Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 44]

simple minds - neon lights USCDASimple Minds | Neon Lights – 2

The move onward from “Our Secrets Are The Same” entailed further changes in the band as Mark Kerr and Eddie Duffy were let go following the non-event of that album and replaced with Glaswegian Gordon Goudie, who had served a time as bassist in garage rock band The Primevals over a decade earlier. Together with the core duo of Kerr and Burchill, Goudie mirrored Charlie Burchill, and played guitars, bass, keyboards, and programmed rhythms on the album. He went one further than Burchill and also played live drums on the album. With one exception, the two were reposnsible for all of the music on the album. As mentioned earlier, Eagle Records picked up the option to produce and distribute the album.

I was browsing in a Knoxville, Tennessee record store when I came across the album’s pre-release single, the “Dancing Barefoot” EP. The four track CD featured the Patti Smith A-side and the band’s cover of Them’s 60’s frat rock chestnut “Gloria” which conceptually, will always be linked with Patti Smith to a certain generational demographic which Simple Minds [and yours truly] were definitely members of. This was the first time I had seen a Simple Minds import release in a store in a very long time, so I happily snapped it up in spite of my modest budget. The first two tracks were also on the album, but the two B-sides were exclusive to the single. Except in America. The US pressing of “Neon Lights” appended versions of The Human League’s “Being Boiled” and Joy Division’s “Love Will tear us Apart” to the album’s running order to bring it up to a dozen tracks.

“Gloria,” was the sole track not produced by the band and Gordon Goudie. Instead, it featured production by the Italian DJ duo Phunk Investigation whom Kerr had become friendly with while living in Italy. Ostensibly, it was their interaction with Kerr that had sparked this latest development for Simple Minds. Their hyper kinetic, kitschy over production at least puts some spring in the band’s step following the last album, which sounded like they were nodding out during its recording! You can’t keep a DJ down, and the first breakbeats in a non-remixed Simple Minds track appear here. I award the band bonus points for not taking it into Patti Smith territory, though I suspect her track of the same name [incorporating some of the Them track] was ultimately more of an influence in their covering it than the 60’s original. That’s my theory, any way. The end result is almost too jaunty and bouncy with its sproingy synth loops being almost comically animated.

Until I heard Bowie’s SNL arrangement of “The Man Who Sold The World” at David Bowie Is, this track was the only version of this song that I ever thought was anything but perfunctory. Midge Ure and the artiste himself had failed to convince me for years. Charlie’s meaty chords add some flesh on the bones of this terminally wan song. The sound palette resembles acoustic music with Hammond organ and tambourine, but I suspect that this was all from loops with Charlie playing over it. The tempo was slightly faster here, which lends this cover a touch of distinction to most versions of this song. That, with the quanitized loops lends this track a bit more energy and propulsion than it usually gets. Interestingly enough, the guitar tone that Burchill experimented with on the misbegotten “Happy is The Man” on the unreleased preceding “Our Secrets Are The Same” album was replicated here to a much greater level of overall success.

simple minds - homosapienUKCDAThe appearance of the “banned” Pete Shelley solo single from 1981 that certainly turned my head was something of a shocker in this program. For the most part, the selections here were safe and canonical influences [Bowie, VU, Roxy], rather than contemporaries as evidenced by Shelley’s debut solo single. The vibe is less streamlined and clunkier, but the song still features acoustic guitars juxtaposed against a technological music bed. While Shelley made the most of the contrast between the acoustic guitars of the original and the Roland Microcomposer, the samples and loops that figured here offer less of a jolt, since they more closely emulate acoustic instruments in all but tempo.

Kerr adopts a somewhat camp, mincing tone that rubs me the wrong way here; unless that’s just the influence of Shelley’s original lead vocal imprinting its stamp on his appropriation. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt here since he makes what’s a rather witty lyrical substitution on the second chorus:

“I’m the cruiser,
You’re the loser,
Me and you sir,
Homosapien too” – original

“I’m the cruiser,
a self-abuser,
Me and you sir,
Homosapien too” – Simple Minds cover

At first I took umbrage at the shift in lyrical tone… until it was pointed out to me by a couple of friends who were faster on the uptake that it was a cheeky reference to the band’s origins as the infamous Johnny + The Self Abusers. That made all of the difference in the world. The track’s vibe had a much slower, funkier tempo, giving the cut a blissed-out, slightly psychedelic feel. Especially with the heavy reverb on the backing vocals. Speaking of which, the outro vocals were handled completely by mixer and engineer Kevin Burleigh [quite capably] in what was undoubtedly a pragmatic, cost-cutting move. The vocal counterpoint with Kerr sounded good to these ears.

Strangely enough, this was the second single from the album, but in a radical move, it was not issued by Eagle Records, but instead was farmed out to the Remote Recordings label. Simple Mind’s contract with Eagle gave them first choice for releases, but the band introduced a clause that allowed them to shop tracks as singles for boutique dance labels, perhaps as a result of Kerr rubbing shoulders with Phunk Investigation and learning how things operated at ground level these days. Especially since in the 90s there was no shortage of dance acts sampling Simple Minds riffs. Of late, these hybrid records were selling better than the originals. They got Malcolm Duffy to remix the tracks for the single and this is one that’s still not in the Record Cell.

Next: …Patti Smith vs Kraftwerk

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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5 Responses to Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 44]

  1. JT says:

    Certainly Kerr’s lyric change in Homosapien was a reference to Johnny and the Self-Abusers?

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      JT – Sonnuva…! If it was a snake it would have bit me! I can’t believe I missed that obvious reference! Many thanks, JT! [shakes head in disbelief]

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      • Echorich says:

        JT beat me to that one…it does put a rather more effective spin on it too.
        Neon Lights is sort of like an addiction for me. There are some very high highs and some very low lows on offer. I agree that only Bowie’s late 70’s rework and Simple Mind’s cover of Man Who Sold The World are worth listening to. Gloria has a sort of post Britpop psychedelia to it that I enjoy, but it is ultimately a bit throw away — and some of the effects on Kerr’s vocals are suspiciously Bono like… I like the languid interpretation of Homosapien. It’s got a bit of European ennui fed into the sound and that gives it a bit of their travelogue feel of days gone by to the interpretation.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – Now that with JT’s help, I’ve grasped the obvious and made peace with “Homosapien.” I still prefer the original, but at least this was very different and I no longer think Kerr was making a left-handed gay bash statement.

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  2. Not to pile on, but I also was aware of the reference for the change when I first heard this cover, probably only 10 years ago. I’ve never sat down and listened to the entire album, but I’ve enjoyed the selections thereof that I have chanced upon. Looking forward to the critique of the remainder!

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