[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