Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 54]

simple-minds---black+white050505USPCDASimple Minds | Black+White 050505 – 2.5

The “Black + White 050505” album was so named on the day the final mix was put to bed. The band were now signed to Sanctuary Records, much like any other performers of their particular vintage. The group were no longer working with Gordon Goudie this outing, but had instead linked up with Jez Coad, of the band The Surfing Brides;  the band from which Sean Kelly [who co-wrote “Spaceface” on the previous album] hailed from. Coad was not only in the producer’s chair, but also co-wrote many of the songs on offer and shared arranging credits with the band. Significantly, the band decided to enlist master mixer Bob Clearmountain to provide the all-important final mix. After two low budget albums of the band re-finding their footing in the new millennium, they announced that they were once again fighting trim and ready to re-stake their claim.

Sanctuary released the album in September of 2005, after releasing a pre-release single as a taster for the record. Word had it on sinpleminds.com that there was a release on US Sanctuary in the offing, so I patiently waited over a year for this to happen without grabbing an import. I had put the idea out of my head for quite some time until one day, I was perusing the used bins at Mr. K’s Used Books, Music and More sometime in 2006 when I saw the holy US advance promo CD of the title, which I eagerly snapped up. The back cover touted an US release date for September 13th, 2005 which obviously had never happened.

The album began with as potent a shot across the bow as they had lobbed in over 20 years with “Stay Visible,” a simply tremendous cut that was their best in decades. It began slowly with string patches and piano building up slowly over subdued rhythms for over a minute before Burchill’s guitar began riffing in earnest and the throbbing synths entered the intro. Then the coup de grace occurred when new bassist Eddy Duffy reached out and grabbed me by the lapels for the first time, truly, since 1984! This was the vital sound of Simple Minds returned home once again after an extensive period of wandering in the wilderness. Not coincidentally, it has been reported that Mr. Derek Forbes contributed to the recording of demos for this album [prior to running off and joining Spear of Destiny for a time], leading me to suspect that this track has his spoor all over it.

Then, at the 1:30 mark, Jim Kerr began singing and the deal was sealed. This was the pulse-quickening, atmospheric rock sound of their salad days reconnected with the all-powerful bass playing that was always the central trait to their music but which had been missing for ages. That Kerr was singing with power and passion that studiously avoided ham-fisted overstatement meant that the band had reached a new plateau of confident accomplishment that emphasized their strengths while shunting aside their weaknesses.

simple minds - homeUKCD1ANext came the pre-release single from the album. This “Home” was erected on a sturdy Roland CR78 ticking away as Mr.Burchill proffered a sturdy, questing guitar riff and little else than that. Kerr stuck to a modest delivery appropriate for the mid-tempo rocker. That it was a mid-tempo rocker was more indicative of a potential problem. Such material was polite, and bore the mantle of Simple Minds at their least objectionable. It was infinitely preferable to me than the content of whole albums like “Street Fighting Years” or “Our Secrets Are The Same,” but coming right after the absolute high point of a song like “Stay Visible” seemed to indicate that the band might have used up their best ammo in the first shot.

simple Minds - strangerGERCDA Much better was the second single picked for the European market. “Stranger” was an inventive, upbeat number co-written between Kerr and Daniele Tignino and E. Pat Legato, who had contributed the excellent tracks “New Sunshine Morning” and “Sleeping Girl” to the previous album. This song was constructed using a clattery drum loop for the verses that contrasted nicely with the soaring choruses. The arrangement of this one was superb with every section of the song offering something different and novel. I loved how the song dropped out in the middle eight, bringing only the excellent backing vocals by Tignino and John Biancale to the fore. They split the harmonies by an octave for a fat, vibrant sound that wouldn’t quit. The clean, trebly Burchill solo the followed in the song’s climax touched on a surf feel that he’d never previously ventured near. simple-minds---differentworldIT12A

The third, Italian only single came next. “Different World [Taormina.me],” was a synth driven rocker that was typically moody and mid-tempo; reflective of where this album was headed. Thus far, only two songs differed from this formula, and the next song didn’t step out of line, either. “Underneath The Ice” was similar enough to “Different World” that it started out sounding to these ears like a dub of the previous song. The eerie backing vocal treatment and muted rhythm track lends it what distinction it has until the magnificent guitar solo at the song’s middle eight bursts out of nowhere and banishes the haze with brilliant beams of emotional sunlight that were becoming increasingly atypical for this album. Would the band be able to moderate the light and dark implied in the title in the remaining half of the album?

Next: …Dragging me down

About postpunkmonk

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3 Responses to Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 54]

  1. zoo says:

    “Stay Visible” is a “stop you in your tracks” song for any follower of SM. Like you said, it had a vitality that was missing from their music for a long time.

    Never liked “Home.” The chorus was WAY too simple and the rest of the song didn’t offer up much that was very interesting.

    “Stranger” and “Different World” both have killer guitar outros, which is what I what I remember most about both songs. Burchill hadn’t sounded this good since GNFTNW.

    I love the moodiness of “Underneath the Ice.” A nicely done song with great background vox.

    At this point of listening to the album, trying to remember back to 2005, I was very excited by what I was hearing.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      zoo – I will admit that I felt the band were back-pedaling towards their comfort zone after the pop-dance excursions on “Cry,” which remained a firm favorite of mine for years. My feelings toward this album have not changed much over the years. It’s an above average Simple Minds album with a best-of-breed first track that overshadows the rest of it dramatically in my world.

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  2. Echorich says:

    A fan’s redemption! That is what Black + White 050505 is for me. If Simple Minds had just released a clutch of songs over the prior 10 years worth remembering, to have this album in September of 2005 was worth all the highs and lows that preceded it.
    I am fully aware this album doesn’t reach everyone. But I feel it benefits from the ebbs and flows of the songs. I get your darkness and light reference Monk…and the band’s own Black + White reference. This is a collection of songs that touches opposing edges but creates wonderful tonal flows. At its heart this is a very adult album and it feels like it was made from a place of authenticity and sincerity.
    Opening with Stay Visible is no error in judgement. It’s a heraldic arrow shot in the sky to foment the sunshine and rain to come. Burchill is on fire – angular and razor sharp. Gaynor’s presence unmistakeable carrying the tempo on his broad percussive shoulders. Kerr is in full lead singer mode. No wallflower/awkwardness for miles. But where did Eddy Duffy come from!?! This is vintage Simple Minds bass playing. I agree, there has to be some Forbes DNA in here, but man does Duffy acquit himself with a show of strength!
    I can’t agree that Home is anywhere near a mid tempo, polite track. I think it is thick and heavy but in a very stirring way. It’s one of Kerr’s most honestly soulful vocal turns. Burchill’s sharp shards of guitar are pretty toe curling. This is what a Simple Minds anthem should sound like!! The lyrics are very telling of where this band was and how they weren’t going to let this chance slip away. And the metronome like time bomb ticking throughout adds a heightened urgency to the track. Oh, and Mel Gaynor bashes along in a wonderfully dramatic fashion.
    Stranger has a beautiful bravado. Kerr’s “walking” vocal is a hook all on its own. If this track had come out during the Britpop Era it could have been massive. It’s shuffles along, shakes its hips and loops around and around.
    Different World/Underneath The Ice is pure Simple Minds artistry. Both tracks are filled with Post Punk references, Bowie/Roxy mannerisms and ambient textures….
    …Bring on the rest!!!

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