Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 73]

two of these things are not like the others...

two of these things are not like the others…

[…continued from previous post]

It’s not shocking that when Simple Minds licked their wounds and reconvened three years later, they were clearly looking toward their past as a way of moving forward for the first time in their career. The choice of Peter Walsh as the producer of “Neapolis” was meant to send a shot across the bow, and these eyes widened in anticipation, I can tell you. But what should have been the real killing stroke in their attempt to regain their mojo turned out to be a nonstarter. With Derek Forbes back on bass guitar, it should have been a huge step in the right direction for this band, but for one fatal error. He was engaged by Simple Minds Inc. to perform work-for-hire. In other words, he was hired to play bass lines composed by Charlie Burchill and thus shared none of the potential royalties for the album. This was hardly inspiring for Forbes, and it meant almost nothing to the album, which though interesting, had almost no sense that the man who made much of the group’s classic material possible was even on board for the project.

As to why someone would hire Derek Forbes to play bass lines written by someone else, the troubling notion is that they wanted to play him less. The withering of Simple Minds, the band, into a duo of shareholders [Kerr and Burchill] had a crippling effect on the creative potential of Simple Minds that would affect them moving forward. While one’s share ballooning from 20% to 50% when a quintet reduces to a duo is a great thing personally for the remaining two members financially, it limits the band’s potential to just what 40% of the original band can bring to the recording studio in terms of creativity.  Anyone who has brainstormed knows the power of multiplying your idea pool with greater numbers. When one of those members only writes lyrics, and the other only writes music, the dichotomy is profound. It places a severe limitation on the growth potential of the group.

Simple Minds + Guests

This limits not only the sound that the band is capable of making while just a party of two, but also the frequency with which they can produce an album. When faced with the failure of “Néapolis” and the ignominy of being dropped by their new label, Chrysalis, after only one album, the desperate times called for desperate measures. For their quick-on-the-draw follow up, the least likely thing happened. The band turned to outside writers for the first time [“Don’t You [Forget About Me” doesn’t count since it was foisted upon them]. That the results were disastrous, can possibly be put down to the fact that it was the first time they had tried this gambit. How ex-Wire Train guitarist Kevin Hunter came to be in the awkward position of writing songs for/with Simple Minds can be put down to family and expediency. With Jim Kerr’s younger brother having demos produced by Hunter, one thing led to another and the regrettable one night stand that was “Our Secrets Are The Same” is still having repercussions to this day, with “Swimming Towards The Sun” evidencing on the band’s latest album [deluxe edition only] as a bonus track.

In any case, the pattern had been set for the group going forward. With writer’s block hitting the principals, if they wanted to remain viable they had better send out feelers to outside writers. There was two ways in which to do this. One would be the unlikely tactic of  adding new, actual full members to the band and giving them shares in the spoils. This almost never happens, but the upside might be a commitment that would possibly be much more powerful than the sort of results that they got by hiring their original bass genius to paint-by-the-numbers [on a Grandma Moses pre-printed canvas, no less – sorry, Charlie]. The second way would be simply to buy from outside writers like any pop singers who don’t write might do. Diane Warren to the white courtesy phone.

But the fiscal realities of the music marketplace ca. 2000 onward had implications for the band which really never gave them a choice. With the advent of online file sharing and the immediate devaluation of music that saw labels, retail chains, and even bands crumble and wither, that 50% share that Jim and Charlie split was suddenly worth a fraction of what they were used to for their entire careers. Album sales across the board are now a shadow of what they once were in the band’s heyday. Splitting even a tiny slice of the now much smaller pie that mechanical and publishing royalties generated [unless you were willing to sell your tunes to other media] leaves everyone at the table hungry. Even if they were willing to sacrifice income for the health of the band [and they weren’t, as far as we can tell] the notion of giving new band members shares in the 21st century was ludicrous enough so that was probably never crossed the minds of the principals. That’s a shame since I truly believe that the band can’t have a truly meaningful renaissance without the kind of close-knit camaraderie and committed creativity from a diverse gene pool of talented contributors such as it had from 1979 to 1984.

Next: …[The Never-Ending] Conclusion

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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2 Responses to Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 73]

  1. Echorich says:

    Engines need fuel, the right grade of fuel. The Simple Minds engine once ran of premium, could manage on extra test, but failed miserably on regular/unleaded. Neapolis had some potential, but it was squandered by the facts you laid out. The less said about what came next, the better.


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