung, and played by all concerned. If it wasn’t exciting as earlier work had been, it was still miles ahead of almost a decade of earlier work by the band. Which by 1995, qualified as terribly exciting for a lapsed Simple Minds fan used to disappointment. The most important thing about this album was that I really couldn’t point to any mistakes, or lapses of judgement by the group.
Next: …The rest of the album