Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 55]

simple minds - black+white050505UKCDASimple Minds | Black+White 050505 – 2.5

[continued from previous post]

The band next revisited the cut “Jeweller To The Stars” from the “Our Secrets Are the Same” album. “The Jeweller [part 2]” had been earmarked as a potential B-side, but the band liked the results so much, it got on the album instead. The song had already been the high point of that difficult album, and the previous year it had been released as part of “Silver Box,” but it’s appearance here made some sense with relatively fewer probably having the cash to buy an expensive boxed set. The song was rendered even more vibrantly here and it really shored up the second half of the album with at least some positive energy.

That was important, because the rest of the album was rather downbeat. The ostensible title track, “A Life Shot In Black + White” was a somber piece with slow moving guitar licks from Charlie Burchill to distinguish it. The best thing that I could say about the cut was that it ended at 3:30; far sooner than the usual Simple Minds track length. By not overstaying its welcome, it managed to make me appreciate its reflective vibe moreso than if it had been a more typical five minute cut. That it was followed by another mid-tempo rocker in “Kiss The Ground” confirmed that the overcast atmosphere of the album must have been carefully planned on purpose.

The final track was one that I continue to have complex thoughts about. “Dolphins” was the slowest, most methodical track that I had heard from this band in decades. It opened with roughly a minute of long, languid, instrumental intro before Jim Kerr began singing, but even his energy level was highly subdued; making the second minute of the song sound like it was playing back in slow motion. At the three minute park, the synthesizers fully erupted with a long instrumental passage that had been treated with delay to approximate rave music on quaaludes. Then Kerr sang the bridge, and the song wrapped up at the 5:57 mark as the energy level of the cut finally petered out to nothingness. Personally, I think that Bob Clearmountain missed a trick by not lopping two seconds off of this cut so that it was 5:55 in keeping with the album’s title, but I digress.

I actually like “Dolphins” fairly well, but its placement at the and of the second half of the album, where what little energy evidenced here just ebbs out to a flatline level ends the album on what sounds to these ears like an inconclusive note. It always sounds incomplete because of the way the songs were sequenced. The end of “Dolphins” suggests some sort of emotional reprieve or redemption that never arrives. It’s practically a suicide song from this band, and it’s followed by nothing, suggesting finality. For that reason, the album, while filled with individual songs that would be acceptable in a different context [I don’t think there’s a poor song on here] fall apart in the manner in which they’ve been sequenced. In this respect, it reminds me of David Bowie’s even more troubling “1. Outside [The Nathan Adler Diaries: A Hyper Cycle]” album. At least the songwriting conceits for Simple Minds were much stronger and less specious, where even Bowie’s concept was long dead on arrival on that album.

Still, the torpid, downer druggy vibe that had hovered over Simple Minds albums following the failure of “Néapolis” manifested here, for what was [hopefully] the final time. The album began on an extremely high note only for the energy level to flag with each subsequent track, leading to the conclusion that sounds like death itself. My guess was that Kerr and Burchill were suffering from more than just writer’s block in 1999. Having drunk deeply of the heights of fame and fortune during the 80s they found themselves kicked out of the car and unceremoniously dumped on the pavement as the pop culture car sped away into the night.

My thoughts are that much of the music of this period is reflective of depression that they may have been carrying following their fall from grace. To be signed for a £10M advance in 1997 only to fail spectacularly in the marketplace and be cut from the label two years later had to have hurt. Especially since they were honestly trying to recapture a spark they had lacked for ages. “Stay Visible” showed that it could once again be in their grasp. Recapturing the spark would continue to inform Simple Minds every endeavor moving forward. It would be the trigger for every action they would take from this point onward.

Next: …Top Ten

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10 Responses to Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 55]

  1. Echorich says:

    I just can’t buy into any criticism over the darker, slower nature of much of B+W050505. I don’t discount that it’s there, but to me it seems the sequencing of the album which doesn’t appeal to many – you are in good company Monk – was very specific and the closest the album comes to a concept. It’s more a cycle of songs that a concept to me. It is a very complete and satisfying album for me. Black + White 050505 is #5 if I’m ranking them.
    The Jeweller Pt. 2 (is this a particularly English spelling of Jeweler?) has so much more focus and vigor than the first attempt on OSAS. It is a great commentary on the fleeting nature of fame – a first hand commentary at that. It has always reminded me of Jacob Arabo who was the famous Jacob The Jeweler – a man who road the coattails of so many Rap and Rock Stars until his own fame got him in deep, deep trouble for laundering drug and mob money. Musically this is classic Simple Minds, eerie, almost ethereal synths, a driving rhythm section and guitars that both guide and stab throughout. Kerr’s voice is so confident and in full storyteller mode. He sings in a sardonic manner that could so easily be turned on himself. The final coda kind of raises the hair on you back in anticipation.
    I am totally blown away by the drama and emotion of A Life Shot In Black And White. It is a song of reflection and assessment and I find myself hitting repeat over and over. It has Bowie written all over it as well. Whenever I hear ALSIB+W, I can’t help but think of Starman and Life On Mars – Bowie’s two epic tour de forces. There is also some points of the song that remind me of Lou Reed – possibly in Kerr’s delivery. But this is no faint copy of those songs, it stands on it’s own two legs, says it’s peace and ends. The opening, with its synth harpsichord provides a place of comfort before Burchill’s guitar peaks through and the song builds to meet Kerr’s vocal. I am waiting for that time when the band will put it in the set again…I don’t think it’s made an appearance since 2006.
    Kiss The Ground is restrained but powerful. This has always felt like a song about Glasgow, It’s a song that feels like it was born out of a jam session, each player finding his spot in making the song move forward.
    Monk, where Dolphins has you questioning it being the final track, I feel like this album couldn’t have ended any other way. Does it conjure modes and ideas of depression, loss, missed opportunity – regret? Yes it does. But I can’t equate it with the druggy nowhere-ness of OSATS. I am a fan of slow burning, rock and roll drama. That’s why In Every Dream Home A Heartache is my favorite Roxy Music song. But I don’t know if I get a really negative feeling from the lyrics. If you take it literally, Kerr is singing of being guided under the ocean by Dolphin’s, putting his fate in their hands, but the purpose is inferred. Sure it could easily be a drug addicts reference, but it could also be about escaping that drug addict/no future world. In the end Dolphins is a beautifully disturbing song. It’s a truly personal song and I can’t see Kerr allowing the track to be anywhere other than the end of the album. My GPA grade 3.5 (some days it gets a 4.0).

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Wow! Number five?! I have yet to actually plot the G.P.A. graph yet but seeing as how there’s just four albums left [yes, I have to include Lostboy! A.K.A.… it’s just too much a Simple Minds album not to] I’d better get started. We could be wrapped up with this epic thread by the end of the month. I’ve learned a lot about Simple Minds by listening to these albums so heavily during the last five months, and I’m starting to formulate conclusions.

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      • Echorich says:

        B+W050505 ranks really high with me because I really wasn’t expecting anything this cohesive and confident that would revive my interest in such a strong way in the band. There’s just a level of artistry and process involved in this album that pulls me in every time I hear it.
        It’s really a shame that critics didn’t really get this album. Some did in The Guardian and Telegraph, but others dismissed the album in a way that makes me believe they really didn’t take any time to listen to it.
        This was Simple Minds’ real come back for me. Cry was the final piece in the exploratory stage for Kerr and Burchill and with B+W they put it all together. Call it Simple Minds Mk. 3 or Mk. 4, but it’s the Simple Minds that has been back on their game now for 10 years and 3 massively satisfying albums.

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        • Brian Ware says:

          I agree. In hindsight this album was truly the genesis of the modern Simple Minds sound of the last ten years. And yes, Lostboy AKA is a critical piece of the puzzle. Over the last few months I’ve imagined a compressed alternate Simple Minds universe where OUAT’s excess was rectified by GNFTMW as the follow-up. Like with Duran Duran, we then allow them to flounder in the 90s with the noble failures of Neapolis and Neon Lights which leads to the triumph of the mighty Cry. Then it’s it’s full steam ahead from that point on. LITCOL, SFY, RL, OSATS? Nah… never happened.

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          • postpunkmonk says:

            Brian Ware – Well well! I’ve been waiting for your voice in the wilderness. Yes, if those years had never happened, it would have saved me a lot of grief, but in all actuality, the commercial fact that they have been active for so long, might be fully down to their stadium years, as much as we eschew them. Still, it’s a kinder vision than what history actually delivered, eh?

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – Cohesion is a trait that work better for me at some times than others. E+D for me is their most cohesive album. It’s also one where the vision resonates most strongly with me. “Cry” is undoubtedly an eclectic and raggedy album; with a few duff tracks in all honesty. But that one hit me very hard, even though as you correctly point out, it was one of their exploratory albums. The fact that so much of it was unexpected, even though it can be argued that everything was a refinement of the techniques first tried on “Neon Lights,” counted for a lot with me. Ultimately, I like that one more because it struck out much further from the typical rock comfort zone where the band had aimed their work for so long prior. Also, the setback I had with B+W was that “Stay Visible” just towered over the other material, and rendered it more dull by comparison. Placing it as track one was a decision driven by online retailing realities. Previewing tracks online often doesn’t go further than the first track in the playlist, so the tendency is to top load your finest track [or the one you want to make an impression with] as track one. Plus, I had to leave room for the improvement that followed on subsequent albums that, as good as they are, cannot be considered peers to the likes of E+D or S+F on the comparative scale. Ultimately, this is an overriding factor in my evaluation.

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          • Echorich says:

            I fully understand you approach to grading B+W and I certainly agree that with the advent of iTunes, it makes sense to put the finest up front. If you just look at the play count graphs next to tracks you will see this born out. But I still believe there was a very particular design in Kerr and Burchill’s decision for the album’s song sequence. As well, with Bob Clearmountain on board, he is not a shy presence…just ask Chrissie Hynde or Springsteen. I think he would have made his voice heard on be half of the final product if he wasn’t convinced by the band’s decision.
            Neapolis, Neon Lights and Cry is valiant, respectable era of experimentation and exploration. Sure not all of it works, some of it needs to never be heard again, but that willingness to try something else, whether out of pure interest, a need to find some new spark or sheer desperation is a path that many bands in their position would never have the nerve to attempt. Simple Minds deserves a great deal of appreciation for taking that path.
            Finally, yes, E+D and S+F/SFC have to stand as the highest peak of their work from which everything can rightly be judged, but for me, B+W is a very high summit for the band on their 3rd journey up that musical mountain.

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  2. I confess I was, until today, completely unaware of this record, such had my following of SM fallen off during their “wilderness years” and which has only been rekindled very recently. So I’m much obliged to find the keystone to the later records I picked up on again!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      chasinvictoria – It’s a solid album. Obviously, Echorich likes it more than I do, but it’s an honorable effort and “Stay Visible” is top drawer material for the band.

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