A crucial line was crossed in 1985 when “Once Upon A Time” was released. I can honestly say that the measure of a band’s albums is this: If this were the first thing you were exposed to by an act, would you bother following up on a group’s further albums? This one utterly fails this acid test. I couldn’t say the same for albums one through seven! Over the years I have met people who, when I told them I liked Simple Minds, looked at me askance. I can only presume that these were the ones who first heard that single and this album during their [brief] dalliance with the US charts.
Seeing that tour live was a mistake in hindsight. Even if I had never seen them again, it was still a mistake. With the recruitment of session man John Giblin as bassist, the critical balance in the band as a writing unit seriously faltered here; at least artistically. Commercially, they were in the catbird seat. It is notable that when Giblin got a writing credit for the soporific “Let It All Come Down” on the lamentable “Street Fighting Years” album of 1989, the credit was listed as “John Giblin/Simple Minds.” With the loss of Forbes and McGee, the original members of the band were, legally, what constituted Simple Minds. Anyone else who happened to come along after the band first formed and signed, were just employees of Simple Minds, Inc. This is a common approach in the music industry, but in the case of this band, the loss of members basically equated to a loss of writers. Songs were now written by just Kerr/Burchill/MacNeil as Simple Minds.
The Jim + Charlie Show
Forty percent of the composers that had pushed this rocket to the stratosphere were now ejected from the ship with the creative batteries draining without replenishment. Was it any wonder that the material the group produced from ’86-’89 was so lackluster? Unfortunately, with the end of the “Street Fighting Years” world tour, keyboard player Mick MacNeil had decided that he had enough and walked away from the group. This had dealt the band a huge blow that resulted in a crisis of confidence for the remaining two members. Kerr has been forthright about how he and Burchill were not certain that they could even continue as “Simple Minds,” but such is the value of corporate names and branding. Had they taken a new name, they would have no doubt floundered, and we would not be having this 72+ post thread on Simple Minds. It would have been a lot shorted. Instead, they knuckled down and tried their best and two years later, had enough success with “Real Life” to press on. For what it was worth, at least the resulting patchy album soundly trumped what had come immediately before. But that’s nothing to write home about. I’d rather listen to almost anything than “Street Fighting Years!”
What probably dealt the death knell for the band as top sellers was their inability to follow it up during what was a sea-change period of music with house jostling with Madchester and the brutal jackboot of grunge manifesting during their layoff period, which lasted from 1991 to 1995. When they finally issued “Good News From The Next World,” it was good news only for fans who held onto the flame of hope during those years. A solid album meant a lot to me, but the population had moved on. The album got as high as number two in the UK LP charts; a chink in their armor. The group would not get within spitting distance of that number again for another 14 years, by which time, having a top ten album in 2009 meant that you could sell what would in 1981 would have been a paltry several thousand albums in a week and make the top 10. In 1981 you would have had difficulty getting into the top 100 with those numbers.
Next: …[Yet more] Conclusion