Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 61]

Ear Music | GER | CD + 7" | 2010 | 0204592ERELostboy! | A.K.A. Jim Kerr – 3.5

[continued from previous post]

With “Bulletproof Heart,” Jim Kerr made good on his promise to get back to the attitudes of his youth with the only song on “Lostboy! A.K.A.” which was a cover of a vintage New Wave song. Originally having appeared on the second Fingerprintz album, 1980’s “Distinguishing Marks,” the lyrics on this version evidence some “retouching” by Kerr with Jimme O’Neill’s noir references supplanted by more “political” lyrics. The arrangement here was perhaps the most relaxed song on the album, with a laid-back vibe redolent of a band more like Squeeze. It remained an example of the more commercial zone of New Wave and as such, was perhaps more reflective of some of the material on “Life In A Day” instead of the darker, tougher songs which had been the touchstones up to now for this album.

After the cover version, the title track then appeared. In keeping with his concept of re-connecting with the attitudes of his youth, the upbeat vibe of the tune clearly reaches for an innocent naivety in its instrumentation, heavy on the childlike synth patches from Jez Coad.

“Well I’m going back to music, watch me go out and prove it

Lost Boy, Lost boy” –  Lost Boy

The track musically has more in common with children’s music than Post-Punk but the light touch here was necessary as the album was coming into its home stretch and the road ahead was getting much darker.

“Nail Thru My Heart” was a fascinating pain song that started in a bluesy vein with guitar harmonics kept at a low key until, again, Mororder-like loops brought it into a hybrid Post-Punk territory with sequences similar to that Claudia Brücken had used on “Kiss Like Ether [the electrical embrace]”  over an almost hip-hop rhythm bed. Then at 1:30 a voice that didn’t sound like Kerr [probably executive producer Martin Hanlin] intoned the words “is this a war… is this a god?” If you’re like me, the lyric reference to the classic Simple Minds B-side “New Warm Skin” certainly raised an eyebrow. Then the subtle synths gave way to acoustic guitars and insect-like rhythm box patterns. The song reached its half way point before Kerr actually began singing, when the song erupted in intensity.

Charlie Jones’ bass was by then every inch into Bootsy Collins’ star bass territory, over which Coad contributed stinging leads that reflected the pain of the lyrics of the first verse. Then, as the first verse ended, the sequencer lines returned with what sounded every bit like Gary Numan playing Moog leads around the time of his “Pleasure Principle” album for a middle eight that felt very “vintage.” Kerr sang the second verse – there was no chorus here, and then the synths carried the song to its climax with only a woman’s voice this time, saying “is this a god… is this a war?” This was certainly a shaggy dog of a cut with disparate sonic DNA from allover the place coming home to roost. The hint of melody also borrowed from “New Warm Skin” was daringly suggestive, but I found that I most responded to the juxtaposition of vintage Numan moog leads nestled next to the flanged funk bass of Charlie Jones. The sequencers didn’t hurt at all either. This pointed to this track as the most left-field cut Kerr had released in decades, but I liked very much where it went.

Then all bets were off as the heavy-handed “Soloman Solohead” began with distorted beats in the red, with Kerr’s voice also in the red zone. What sounded like Mellotron leads played  a descending figure of a riff for several measures. Then after a bar of space rock, the whole sequence began again, churning like a arrhythmic heart straining to keep pumping blood. Then the middle eight found distorted hot guitar leads in a hevay-metal stutter for an over-the-top experience. Kerr then re-appeared and took the final verse up a notch as he explored the next octave. Then the synthetic opera singer appeared and your guess was as good as mine as to how this would all end as the lurching, monstrous construction eventually ground to a sputtering halt.

Wow. This was the first time in 30 years that I can truly state that I can remember hearing a track this left-field with Jim Kerr’s voice associated with it. I think I would have to go back to “twist/Run/Repulsion” to have a track so overflowing with what I’ll call “element X” on a song that Kerr was singing. The validity of the “Lostboy! approach was that Kerr could abandon the levels of expectation that surrounded the Simple Minds brand after so many years of calcification. I can understand Kerr getting a little carried away with the freedom of working separate from Simple Minds for once, even as he surrounded himself with familiar names from the contemporary Simple Minds lineup such as Jez Coad, Mel Gaynor and even Andy Gillespie. But now that he had tested his limits with the previous two tracks, it was time to take this project to its conclusion.

“The Wait parts 1 + 2” was the first time that Jim Kerr decided to close an album with a tune from the pen of Owen Parker, but it would not be the last. Kerr had said that he was going inside the mind of an Olympic runner to create this tune and the first part of it was all ambiguity and obscuring shadows that enshrouded the outcome of the album in questions with no simple answers. The first four minutes of the song were all turns and corners where the full picture was hidden until at a certain point, the final curve revealed everything ahead in shafts of golden light as part 2 of the song began in earnest. To say that the track scales the heights of bonhomie doesn’t do it justice. It’s nothing less than the sound of coming home to a room packed with every dear friend you might have had. It manages to end the first Jim Kerr album on a transcendent high note that simply had to be the album’s finale.

With the first explorations of Jim Kerr outside of Simple Minds committed to disc, in some ways, what happened was a roots check album where Kerr was free to explore the tributaries of Post-Punk while keeping one foot in the soaring rock that had been his stock in trade with his band. The eclecticism of the album was such that it returned to the explorations that had been the bedrock of the “Cry” album in 2002. Following the more tightly focused “Graffiti Soul,” this allowed Kerr to have his cake and eat it too. Kerr was on the books as planning to have a quick follow-up Lostboy! project to follow soon on the heels of this one, but reality intruded.

lostboy liveNot before he managed a brief tour of Germany with the live debut of many of these songs in what was being called an “electroset.” Touring with a stripped down [read: inexpensive] solo setup made sense for an album like this one, but the hows and whys of it were fascinating. Instead of the typical acoustic approach, Kerr opted for a two-man electro approach with laptop/synths not unlike Pet Shop Boys minus the theatrics. This was exciting because it served the music more honestly than a more rock-based approach would have been. Kerr obtained the services of one Simon Hayward [of the Simple Minds tribute group, Sample Minds] to rework the material to make it even less rock-like. Finally, Kerr added singer Sarah Brown, who had recently become a part of Simple Minds on the “Graffiti Soul” tour to make it a threesome and less likely to invoke synth duo comparisons.

Kerr performed a handful of dates in this configuration, and the set lists were eyebrow raising to say the least. Ancient, but thrilling Simple Minds tracks like “This Fear Of Gods” and the never performed “In Every Heaven” figured in the set list even as ripped from the notebook new Lostboy! songs that came after the album, like “Kill or Cure” were added to the set lists. And among this bounty of riches were a few covers, like Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll” [I completely understood this] and Bob Dylan’s… “Lay, Lady Lay?!” No sooner did European and Irish audiences come to terms with what must have been a gig-stopping Dylan cover when news of Jim Kerr’s mother’s failing health, called a premature end to the Lostboy! tour before it reached the UK. But the die was cast. Kerr had struck out on his own but it would have repercussions for his band moving forward.

Next: …a Dream of Simple Minds

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6 Responses to Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 61]

  1. Echorich says:

    Side Two is actually kind of epic. It spans time, references the past, is adventuresome and at times very heroic.
    Nail Thru My Heart is that adventurous moment on the album where all the stops are pulled out. Kerr’s vocals are urgent in ways I don’t remember them being for more than 20 years. The sequencers, moog patterns and high tensioned rubbery bass are fantastic. Referencing New Warm Skin is important to the song more than as DNA, but as a reference to a certain satisfaction with the past. It’s the track on the album that I could have lasted 8 or 9 minutes and I wouldn’t have tired of it a bit. That it is followed by the dark, heavy throb of Soloman Solohead is pretty genius. The pastoral plucks of strings give way to some heart stopping bass and guitar. I agree Monk this is RTRC territory. Rhythm controls the melody, at times obliterating it. Sit in traffic with the top down and this track blaring on I-4 and see people turn their heads…I have.
    The Wait Parts 1 + 2 is reminiscent of those wonderful aerial travelogues of times gone by. There’s a nice motorik influence here that sounds at once familiar and very, very pleasing. The soaring nature of the final moments of the track are quite something. The song’s end is positive, full of self satisfaction that rubs right off on the listener.
    3.5 all day, every day!
    Addendum: I wish Kill Or Cure, in its original form had been included on Lost Boy! It feels as though it belongs. I will have my opinion on its inclusion as an SM track soon enough, but it really has been a favorite non-LP track of mine for a few years now.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Yep! “Solomon Solohead” really digs deep into RTRC territory. The poll on the Lostboy! website marks this as the least favorite track on the album by all of the fans who had participated, but it brings so much to the album for me, I was greatly heartened by the ability of Kerr to not feel obligated to please the ear and try for some emotions that were more difficult to express. Even to the point of impenetrability! It makes the climax of “The Wait parts 1 + 2” all the sweeter when it comes. After the two songs that preceded it, it feels like something that has been earned.

      I also liked “Kill Or Cure” and mentioned to zoo that swapping that for “Bulletproof Heart” would have been a way to make this album even stronger.

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  2. zoo says:

    I think I listened to this album once or twice a few years ago and never listened again. I don’t know why…after listening again yesterday, I think it is very strong. I have no explanation for why I dismissed it so quickly back then.

    The only low point in my opinion is the “Bulletproof Heart” cover. Perhaps if I wasn’t already familiar with the original I wouldn’t mind it too much, but IMO, the Fingerprintz version is far superior. It seems pretty useless on an album with such otherwise strong original material.

    3.5 rating seems good to me!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      zoo – I waited so long to buy this album because the multiplicity of formats stayed my hand. I thought that it would be a strong album, but buying the extended CD versus the 7″ vinyl bonus version was all too much for me. Especially since the Lostboy! web store was not actually selling direct. So it was until I saw Simple Minds on their 2013 US tour that, fully motivated, I finally got the extended CD and yes, it was even better than what I was anticipating.

      Though I totally agree with the Fingerprintz original being the superior cut. Its presence here was seemingly down to the violent life in Glasgow manifesting itself to Kerr. He’s alluded in postings over the years how people he’s known have met a violent end in that town, and when presented with the facts that Glasgow had become the murder capital of the world, that motivated him to dust off “Bulletproof Heart” and ask the permission of Jimme O’Neill to rewrite the lyrics to change the song’s focus.

      Also, Kerr’s cousin had done time in O’Neill’s follow up band The Silencers. And that was also the group that executive producer and pal Martin Hanlin had come from. He had obviously bonded with Kerr during the time that The Silencers had spent opening for Simple Minds on the early 90s. Given his role as a sounding board to Kerr, all of this accounts for the song appearing on the album, though “Kill or Cure” would have made the album stronger for me. At the very least, anything that brings royalties to Jimme O’Neill can’t be a bad thing.

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  3. norty72 says:

    What I like about this album is that it’s that its full of mystery and magic, like many of the early Simple Minds albums. You just have to pick it up and have another listen. The nostalgic sentiment on the track “Lost Boy” reminds me a little of what Bowie did with his similarly inspired song, “Slip Away” from Heathen.
    I like the finished product of “Kill or Cure” on Big Music. One of the highlights of the new album. I think it works better than the original. Or perhaps sounds more like a Simple Minds song after Charlie added some brilliant guitar, which is what it was missing I think.

    norty72

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      norty72 – Yes, you’re spot on regarding the magic that this album was unafraid to traffic in, which is why it was something that had to happen, as its lessons have clearly made their impact felt on Simple Minds going forward. Good call with the “Slipaway” reference. I certainly see where you went with that! We should never underestimate the pull of Bowie on Kerr, even at this late stage of the game.

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