Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 57]

simple minds - graffitisoul2xCDASimple Minds | Graffiti Soul – 3

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!

simple minds - rocketsDLThe 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.

simple-minds-stars-will-leadthe-wayDLThe 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.

Next: …Top Ten

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6 Responses to Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 57]

  1. Echorich says:

    Whew! What an album! Building on the return to form of Black + White 050505 and with touring which included a new focus on their Imperial work, Simple Minds produced an album that was hard to compete with in 2009. I have to begin by saying that in the last 2 years Graffiti Soul had become a very dear companion. It is a great album to travel with, especially when a long air flight needs something injected into it.
    Moscow Underground is a return of that aural travelogue sound so well defined on Empires + Dance and Sons + Fascination/Sister Feelings Call. This is pure Krautrock inspired Post Punk. Metronomic rhythms, gliding synths and a guitar line you can’t let go of. As solid as the rhythm section of Gaynor and Duffy is, this is Burchill’s track! Those guitars and synths are immense! The opening effects on his guitar line dancing on Duffy’s tough bass line is classic!!
    Kerr is the cool narrator, plaintive but serene. His maturity away from the awkward/nervous singer is summed up in just one extemporaneous “yeah” at the end of the first chorus. This man is in control.
    Just as on B+W they programmed the album’s anthem worthy track as the follow-through to the killer opening track. But Simple Minds’ anthems are no longer arena sized lighter flicking songs, they are tight focused sing alongs that make a listener get up out of their seat and dance around – uh okay, that make THIS listener get up out of their seat and dance around. Simple Minds primary nemesis, U2 has spent the last 20 years attempting to capture this kind of simple/primal rock reaction in song to very ill or little effect. Score one for impermanence over musical constancy.
    Stars Will Lead The Way is a real gem. Yes it’s possibly the most straightforward track on the album, but there’s a certain perfection to its craft. A nice call and response play between Kerr’s vocal and Burchill’s guitar that accentuates almost every line.
    Light Travels is really gorgeous, it gives Kerr some room to add some drama and it’s a nice way to bring the proceedings back down to the ground. This isn’t to say it’s in anyway less than what precedes it, just a different animal but equal to the job of moving the album forward.
    But things are just getting started here…

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  2. zoo says:

    At this point in the album, I was digging it. Really liked “Moscow Underground” and “Light Travels,” less so “Stars Will Lead the Way” but thought it was still solid and enjoyable. I could have done without “Rockets,” as it was a little too “by-the-numbers” IMO (like “Home” on B&W050505). Definitely a promising first half.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Zoo – Well, the band were still “hedging their bets” and that is a trait that both Simple Minds and OMD fall prey to in their negotiation of their art and their obeisance to commerce. This reality vexes me as a long time fan and it remains the most prominent mitigating factor in their contemporary career. That both bands achieved prominence without “selling out,” has stuck with me over the years.

      With OMD the band achieved their greatest success with absolutely no compromise. It was their seen as self-indulgent follow up to “Architecture + Morality” where their market reduced to just 10% of what it had been previously that shook their confidence to the core.

      With Simple Minds the signing to Virgin accompanied their entry into the Top 10 LP chart. Their singles still hit the lower reaches of the Top 40 but there was the sense that the years of work for nothing on Arista were finally paying off. “Love Song” managed to become a Top 10 hit in other Commonwealth nations. Like OMD, the band plowed their creative furrow with no concern for the marketplace and wee finding that success was forthcoming.

      Where these two bands differ, was that the blow to Simple Minds confidence, was not failure, for following their muse, as with OMD, but enormous success, due to following someone else’s muse. The ridiculous success of “Don’t You” became the standard bearer for what the band wanted to achieve in the marketplace, and that led to creative decisions that I don’t think we’re in their best interests over the long term.

      That is why I have given “Graffiti Soul” a 3/4 rating. It goes down easily where once the band trafficked in hollow bombast that they saw as their lock on the marketplace. I completely agree that “Rockets” and “Home,” were by-the-numbers Simple Minds. One difference that I perceive between Simple Minds and OMD, is that the cheap, modern methodology of recording in a DAW, has worked out better for Simple Minds than it has for OMD.

      With OMD, one of the powerful traits of their music was the creation of unique and powerful sounds. The band were not live powerhouses, so the process of creating of their sounds was more paramount for their art. Simple Minds were a powerhouse band driven by an incredible rhythm section, so the vocabulary of their music was less importance than simply the creation of powerful grooves.

      When Simple Minds make their albums piecemeal, it takes them further from the cliche rock that I saw as their undoing. When OMD do this, it weakens their strong writing with the trappings of modern successful pop; to their detriment.

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      • Echorich says:

        Can’t say I really disagree with you here Monk. I will say that I was an interested follower of OMD’s muse. Dazzle Ships is a particular favorite of mine and some of it’s DNA exists in the last two albums.
        As for contemporary “by the numbers” Simple Minds, you can give me a couple of these anchoring tracks on all of their coming albums if it gives them the confidence to create tracks like Moscow Underground or Stay Visible.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – I certainly concur! OMD’s writing of “English Electric” bears the honest stamp of “Dazzle Ships” influence, it’s just that the recording has none of the emotional power of that album. It just sounds too easy for my ears. And modern SM by the numbers is hitting a much higher standard than whole swaths of their mid-period career. They have adjusted their targeting to hit a mark that I am very satisfied with, even as I recognize that their salad days are still well nigh untouchable. Not the worst problem for the band to have!

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          • Echorich says:

            I agree with your assessment of recent OMD. It’s good, in fact it trades more on the pre John Hughes past that I prefer, but it is OMD of the soft synth kind and thus not as magical. English Electric has its real high points, but your description of it being ‘too easy’ is a fitting one.
            As for Simple Minds, that they can be well into their 3rd decade and be making music that both they and their base appreciate is a win for everyone. In fact I find it interesting that the two bands which had to play second and third fiddle to the behemoth that was U2 from the Mid 80’s on have survived with much more credibility than U2. Recognizing your strengths and playing to them, leads to an appreciative audience.

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