Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 45]

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

[continued from previous post]

The first single from the album had been the “Dancing Barefoot” EP with a metronomic cover of the Patti Smith classic that has been like catnip for rock stars of a certain age. I’ve heard The Mission, U2 and Xymox also tackle this one and late in the game Simple Minds. It’s a fair cover, heavy on the acoustic guitars but sporting a pulsing, synth bass line and female backing vocals. Kerr comes on a bit too close to comfort to the Bono sound vocally and considering that Mr. Hewson had covered this song first, I can’t help but think that it influenced the vocal here.

simple minds - dancingbarefootUKCDAI find it interesting how after the first chorus, the track trails [nods?] off into a fade for a beat or two after Jim Kerr sings “like some heroine.” It’s another drug allusion that maybe only i’m picking up from the band at this time, but after hearing the unreleased “Our Secrets Are The Same” album, which had explicit junkie references in the lyrics and a dissolute smacked-out vibe for many of the songs, I can’t help but wonder if heroin was figuring somewhere in the lives of the band. It’s not a vibe present anywhere in their earlier work.

Speaking of metronomic, the title track was a subtle, low key stab at the classic Kraftwerk electronic ballad featuring shimmering loops and a slow BPM rhythm track sounding like a heartbeat overlaid with vocoders singing backup for Kerr. Slow-mo, heavily reverbed rhythms add to the dreamlike aura of the track, but this was laking in the crystalline beauty of the Kraftwerk original. The timing of the cut was brief; just over four minutes as it fades to a closing drone and bypasses the more beautiful second movement of the original song.

If one ever wanted to hear a busy, clattering cover of one of the most widely covered Doors songs, then you might have been the audience for their radical, yet perfunctory cover of “Hello, I Love You.” It was all grinding, distorted loops and what sounds like a cuckoo clock loop during the bridge. Kerr’s vocals are distorted and dubbed throughout the rest of the song as what seemed like grungy, looped based Moroder-space kept on circling until the song’s cold ending.

Next came what has rapidly become my go-to track on this album as it sticks in my brain for hours at a time. I remembered the Echo + The Bunnymen original of “Bring On The Dancing Horses” from their “Songs To Learn And Sing” compilation of hits. I was shocked that Simple Minds had decided to cover this one because of the vitriolic statements about Jim Kerr that Echo singer Ian McCulloch had made in the press, back in the day. The original never made much of an impression on my as I only saw the video on MTV back in the day. Exposure to the Simple Minds version gave me newfound appreciation for the song.

I love the extended dub intro that builds from nothing but a skeletal hi-hat track, gradually introducing an echoey, pulsing loop and eventually, a reggae-like rhythm that sounded a close relative to the one drop beat of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” Then a synth loop cutting an almost acid house feel oscillated through the song and the bass finally joined in. Almost immediately, Kerr began whispering the vocals of the verses, and singing with a little more brio on the chorus.

It’s got a cool, understated vibe that has a lot of appeal to me. I like how the guitar only really kicks in during the choruses, and at the track’s midpoint, the heavily effected guitar hook based on Will Sargeant’s in the original makes an appearance; fairly radiating hope among the ambivalent, dark music. This song really got stuck in my head for the last several weeks, and when I was researching the original, I noticed that, unbeknownst to me, I actually owned a copy in the Record Cell! I had completely forgotten that it was also issued on the “Pretty In Pink” OST, which I had picked up for the INXS B-side on it [“Do Wot You Do”]. I wasted no time in playing the heck out of it and had to admit, I preferred the Simple Minds version. The original Laurie Latham production had a cloying sweetness  [complete with harp runs!] that had been stripped away on the Simple Minds cover. The expansive [5:52] new arrangement also gave the song more room to breathe.

Next: …Unambiguous drug references

 

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4 Responses to Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 45]

  1. Echorich says:

    Simple Minds’ version of Dancing Barefoot has a great feel to it, abate one which is not far at all off of The Mission’s version from a decade and a half earlier. Kerr’s guitar in particular remind of the Goth take on the track. That Kerr’s vocals have some similarity to Mr. Hewson’s is more about how the song has to be song rather than an attempt to duplicate them. Wayne Hussey took the only other option, giving The Mission’s version a darker, broodier delivery. Like the Simple Minds’ version, but I’ll take The Mission’s version as a preferred cover.
    Neon Lights is one of Kraftwerk’s jewels. It’s delicately faceted and almost optimistic in it’s delivery. Simple Minds’ more truncated version is much darker and mysterious. It takes a great deal of confidence to mess with Kraftwerk, but this really works for me. Kerr’s delivery is delicate but almost mechanical, which suits the music well. It makes their version sound even more futuristic that the original. Job well done.
    Not got much to say about Hello I Love You. I’ll give them credit for the amount of attack they gave the track, but it’s not any great shakes. Doors covers are tricky and really not a good idea for most who attempt them. The only bands who I believe have ever had any success with them are X – their version of Soul Kitchen is brilliant – and Echo + The Bunnymen who reserve their interpretations for the live arena where they are better suited.
    Now as is probably most evident by my screen name, I am a died in the wool, card carrying Echo + The Bunnymen fan. Very, very few bands have ever attempted or maybe that should be be bothered with covering any of their songs. That Simple Minds, a band they were at one point very much in a race to mass success, would cover one of their few/most successful songs and at a point in their own career when they were trying to get back up to those previous successes, was sort of ironic. The opening is absolutely beautiful, but as the intro leads into a 4/4 dancebeat, it begins to lose me. Kerr chooses to confront the vocals in the same style as Ian McCulloch, but the backbeat begins to let down the song from its original. The Bunnymen created a shimmering, neo-psychedelic pop classic to these ears. Yes, Laurie Latham added his rich production to the track, but after the band’s Ocean Rain that wasn’t at all far off their own path. Even with all that production there was a very organic, gently wild feeling to the song. Simple Minds, while upping the celebratory and defiant aspect of the lyrics loses a lot of the original’s beauty. Good attempt, but not what I want from the song.
    What comes next on the album will make the whole project worth the effort and I have to believe gave Kerr and Burchill a renewed confidence in their sound.

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  2. JT says:

    I have paid little attention to U2 after their War album, but have not completely ignored them… I do seem to recall hearing them do Neon Lights somewhere, maybe on a B-side. More fuel for the fire on your U2/SM comparisons.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      JT – Gaaaah! It never ends, does it? After investigating, it seems that U2 covered the song as a B-side to their single “Vertigo” in 2004, which I’ve never heard of. Nyah-HA!

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      • Echorich says:

        Monk you are not missing ANYTHING there. synths replaced with a baby grand and guitar and something resembling a music box…for me it’s sad and a bit twee…

        Like

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