Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 38]

simple minds - neapolisDLCCDASimple Minds | Néapolis – 3

As I recall, it was difficult getting my hands on this CD. For a start, it was the first Simple Minds album since 1981 not to get a commensurate US release. There were also two editions of the album. The conventional jewel box edition, and a deluxe enhanced CD in a embossed metal box which of course I had to have! The DLX ED also had a second session featuring the video for the single “Glitterball” and band interviews at the amazing [then] new Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao as designed by Frank Gehry in biomorphic titanium sheeting. The deluxe CD echoed the museum’s surface most capably. This may have been the first CD that I used the internet to purchase from. I might have swapped something on an online music forum for it. In any case, it eventually found its was to my Record Cell.

The album got off to a very bad footing with “Song For The Tribes,” a chaotic, messy song that sounded like nothing else in the Simple Minds canon in terms of sonics. In terms of composition, it echoed the loose meandering of the title track to “Street Fighting years,” hardly my favorite by this group. It reflected an extreme volte-face for the band coming after the solid, but conventional compositions on their previous album. It was obviously constructed using the then new sample/loop technologies available in the early digital audio workstations of the time.

Layers of acoustic guitars, drum loops, virtual synth licks, were layered in a messy, formless fashion here. Jim Kerr added layers of backing vocals and his lead lines decidedly avoided verse/chorus/verse structure. At least it sure sounded like they avoided it. Certain melodic progressions were dropped in and out of the song in a fashion that might not actually be random, but sure sounded that way. Finally, for maximum confusion, the cut featured a string section! Ten points for invention but the end result indeed sounded like “ten records playing at once,” which is how Kerr typified the song years later in hindsight. I was concerned after hearing this first cut.

simple minds - glitterballUKCD1ANext came the single, “Glitterball.” This track was grounded in a more conventional musicality, though it employed the same elements as did “Song For The Tribes.” The percussive loops were a far cry from anything we’d heard from this band for years. If the notion of the “Sparkle In The Rain” rhythm section joined with the producer of “New Gold Dream [81, 82, 83, 84]” had led to expectations, they were certainly dashed by what came issuing from the speakers. The CD singles for the A-side were conspicuously lacking in any remixes of the track, but this was compensated by the filling of both CDs with post-modern remixes of the era for their back catalogue.

“Glitterball” proffered a low-key coolness with Kerr singing in a casual tone as the chunky rhythm loops were shot through with injections of distorted  guitars. The hazy psychedelia of the lyrics and Kerr’s phased backing vocals completed the picture of an empty clubland attempt at human connection through the dancefloor, expedited by drugs that would eventually leave you as cold as your partner would.

“Glitterball, radiate round the hall.
Lifts me up, then leaves me to fall.
Glitterball, radiate round the hall.
As the great unloved go dancing all the way.” – Glitterball

The “Great Leap Forward” postulated on the previous album had obviously occurred! I cannot emphasize how radically different this album was from the previous five albums that immediately preceded it. Charlie Burchill had by the mid-90s evolved into something of a rock guitar hero. After gradually abandoning his textural, contrapuntal style, he dipped his toe into classic rock styles and tones on “Real Life” before settling on the crisp, fiery rock as evidenced on “Good News From The Next World.” Here, he was employing lots of acoustics and if there were electric guitars in the mix, they were buried under a lot of effects. The sample/loop methodology was given the front position in the mix.

This made the music reflective of machine qualities at its foundation. In that respect, it harkened back to the motorik Krautrock foundations of the band only as evidenced in the new technology of the time. It represented a new synthesis of sound that, in  retrospect, was clearly of its time. Around the same time, Duran Duran recorded their “Medazzaland” album and it also was heavily colored by sample/loop technology. In both cases, the end result was almost psychedelic for the bands in ways that they had never previously touched upon before. Here, the string section added a baroque touch that only strengthened the ties to psychedelia even moreso.

Next: …New Sounds, New Styles

 

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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3 Responses to Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 38]

  1. Echorich says:

    I have to agree, Song For Tribes has the sound of someone hitting all the presets and then trying to sort out the song. It’s electronically dissonant, but maybe that is where this album was meant to take off from. If the last album was a greeting from the Next World, Néaopolis was living about living there. There’s a real push and pull between expected rock sounds and new recording methodology. Glitterball, while not sounding like something from Empires + Dance returns to the emptiness and static emotions that ran through that album. Bringing the allegory back to the dancefloor was pretty astute in my mind. Néapolis is heavy where NGD was a spectacle of subtlety. Kerr’s singing is in concert with the tracks on the album. Peter Walsh has a keen ear for recording vocalists as another instrument in the music rather than setting it apart – Just listen to his amazing work with Scott Walker for evidence of this.
    The one thing I take most from Néapolis is that return of Krautrock influences. Once again they were ahead of those bands they were vying with for marketshare in playing with textures and rhythms. They use that Motorik beat to great effect and clarity to move what you rightly describe as psychedelic sounds forward and not let them get muddled.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – At the time, I described the album as the first one since 1981 that sounded like it was made by the same band who recorded “Sons + Fascination,” and I stand by that assessment. Actually, “Song For The Tribes” was the last thing recorded for the project according to Kerr. I remember reading his online postings from that time period and he was wont to enthusiastically discuss the work at hand.

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      • Echorich says:

        I can agree with that. It’s boundary pushing music…maybe not always successful or as successful as the band may have thought at the time, but it really shows a direction and a renewed confidence as a whole.

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