[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.
Finally, 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