When “Graffiti Soul” was announced, it was offered to the public in two configurations. Fortunately, the more “deluxe” of these still retailed for a modest amount of money, so of course I opted for the version with a bonus second album, albeit one of quickly recorded cover versions. The minimal black slipcase contained two cardboard sleeves with “Graffiti Soul” ensconced in the first and “Searching For The Lost Boys” on the second in rather spectacular “Jakeboxes.” For the purposes of this Rock G.P.A., we’ll discount the latter album. It’s a nine track disc of bashed out covers, some of which point to Simple Minds’ Post-Punk peers [Magazine, Siouxsie + The Banshees, The Stranglers] and others to the usual suspects [Neil Young, Elvis Costello]. The appearance of the traditional chestnut “Sloop John B.” was a final head-scratching curveball, but ultimately, only the band’s take on Siouxsie + The Banshees’ “Christine” managed to make me forget the original. Which, as a Simple Minds cover version, was actually kind of spectacular.
Not so with “Grafitti Soul” itself. As soon as the laser hit “Moscow Underground,” it was apparent that the band had been spinning “Sons + Fascination” anew as the song’s impressive motorik impulses clearly reached back to 1981 for inspiration. Eddy Duffy’s gently fuzzed bass line pushed the train out of the station and then the percussive loops redolent of trains passing coupled with Burchill’s fernzied rhythm guitar gave it a hint of Kraftwerk, albeit with a claustrophobic, urban underground vibe.
Mel Gaynor’s usual sturdy drums were abetted by fantastic percussive fills that gave the song that extra push forward that greatly impressed. Then the aerosol synths of Charlie Burchill took it all aloft. Jim Kerr’s reserved, introverted vocals sounded perfect for this song. He doubled his vocals on the chorus to atmospheric effect. Listening to him here, it was hard to believe that this was the same guy bellowing like Bono 25 years earlier. What ever the failings of Simple Minds were in the mid-80s, by the new millennium he was a long way gone from committing any such vocal sins.
This tune was another bracingly strong album opener that said that Simple Minds had rediscovered their Post-Punk mojo. The group had clearly learned that power and subtlety were not necessarily mutually exclusive! Burchill’s guitar was all heavily effected harmonics and nuance with no rock posturing while Eddy Duffy’s bass contrasted with a ragged, obvious pull redolent of Peter Hook. The percussive stick fills that Gaynor throws into the song’s outro were perfectly evocative of the endless passing of wheels on tracks. Here was another song of the caliber of “Stay Visible” and if I were being honest, even better than that song!
The first single from the album had been one of those awful, download only events, with a remix available only there, and adding insult to injury, not legally available in my territory. “Rockets” showing the group playing it safer than on the opener, with a retreat back to more of a straightforward rock vibe, with piano fills, even! What the song did have, and in spades, was an unmitigated Burchill swaggering guitar riff that had all of the confident power in the world. The first time I heard the excerpt on simpleminds.com in pre-release, it didn’t have any trouble sending chills up my spine. This was another song cowritten by Kerr and Burchill with Gordy Goudie, who was back playing along on this album after sitting out the previous one.
The second single from the album was “Stars Will Lead The Way,” another quietly confident rocker with great backing vocals by Katie Kissoon and Sonja Jones. As with “Rockets” there was a download only remix by Cenzo Townsend that these ears have not heard for reasons of record company politics. The middle eight features what sounds like Katie Kissoon sharing the spotlight with Kerr and this was a good sound that no doubt sparked some thoughts on the part of Kerr that would manifest on the subsequent tour for the album. Again, the real star here was Burchill’s guitar with a modulated riff that unfurled with a power and grace that showed he still had melodies up his sleeve that delivered.
What was side one of the now trendy LP version of this album was the elegant march “Light Travels;” another song co-written with producer Jez Coad and his bandmate Sean Kelly. The slow, methodical pace of the tune dialed down the swagger of the preceding tunes for a welcome break in the pacing of the album. Here was a tune one could get lost in, with plenty of sonic space for the various elements to catch the light as they tumbled, slow motion, through the infinite spaces suggested in the song. Burchill opted here for acoustics to add an earthy contrast with the theremin-like synths. Kerr’s intimate vocals were served with a generous accompaniment of dignified backing vocals, courtesy of Kissoon and Jones. I daresay that “Dolphins” form the last album would not have been as problematic with me had it been anywhere other than the last song on the disc, and the change of pace here with “Light Travel” reflects a more savvy grasp of pacing.
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