Simple Minds: Walk Between Worlds UK CDX 
- The Signal And The Noise
- In Dreams
- Barrowland Star
- Walk Between Worlds
- Sense Of Discovery
- Silent Kiss
- Angel Underneath My Skin
- Dirty Old Town (Live)
When we first discussed the “Magic” pre-release single there were some who thought that the track trafficked a bit too much in modern pop music tropes. I was prepared for something as ghastly as much of the EDM-influenced material on the last Duran Duran album. Fortunately, the 3:23 edit of the song for single release that was issued in advance of the album was better than that by quite a margin. Yes, it was thoroughly produced music in the modern Digital Audio Workstation [i.e. Pro Tools] style, and the first verse was a bit shaky for my tastes, but once the chorus kicked in, the tune was bright, shiny pop from our potentially turgid stadium hacks. The specter of another “Once Upon A Time,” or worse… “Street Fighting Years,” can always exist as a horrifying possibility for this band. As if the last acoustic studio album didn’t already make that possibility painfully apparent.
I had to say that I found it was calling back to the pop-informed “Cry” album of 2002, which had been a big favorite of mine on its release. For me, this will always eclipse the band striving for “sincere” yet bloated stadium rock. A friend of mine likened the 7″ edit to a Katy Perry single. If that’s what Katy Perry is about, then I won’t worry about her all that much. Modern cyberpop can be far more soulless and this was a solidly good track. I liked it better than the opener to “Cry,” its title track. And Katy Perry often has Johnson Somerset mixing her singles. If she’s got that much taste, then she’s probably all right compared to other tween-aimed divas who don’t choose a Bryan Ferry/Peter Godwin sideman to embellish their remixes.
And that was just the single mix. The album version delivered another minute of music rife with atmospheric Charlie Burchill guitar that swirled and eddied like clouds in fast forward motion. Basically, much of the “Simple Minds” essence that had been excised from the song to get down to single length! With Burchill back in the spotlight, the tune rose a few notches higher in my esteem to become genuinely good and not just “good…for 2018 pop music.”
Next they started really laying some Simple Minds rubber down with the early fan favorite “Summer.” It’s probably only down to the fact that it was released in February that has thus far prevented this song from getting the nod as the next single. It immediately grabs your ears with the lurching tarpit bass line, courtesy of Ged Grimes. Of course, the fact that Simple Minds were constructing a song around a bass hook shows that they were once again operating at peak efficiency! I also liked the male backing vocals the first made their presence known on this track. Best of all Kerr sang this one with a dark swagger that had some bite to it. The weird gunshot ricochet-sounding loops of heavily layered sound marked the approach here. When I first heard the samples, it seemed to be a muddy sound. Far from their usual “Bob Clearmountain” aesthetic. Now that I was listening to the album, it made more sense in context. “Summer,” like all of the songs here, was a densely layered package of many sonics laminated together into a whole. It gave the proceedings a shoegaze-like patina while staying firmly in rock territory.
When he next song began, the extremely subtle cymbal hits were actually the furthest thing from the stererotypical booming Mel Gaynor, Bonham-influenced drum sound imaginable. The net effect was to suck me into the track so deeply, that I’ve yet to climb out of it! Then Burchill’s guitar began contributing swirling harmonics like nothing else in the Simple Minds canon. I’ve come to recognize the new arrow in Burchill’s quiver as a dip into the Robin Guthrie toolkit, as he had embraced an impressionistic, shoegaze sound on this album. Never more strongly than on the shimmering soundscapes of “Utopia.”
This song was incredible! Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks… even 40 years into the game! The dreamlike vibe here was the sound of a hazy afternoon sun shimmering in the remnants of an afternoon rain shower. With all of nature glistening in the fading light of the afternoon. Every time I listen to this song, and I’ve listened to it a lot, I can’t believe something this subtle and atmospheric is once again coming from the pen of Simple Minds. I’d have to retreat back to “New Gold Dream [81, 82, 83, 84]” to hear another song remotely like this, but this was no self-pastiche. First of all, as beautiful as the music bed was, it was more than matched by Kerr’s subtle vocals; at times as if he’s whispering in the listener’s ear. Sounding all the while in his phrasing more like Ian McCulloch of Echo + The Bunnymen than even himself. This stunning number has currently pulled to the head of the pack to become my favorite song on the incredibly strong album, but the field was very competitive as we shall see next.
Next: …Return To Trance
I was among those who felt Magic lacked something, something intrinsically Simple Minds. Hearing the album version confirmed exactly what…Charlie Burchill. I have to agree, the single/radio version is compromised, but in this era of “who cares which song is the single” decision making (that’s more my opinion of the situation rather than probably truth) I just look at the pre release songs as exactly that, just a taster, knowing better that I will need to hear the entire album.
Magic is followed by what I can only describe as a song of elation and vigor – Summer. This amazing song takes not prisoners. What it does take is the listener on is one of those classic Simple Minds soaring flights above the world. A certain kind of aural magic the perfected back in the days of Empires And Dance or Sons And Fascination. Summer is an anthem in the classic Post Punk sense of the term. It’s wide screen, global, open and powerful.
But what comes next is simply the best thing – among so, so many great things – about Walk Between Worlds…Utopia is Simple Minds taking their most successful template of atmospheric expansiveness and applying a modern musical coating to create something new, yet wonderfully familiar. There’s a feeling of mystery, of the unexplored, of possibilities to come. I don’t have anything else to say about Utopia, it speaks for itself.
I have to echo Echorich (#seewhatididthere) and the Monk in their assessment of the first three songs on the album. While “Magic” seemed a bit more by-the-numbers to me, “Summer” and “Utopia” really scratched the Simple Minds itch, the latter especially. Having not kept close track of the band in recent years, I have to say the restrained vocal style (as opposed to belting it out) used on the first three tracks isn’t used to its best effect on “Magic,” but is leveraged beautifully on the other two songs.
Of course track four is a different kettle of fish, but I’m getting ahead of myself …
re: “the specter of another “Once Upon A Time,” or worse”
Just wanted to make sure the track “Once upon a time” is getting some respect, at least among those for whom the cliff Simple Minds drove over came after Sparkle in the Rain rather than before – which I know might not be that many people.
I rank it with Trevor Horn’s greatest moments as far as giant canyon-filling instrumentation and production (the atmospherics and mountain-sized drums in the intro, then the Jangly Guitar of God). Granted the Wailing Black Divas (WBM™) near the end are unlistenable – I always stop the track at that point – and the Partridge-Family-goes-stadium ba-ba ba-ba-ba male chorus is annoying. Apart from those it’s 100% worthwhile just to get the good parts.
– sorry if OT, couldn’t find a whole post about Once Upon a Time –
T – Let it not be said that we don’t aim to serve @ PPM. Try here for the “Once Upon A Time” review.