When Jim Kerr unleashed his first “solo” album, he was careful to muddy the branding waters enough to lend the work a touch of anonymity. This was not precisely a “Jim Kerr” album as he’d took pains to name the project Lostboy! Still, he hedged his bets, by adding his name to the title. No sense in losing all of his name recognition. The first track, “Refugee” was teased on the Lostboy! A.K.A. Jim Kerr website and it seemed to have been picked for its propensity to reassure nervous Simple Minds fans.
“Refugee” was a cracking uptempo number that erupted following a deceptively mellow intro into a buzzing synth figure that was repeated until the first verse, where things got lean and urgent. Kerr’s taste in bass was still favoring fuzzed out work, this time from Charlie Jones [Goldfrapp, Robert Plant] being displayed prominently. Producer Jez Coad played the keys and guitars that featured distorted tremolo riffs used to contrast with the string patches and propel the tune ever forward over the steady beat of Mel Gaynor.
The next track, “She Fell In Love With Science” took a larger sidestep away from the mainstream Simple Minds sound, as successful at it as “Refugee” was. Jez Coad’s subtle sustained leads over his urgent, yet subdued rhythm playing created a tense stillness for the song’s first 1:10 as Kerr’s vocals describe how the woman in the song came to fall in love with silence. Interestingly enough, Kerr had given an interview where he revealed that he was reading about a woman in an abusive relationship who eventually found the strength to leave her partner and retreat to a place away from him where she said the song’s title came from.
Twenty years earlier, it would have been difficult imagining Jim Kerr tackling such a lyrical subject with the light, deft touch he employed here, but the song managed to take the seed of that hope and carry it aloft so that it may take root, far away from strife. Co-writer Owen Parker matched Kerr move for move in constructing a melodic basis for this tune that was the furthest thing from heavy-handed or obvious.
The first single from the project was “Shadowland,” possibly song with the most Simple Minds DNA on the whole album. It was typical of the mid-tempo rock that the band proffered at this stage of the game. Far more intriguing was the next track. “Return Of The King” built up from a hissy intro full of analog noise and even a 60 Hz. hum. It was a song of two highly contrasting modes. Anguished verses where Kerr was pushing his vocals for a distraught effect over wailing, almost blues-based guitar work from Jez Coad, and placid choruses where ornate string patches built up an uplifting melodic structure reminiscent of the chorus of Echo + The Bunnymen’s classic single “The Cutter” at the 2:48 mark.
The song marked the second time that Kerr had recognized Billy MacKenzie in the liner notes of an album. While “The Floating World” obliquely referred to the “smiling ghost of Billy MacKenzie” [and surely, his spirit would be wearing that huge grin that belied all of the difficulty in his life], this song was explicitly in memoriam. The final breakdown with lilting synths over a drum machine pattern and the return of the 60 Hz. rhythmic hum that figured in the intro of the song.
The stakes on the album got even higher with “Red Letter Day.” This dazzling number featured an electric arrangement that was ceaselessly inventive. The balance between traditional rock instrumentation and electronics was perfected here just how I liked it. In that way, the goal of the album of Kerr re-connecting with the New Wave musical values that were all around in his youth hit the bullseye with this track. Charlie Jones was playing a bass rig that sounded modeled on Bootsy Collin’s famous star bass, with fat, flanged notes that emphasized the rollicking funk of the track with its additional synth bass syncopating with the drum pattern. Just like a certain Mr. Admason did in 1980. The sustained guitar chords of Coad played against the funk with more abstract chording in the John McGeoch vein. The overall effect on this track marked it as being close to the Magazine sound as evidenced on their “Correct Use Of Soap” album. It’s a solidly thrilling bit of work by all concerned. I have to imagine that this was precisely the effect that Kerr was aiming for.
As was also the case for the thrilling track “Remembering Asia.” The buildup of this track added layers of abstract guitar and synth melody as Kerr painted the first verse in words. Then, as the title phrase kicked in, the track’s moroderesque rhythms coalesced for the first chorus, with propulsive sequences hitting close to the vein that New Order were hitting ca. ’84-’85 when they were at their dance rock acme with work like “A Perfect Kiss.” The deep, rumbling piano chords gave the song a heavy grounding that gave the rhythm guitar and synth leads room to take flight. The synth riffing the the tune’s middle eight explored a timeless place where the sequences and the beat were pumping effortlessly, like a heart in peak form. The wailing Gilmour-esque leads in the song’s climax were matched perfectly by the backing vocals of Miss Jo Cocker. This was a cut that was demanding an extended 12” mix to these ears! Jim Kerr was making an album that fairly reeked of where Post-Punk had moved to by the 1982-1985 period, and had done a cracking job of it.
Next: …The Waiting is the hardest part