Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 49]

simple minds - cryUSCDASimple Minds | Cry – 3

[continued from previous post]
The album’s second half kicks off with by far the most successful Mark Kerr tune the band committed to disc. On “Lazy Lately,” Charlie Burchill managed to get one of just two writing credits on this album, so I’ll assume that it was down to his involvement that the song works to the extent that it does. It’s still driven by acoustic guitar, but this time it was in Burchill’s more capable hands. Yet the song still features an off-putting Jim Kerr vocal where he’s adopting a delivery that really annoys me. Given that I think that Kerr struggles to find his voice singing songs he did not write, it’s my thought that his cloying delivery on the Mark Kerr songs might be a case of him emulating his brother’s phrasing on the demo. Since I’ve been spared hearing that, I’m happy to have it untested.

Far better was the next track, as appealing a pop praline that the band had committed to disc since the days of “Chelsea Girl” with the appropriate title of “Sugar.” It’s a little to the left of the Archie’s tune… but not by much! It was refreshing to hear the band plunge fearlessly into the shallow waters of pop with such gusto. It sounded as if the weight of the world was truly removed from their shoulders for them to record this song. Another potential single left on the vibe to rot in what was still a strange time of re-finding their footing for the band. I’d like to think that some modern pop “singer” will one day discover this tune and ride it up the charts on some horrifying TV show; giving Kerr and Burchill a boost to their bottom line as well as some bragging rights in their dotage.

Then, the peak for me of the second half of the album arrive in the form of the beguiling “Sleeping Girl.” It was another tune from the pen of the team that wrote “Cry” and “New Sunshine Morning,” this time taking it all the way to classic Simple Minds status. The vibe here reminded me of sophisticated, late 60s pop rock of the Zombies variety, with slightly jazzy chord structures supporting the moody tune. The synth patches recalled the timbres of flutes that would not have been out of place had they dug up a flautist while recording this. That Kerr once again delved deep into his lower register while singing this tune gave it even further gravitas. It was yet another potential single that came from this influx of new creative DNA for the band.

The lead off track then re-appeared in a ballad form as “Cry Again,” and the over amped pop had been trimmed away to reveal the crux of the heartbreaker that had been there all along. The tempo had been cut to the bone and spare acoustic guitars threw new light on the lyrics, which had been sung by Kerr to support, rather than contrast with the downbeat lyric.

There was time for one more leftover from the “Our Secrets Are The Same” sessions and “Slave Nation” most certainly bore the yoke of that depressive album. The melody was kept as evasive as possible while the various elements of the song meandered along pokily; never quite synching. If Kerr had wanted to present an album of tightly written and arranged pop material, then someone forgot to remind him that this was on it as well. It’s still better than “Face In The Sun,” but that’s not saying much. It remains one of the two weak points of this album. At least its a concise 3:01 length that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

taormina - the floating worldFinally, the ultimate track was something both different, yet familiar. The instrumental “The Floating World” had been leaked to vinyl as an Italian 12″ on the Absolutely label attributed to the group “Taormina.” That being the name of Jim Kerr’s city of residence. Simple Minds had featured many instrumentals on their albums before. The one on “Néapolis,” also acted as the concluding track. What made this one stand out was that it, technically, was a cover. The track was credited to Vince Clarke! Clarke had remixed the band’s cover of “Homosapien” and his mix was included on one of the “Cry” CD singles. The band took the hook line and rhythm track of the Clarke remix and added a new melody line that sounded like an inversion of the one on Television’s “Little Johnny Jewel,” or perhaps the Doctor Who Theme, and “The Floating World” was the euphoric house result. It certainly benefits by its placement next to the draggy “Slave Nation,” and it ends the album on an up note for certain.

I have to say that upon its release, “Cry” was an album that became an instant late-in-career favorite from this band. It built significantly on the strengths that were evident on the preceding “Neon Lights” and expertly burnished them to a brilliant sheen. It was a radical step for Simple Minds to release an album that was not chock full of “Kerr/Burchill” credits. Over the years, Jim Kerr has pointed to the time immediately preceding this album as being one of writer’s block for the group, but given that his name is associated with 10/12 tracks here as lyricist, perhaps he’s being disingenuous. Maybe all along it was Burchill who was low on sauce. The unreleased [at this time] “Our Secrets Are The Same” album was the first time that outsiders were brought in as co-writers. In spite of the failure of that record to get a release, the idea of bringing in fresh blood must have resonated with Kerr, since it has been a hallmark of Simple Minds going forward to this day.

As a fan, it’s meant that the band have gotten a third and even fourth wind after effectively being reduced to the duo of Kerr/Burchill that seemingly had run out of creative gas. This showed them willing to step outside of expectations and the clichés of their comfort zone to offer up the sort of nimble, zesty music that would have been unimaginable coming from the turgid behemoth that the band had become by the late 80s. At the very least, the influx of outside creativity has given the group a new lease on life that has certainly paid off, but one wonders what the outcome would have been if Simple Minds Inc. [Kerr and Burchill] had instead brought in new musicians as full band members instead of as employees. However enjoyable the modern Simple Minds albums are [and I like most of them a lot], it’s clear that they will never return to composing as an actual band rather than as a company, farming out songwriting like piecework.

Next: …Pilgrimage and obsession

About postpunkmonk

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4 Responses to Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 49]

  1. Echorich says:

    I’ll put Lazy Lately down to brotherly respect, but it really isn’t much to write home about. I’m not 100% convinced by Sugar. It’s a sound that their contemporaries U2 and even Echo And The Bunnymen played around with, and I just don’t have a lot of affection for it. Sleeping Girl’s deep pulsing and vibrato guitar effects are immediately pleasing. Kerr agains sound comfortable and familiar. His vocal delivery here would become the new norm and it fit Simple Minds 3.0 – or was it 4.0… Cry Again is beautiful and really showcases a stand out lyrical turn by Kerr. Slave Nation is really kind of throw away. More junkie speak and nodding off bluesy boogie that has no place on a Simple Minds record – Mark Kerr should have anonymously posted the demo to Bono instead. The only thing on the album I find interesting is the strings that hover over the end of the track. The Floating World is a wonderful/odd dance dub of a track. There is definitely some Dr. Who homage going on there Monk! Leaving the album on an up note was just the thing to do. But if this had been a 9 song album it might have raised it’s GPA score by .5 or 1.0 for this fan.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – When this came out, this was my favorite SM album following ‘Sparkle In The Rain.” It was almost defiantly fresh and worlds away from most of what troubled me about this band. I agree that it would have been a 3.5 without “Slave Nation” or “Face In The Sun.” But for over a decade, this has been a heavily played Simple Minds album not only for me, but also my wife.

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      • Echorich says:

        If Kerr…and Burchill…set out to make an approachable album they definitely succeeded. It’s the closest they have ever come to a “pop” album and they managed to tackle the genre without loosing themselves in it…It had to be confidence boosting. I can’t remember what the reviews were for the album at the time, but a look at Allmusic’s current review seems to miss the point of this album. The set up for the next album was there and that would the one I still can’t put down.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – It is interesting that you mention you can’t remember the reception of this album. As I recall, they were off the cultural radar almost entirely. I can’t remember anyone except for me and my friend Mr. Ware touting it! I still can’t believe that they toured America with it, and that I saw them.

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