The band got both reflective and ferocious on the nostalgic “Barrowland Star;” named for the iconic Glaswegian venue that was a big part of their past, and future. The heraldic synths and acoustic guitars were deceptively redolent of the band’s dull, mid-80s period. Then the sweep of the real strings as scored by “Real Life” vet Pete Vettese, brought some old fashioned dignity to this otherwise very modern album. The strings were the dominant melodic component here and the vocals of Kerr and the backing vocalists rode the musical wave like experts. Kerr showing admirable restraint as he painted a picture of their youth; taking his exit from the long 6:25 track at little more than the halfway point with the twice whispered title as he retreated to the shadows of the song.
Then the spotlight shone on Mr. Burchill for the longest, most fiery solo we’ve ever heard from him as he elaborated on the meaning invested in the venue for him by indulging in a very old school, almost acid rock guitar solo far more reflective of his heroes and influences than what we’re accustomed to from the wee man. It lasted for fully more than a minute before the strings and BVs took the lead for a few bars. Then Burchill returned and ripped into his fierce, more slightly modern-sounding coda that united his past and dreams with his present with able support from the bass of Ged Grimes, before ultimately letting the orchestra have the final word. For a song ostensibly designed as an emotional centerpiece to this album I had to admit that it fulfilled its brief exceptionally well. That it did so with legitimate fire and passion while stopping short of bombast showed how this band were rolling sevens all over this album.
The orchestra remained for the title track, building a chord ascension to sweep us into the next song, which heralded a return to the stomping beat once again. “Walk Between Worlds” featured an unstoppable hook in Burchill’s guitar riff that sounded as if it were a close relative of the blistering riff he built the band’s cover of “The Needle + The Damage Done” on 17 years earlier. The strings and guitar share the stage here with more synths as typical of the album on the whole. The effect is a little more dark and urban than on the preceding song, particularly Burchill’s insistent bass synth riff. Once again, Kerr drops out and lets the strings have the last word here.
The standard edition album ended with “A Sense Of Discovery,” one of the two songs here co-written between Kerr and Burchill and Owen Parker, with whom that have written before on the “Lostboy A.K.A.” and “Big Music” albums. The fluttering, unresolved synths that balanced against pools of liquid guitar from Burchill in the extended intro were full of delicate harmonics that prepared me for something wonderful. Again, I was hearing touches of Robin Guthrie in the chord choices. After a minute of this, the beat began in earnest and when the backing vocals entered, it became – on my second hearing, a spine-tingling moment. Kerr then began singing the first verse with such taste and sensitivity. The emotional footprint of the song anchored it to one of the peaks of his earlier Lostboy A.K.A. excursions with Parker’s co-writing. This one definitely shared some of the lovely DNA also present in “The Wait [parts 1 + 2] that also closed out that album.
If you have a need of a redemptive, widescreen ballad to send your listeners out on an emotional high, then I could image little better than a song like this one. Then the band pulled a rabbit out of their hat with the choral structure, which was a deliberate swipe from the “Alive + Kicking” call and response choral structure. Here, it worked like a charm! Burchill took a lower register solo here that right now is doing another number on my spine as the chorus repeated on the climax as shining peals of guitar stood out in sharp relief like sunlight dappled on the surface of a lake. And then it was over; the fastest 6:29 I can remember hearing that had capped off what was a perfect Simple Minds album.
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