REDUX: Corn-Fed New Wave: Figures On A Beach, The Early Years

February 20, 2014

FOAB locked down the "New Music" sound… cold

FOAB locked down the “New Music” sound… cold

Ten days ago, commenter Rob C made an eloquent defense of Detroit’s Figures On A Beach and little did he know, but his words were only a portion of the FOAB event horizon that I find myself in at this point in time. Commenter JT grew up in Cleveland, so he had been exposed to the sleek, upbeat synth-rock that the band offered in his neck of the woods prior to their signing to major Sire Records in 1987 and subsequent flight to Boston. He talked of the remastering of a tape that their Detroit indie label Metro-America had issued before FOAB flew the coop to Sire here. It’s two months later and I have a CD-R of the material in question.

I think the first time I heard FOAB, was when I bought the third Sire sampler, “Just Say Mao” and the killer pop track “Accidentally 4th Street [Gloria]” was on it. I certainly liked the track, but offering 1983 New Music aesthetics in 1989 wasn’t enough to snare my ears at the time. It was a bit later when I finally bought the first Sire sampler, “Just Say Yes” with a track from their 1987 Sire debut, “No Stars,” on it. For years that was all I had of FOAB in my Record Cell. It was probably a dozen years later when I got the RetroActive vol. 2 compilation that had the unreleased club mix of “No Stars” featured.

Truthfully, by this time, FOAB were, in the rear-view mirror, a more engaging prospect as time had taught me that paying attention to music I missed or ignored the first time around, payed dividends in the fallen present world we now inhabit. The thought of buying some FOAB CDs now began to have some allure, and lo, this cassette of their early singles and EPs [“Paradise And Other Four Letter Words”] has fallen into my lap. What’s on it, you ask?

Metro-America | US | EP | 1983 | MA-1002

Metro-America | US | EP | 1983 | MA-1002

Figures On A Beach: Swimming US EP [1983]

  1. Swimming – 5:08
  2. Feel Like Glass – 4:32
  3. Decay – 4:58
  4. Everything But Heaven – 5:34

Their first EP had “Swimming” as the lead off track. The pulsed synth bass and syncopated hi-hat will have you caught up in a Flashdance timeslip. It really recalls “Maniac,” but vocalist Anthony Kaczynski adds some Marian Gold/David Sterry chops to the track, though ultimately it’s undercut by the disastrous production decision to swamp the track in ever increasing synth filtration to give it an “underwater” feel. Much to its detriment. Perry Tell of the band has hosted a few tracks on his Soundcloud page, so why not sample one?

Far better were the other three tracks on offer. “Feel Like Glass” is a nice, methodically paced slow burner. “Everything But Heaven” almost feels like the sort of thing that Duran Duran were attempting on “Last Chance On The Stairway.” In comparison, this seems even breezier and uses vibes better to boot. “Decay” has great synth leads by Chris Ewen to lead it through its paces. I would have enjoyed this had I heard it in 1983. It would have been next to the Moev vinyl on my want stack at Crunchy Armadillo Records if any copies had ever made it down to sunny Florida from the rust belt.

Metro-America | US | EP | 1983 | MA-1002

Metro-America | US | EP | 1983 | MA-1003

Figures On A Beach: Swimming US 12″ [1983]

  1. Swimming [wet mix] – 6:30
  2. Swimming [radio edit] – 3:37
  3. Swimming – 5:08

Amazingly, the EP’s A-side was spun off onto a separate 12″ with exactly the same name and cover art!! Talk about saving a few pennies, but the extended wet mix by producer Ivan Ivan managed to add some extra Simmons drum fills and more importantly, it dialed down the annoying post production effects that alienated me from the EP track down to virtually zero. Net result? If you really liked the cut but disliked the production, you were better off buying the 12″ in addition to the EP! Crafty. For the record, the 7″ edit is missing from the tape compilation.

Metro-America | US | 12" | 1984 | MA-1004

Metro-America | US | 12″ | 1984 | MA-1004

Figures On A Beach: Breathless US 12″ [1984]

  1. Breathless – 5:46
  2. Breathless+ – 3:59
  3. Breathless Beats – 2:36

The band’s second single was produced by Detroit kingpin Don Was as one of his earlier external productions. “Breathless” was present in three mixes on the 12″ with only the “Breathless Beats” mix not making the cassette I’m currently listening to. “Breathless” may have enough Simmon’s drums to count as synth-porn for those of a certain age and persuasion, but it’s also saddled with a singsong melody that is far less fluid than the material on the previous year’s EP. The lyrics cleverly reference the Godard film, surely a textbook case of the influence of New Wave on New Wave? Then again, let’s not forget that the US remake of Godard’s “Breathless” starring Richard Gere had been released immediately prior to this. This single might have just been part of the zeitgeist.

Metro-America | US | EP | 1985 | MA-1009

Metro-America | US | EP | 1985 | MA-1009

Figures On A Beach: In Camera Obscura US EP [1985]

  1. Paradise (Extended Mix) – 6:41
  2. Paradise (Radio Edit) – 4:19
  3. In Camera Obscura (Dance Mix) – 6:10
  4. In Camera Obscura (Radio Edit) – 3:15

Finally, the contents of the third and final single the band released for Metro-America was also included on the “Paradise And Other Four Letter Words” cassette compilation that Metro-America released in the then-dominant format of the day. All of the band’s promise comes home to roost on this dazzling single! Every trait that they were advancing on manifests here with sure-handed aplomb. The beatbox and slap bass of “Paradise” marks it as a perfect signifier of its time and place, and 28 years later, it is pretty cool to behold. The delicate, airy synths float above the soaring vocals and the deliciously overstated Simmons counterpoint the delightfully fussy beatbox programming. The Simmons roll that heralds the line “listen to my heartbeat” before the middle eight is a thing of perfection.

But all of that pales next to the magnificent title cut. “In Camera Obscura” cuts a lithe figure of jaunty perfection and marks FOAB as the go-to opening act for Duran Duran on their Midwestern US jaunts. I can hardly imagine a finer opening act for the Fab Five if you didn’t want the frantic teenaged girls in the audience to bottle lesser acts off of the stage. Here, they match Double Duran’s facility with streamlined, synth-driven pop rock toe to toe with a cut that Nick Rhodes would have killed for ca. “Rio.” With a better singer besides! I’ll go so far as to say that it compares favorably to “Hold Back The Rain” which, if you know this Monk, is high praise, indeed. It’s no wonder Seymour Stein came running after them with a check when this dropped.

This cassette definitely encourages me to pick up their two full CDs the next time they cross my path. The fact that 1987’s “Standing On Ceremony” was reissued only in 2008 on Wounded Bird Records, encourages me to act quickly since their releases are always seriously limited and go out of print in a heartbeat, much to my wallet’s dismay. Their self-titled release from 1989, their final album, should be easier to get and I’ll know that it contains their amazing “Accidentally 4th Street [Gloria]” single, which I’d love to listen to right now… but regretfully, it’s at home in the Record Cell only on my copy of “Just Say Mao!”

– 30 –

Posted in Blast From The Past, Record Review | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 56]

OMD and the Royal Liverpool Orchestra @ FACT

[continued from this post]

In 2009, after the end of the FACT “Energy Suite” installation, the OMD faithful got a free download from the band of their demo of a song written in 1981 but not recorded until 2007. “Sister Marie Says” was sent to the mailing list members and could be had from the website for  a time in 2009. The bouncy song had a central hook related to the famed “Enola Gay” riff and for that reason was not picked up in the aftermath of 1980. It had been touched, but not decisively during the Phase two era, only to finally be embraced by the band when doing foundational work for their upcoming new album. They finally realized that they were allowed to pastiche themselves at that point if they wanted to. The song was very poppy and the lyrics about a possibly mad, self-proclaimed “nun” who took out full page newspaper ads proclaiming the end of the world [hint: she was wrong] went right by me as an American. I’d never heard of her.

The band had been reformed for a little ver two years, but were taking their time to assemble material at their own pace; not wanting to repeat the mistakes that had led to their demise years earlier with relentless pacing and overwork. Then, the band announced that McCluskey’s wife had cancer, and this would impact their work schedule as things came to a standstill due to this event. But there would be a release this year of technically “new” OMD music.

This came in the form of a 2xDVD of OMD and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra called “Electricity/The Energy Suite.” The first disc was the RLPO playing with Andy + Paul [on synths] in largely acoustic orchestral arrangements probably not too far from their earlier set with The Proms tour in Germany, but that was just 4-5 songs a night. This was a full back catalog extravaganza with a well-considered selection of past material given the orchestral treatment, with many deep cuts particularly suited to this approach given an airing. Here was the set list for this portion of the concert.

  1. Radio Prague
  2. Messages
  3. Souvenir
  4. Joan Of Arc
  5. Maid Of Orleans
  6. All That Glitters
  7. La Femme Accident
  8. Talking Loud & Clear
  9. Dream Of Me
  10. Walking Of The Milky Way
  11. Native Daughters On The Golden West
  12. Sailing On The Seven Seas
  13. Enola Gay
  14. Electricity
  15. Romance Of The Telescope

There were some very interesting choices there and I would love to hear this orchestra try their hand at “The Native Daughters of The Golden West,” or “Dream Of Me.” I’ll bet they sound better than the fake string versions we’re all familiar with. I bought one of these from the FACT gift store but have yet to actually play it. Lame, I know. The second DVD was the rest of the program that night with “The Energy Suite” played in full, albeit strictly by an orchestra, so it was not exactly what visitors heard while encountering the installation earlier that year. This remains the only release of this music and the DVD saw release in December of 2009.

OMD and Simple Minds… together at last

That month also saw the teaming of an incredible bill of Monk-Bait® with OMD being the special guests for Simple Minds UK “Graffiti Soul” tour. I read about this and bugged out at the time; expecting it to have enough ticket-selling power to cross the pond. They had every intention of doing so, according to the Dream Giver site, but I was terribly wrong.  In the end, neither band troubled US stages. l should have never underestimated the ability of Simple Minds to fumble a mooted US tour! OMD [not called an “opening act” out of deference to their status as peers] went on first, but rejoined Simple Minds later on stage since they had both done a cover of the same Kraftwerk song, “Neon Lights.”  By that time, OMD had racked up several UK tours and were itching to get the new material out. It would happen the next year.

Next: …Modern History

Posted in Core Collection, DVD, Rock GPA | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Need Two OMD Tickets for Atlanta on April 10th?

OMD in Denver ©2018 Aimee Giese

I’ve got a bit of a problem. My pals are begging out of the OMD show at Center Stage in Atlanta in 48 hours. That leave me with two extra tickets that I have to unload. $30/each. Any interest? Contact me at the “About The Monk” tab or just comment on this posting and we’ll sort something out.

– 30 –

Posted in Core Collection | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 55]

The core of OMD; reactivated in 2007

[continued from last post]

At the same time as their return to the concert stages of Europe and the UK, 2007 also brought with it news that an OMD fan, who was a filmmaker at Aspect Television, got the approval to document the history and present of the band with a 90 minute film entitled “Souvenir.” Rob Fineghan had full access to Andy and Paul as they retraced their early steps while tentatively making new ones that year. The film was made with the intention of syndicating a 60 minute edit to different territories, but thankfully for OMD fans, the filmmaker also made a 90 minute ‘fan edit’ and sold it directly to anyone interested.

It was in PAL format, but I had a multistandard DVD player, so I could import the PAL video into my iMac and burn it to DVD in NTSC, having the computer make the systems transfer so I could watch it on my NTSC TV. Now the technology has multistandard DVD players that can convert discs on the fly to output the correct signal to your TV set. The film was great. It was a thing that every band should have. A documentary made by a real fan. We got to see Andy And Paul revisit their old Liverpool haunts as well as their multitacks, which they played back without effects to hear the astonishingly naked music they actually contained. They took their first steps into performing in the film with The Proms tour and it ended there in their timeline.

March of 2008 brought the further rehabilitation of OMD with the DLX RM of “Dazzle Ships.” While the band came back as a unit once they felt that the Britpop era was gone and people might care, it was probably gratifying to see the change in perspective [aided by McCluskey’s crafty press releases] that their once-scorned failure was accorded by a newer generation who were used to this sort of challenging listening. I’ve been told that Radiohead have a song entitled “Fitter Happier” that was allegedly a swipe from “Genetic Engineering.” And those guys had no trouble selling records or getting critical plaudits. The new CD went back to the original coloration of the cover and featured a bevy of all of the right non-LP material, as well as two tracks not previously released. One of these was the amazing, 1981 version of “Telegraph” that had been originally recorded for “Architecture + Morality” then set aside. OMD saw this one get a proper send-off with lots of reverent critical ink this time.

Sensing interest, Virgin also produced a new OMD greatest hits collection in September. A full decade later following “OMD Singles” with “Messages: OMD Greatest Hits.” This time, the playlist ran past 1988 to incorporate 7″ edits of four “Andy-era” singles from “Sailing On The Seven Seas” in 1991 to “Walking On The Milky Way” from 1996. The packaging was nice, but we wanted it due to the fact that it included a bundled DVD of all of the OMD videos from day one to “Universal.” They even managed to dig up the semi-legendary “Red Frame White Light” video [probably from a U-matic dub]. Even the “Best Of OMD” VHS in 1988 lacked several of these early singles, like Red Frame, White Light” and “Never Turn Away” or “Shame.” The DVD was in fact a repository of every OMD single on Factory/Dindisc/Virgin – making it a complete overview of the bands first and second phases.

‘Energy Suite’ photography © 2008 Innes Marlow

As the year progressed, Andy McCluskey used his bully pulpit on the OMD forum for apprise fans of their progress. That summer it was pretty exciting to hear that OMD had teamed up with FACT, the  Foundation for Art + Creative Technology museum in Liverpool to score an installation there called “The Energy Suite.” This music would be set to films and design by their friends Hambi Haralambous and Peter Saville. It was running there only at the museum from December 2008 through February of 2009. It was exciting to hear OMD working on a decidedly uncommercial project that had no compromise to it at all. It boded well for their continuation going forward that they would take the time and effort for something that was “fine art.” The five-part electronic suite was devoted to the abstract concept of the generation of power by gas, water, wind, nuclear, and coal sources. It was only heard at the Museum in the installation itself. To date none of OMD’s electronic music used for it has ever been released. This was most vexing to me as a fan lacking the deep pockets to pop over to Liverpool to experience this, but in 2009, I would have the opportunity to hear the next best thing.

Next: …More DVDs [get used to them]


Posted in Core Collection, Designed By Peter Saville, DVD, film, Rock GPA | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 54]

OMD – Architecture + Morality And More | 2007 – 2

[continued from last post]

When OMD reformed and toured their top selling “Architecture + Morality” album in 2007 it was probably a given that they would record the tour for posterity. It came down to a CD and DVD after they signed to the Eagle Rock label for the first time off Virgin Records since their Dindisc days… and those were still distributed by Virgin. I was happy that this happened since there was nil likelihood that I would be able to attend this tour. The DVD contained the entire concert, but with a single CD, the need was there to edit the show to fit. I was surprised to see that they did not follow the playlist from “Architecture + Morality” in its running order. They shook up the listing for a different flow.

It began with the abstract title track; a dauntless move. Also a somewhat bloodless one, since the track was heavy on musique-concrete tape manipulation on the album. That meant that most of the playback, save for rhythm, was Memorex, not live. Things warmed up a bit more on the next track, the long, atmospheric “Sealand.” This one sounded much less canned, and I appreciated the differences in timing from the album versus this live performance. The music seemed to have expansive breathing room here and lacked that quantization sound so common in the modern era.

The next song was the highlight of the album. “New Stone Age” daringly differed from the album version with Gregorian chanting used in the intro and outro. The famously wailing lead synths were sampled from the original tapes and had the necessary impact, but the drum track contained tom tom beats that I had never heard before for a welcome effect. I also liked how the backing vocals were more distinct. Instead of lumping together in the song in an unintelligible whole, they were woven into the track so that the listener could follow either the lead or backing vocal lines and tell what was being sung. The cold abrupt ending had had much more impact than the album fade.

“Georgia” was a highlight deep cut from the original album for me. The chirpy, singsong quality of the song was even more animated. One big difference was the recording of the Soviet Men’s Chorus was mixed down almost to the point of silence, but the explosive drumbeat on the ending was very compensatory. After a sprightly “She’s Leaving,” the band commenced with the hit single portion of the album with all three singles played in order of release. This became the “Architecture + Morality suite” for their subsequent concerts, where the songs are often played together.

I especially liked the live energy that “Joan Of Arc” achieved with the drumming of Malcolm Holmes more than matched by the hammering bass of McCluskey. After that, there was only “The Beginning And The End” to complete the album. This all sounded good to hear, but after track nine ended, on the DVD, McCluskey said to the audience “that’s all the culture done with…this is just for us lot now, all right? We owe you this, it’s been too long. We’ll play about twelve hit singles in a row, okay?” At that point, the album bifurcates from Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark to plain OMD. The shift in tone was palpable and depressingly, mirrored the same shift within the band’s music over their initial phase one career.

On the DVD, they ease into things with “Messages,” and “tesla Girls.” On the CD the aesthetic whiplash was far more profound. The tenth song was “If You Leave” which was nowhere near a hit in the UK, but their biggest [#4] in America. I’m guessing that it was included on the CD as a way to insure the album was sold in The Colonies. It may have been a requirement by Eagle Rock. In any case, the shift from OMD at their best to them at their most pedestrian was dispiriting. The next four songs were a plunge into the band’s mediocrity, with only “Forever Live + Die” almost reaching the heights of yore, yet still hamstrung by the sampled horn solo in its middle eight.

The band managed to pull their fat out of the fire near the end for a stompingly great “Enola Gay” and their traditionally climactic “Electricity.” They saved “The Romance Of The Telescope” a “Architecture + Morality” B-side as their encore. This album was a perfect example of the two different bands fighting for dominance within the skin of a single OMD. The art band and the pop band, and there was only about 20% overlap between them. Some of their later pop material still had vestiges of their sound; a certain melancholy, but increasingly in the service of far more banal subject matter.

This concert, enjoyable as it was, highlighted the conflict that the band had to reconcile going forward, since they were committed to the recording of a new album after a few jaunts on the road playing their old material. The older, wiser OMD would need to take better care of itself if they wished to still exist in the larger scheme of things. The OMD captured on this CD/DVD documents the schizophrenic nature of the band over the developmental arc of its first phase.

Next: …Plotting their next move

Posted in Core Collection, Rock GPA | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 53]

Chartshow was the German TV show that gave the impetus for OMD’s reformation in 2005

[continued from this post]

While the Onetwo album had been gestating since the early 2000s, to be released in 2007, there had already been a seismic occurrence with the tentative reformation of OMD in 2005 for the purposes of a German TV music program, Chartshow 1982, which looked back at the to selling German hits of 25 years earlier, in 1982. As it happens, the top selling single in Germany that year was “Maid Of Orleans” by OMD, so the program made overtures to the members to please appear on the show, since they were the top of the pop pyramid that year. Andy McCluskey put it to the former members this way; they would get travel and top flight accommodations to Germany to be fêted and perform a song or two at the conclusion of the program. Did they want to do it? Given that the other members had left the band behind in ’88-’89, this was not a given. But they agreed and the experience was pleasing enough that they discussed reforming for a tour. At the time Drummer Malcolm Holmes was recovering from a heart attack, so the decision was made to recruit OMD’s second drummer, Stuart Kershaw from the ’91-’96 era for the German TV show.

It’s interesting. In 2004, a year before any of this activity, Andy McCluskey put it to the fans on the OMD Forum whether he should take the bait for the “Here + Now” nostalgia shows that had come sniffing around his door by that time. He seemed clearly ambivalent to the idea of it, but was willing to entertain his fans’ thoughts and weight them against his own concerns. As it happened, the nostalgia treadmill was not acted upon. It’s possible that McCluskey looked at the largely uncritical gushing from the fans enough to put aside the notion of a “zombie OMD” on a package tour and to set his sights a little higher soon afterward. I was not a member of the OMD forum at the time but had I been one, I would have said not to do it. It would have been Andy + Paul plus the usual H+N backing band for a headlining 40 minute set.  Other fans who had never seen OMD previously may have thought otherwise. I have never seen one of these package tours, but was possibly tempted in 2009 when ABC and Heaven 17 were scheduled to play in Charlotte. When H17 pulled out, that ended the temptation [tell me you saw that coming] for me.

On January 1, 2006, Andy McCluskey announced on the OMD website that the full original lineup were going to reunite for a tour where “architecture + Morality” would be played in full, in addition to a full program of OMD songs from other albums. Malcolm Holmes had recuperated sufficiently so that he could participate for the tour. They booked a summer 2007 UK tour of about six dates in addition to several more shows in their stronghold of Germany as well as a few european gigs. McCluskey was surprised when the demand was strong enough to sell many of the shows [particularly in the UK] out. More shows were added on the European summer festival circuit of 2007 as OMD were back in business.  Keep in mind that the Onetwo album discussed in the last posts were also being finished during this time and would not be released until 2007 as well following all of this renewed OMD tour activity.

Andy wore a suit but still probably danced like Ian Curtis

But first, OMD in the two-man configuration of Andy + Paul, got their feet wet in the form of the Night of the Proms, classical/pops tour of Germany in December of 2006. For those who haven’t heard of this, it was a full orchestra with various pop stars singing a short program of their hits with orchestral accompaniment. Many of our favorites like ABC, Simple Minds, and OMD have done this but there was also a strong current of MOR pop as you could see from the previous link. In any case, the Orchestral Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark got to do something different and played to a lot of happy German fans. And probably more than a few others who made the trip to see them.

In May of 2007, we saw the DLX RM of “Architecture + Morality” join the previously released DLX RMs of “Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark” and “Organisation” from 2003 just in time for their merch table. The first two had been remastered and appended with the correct extras on a single disc, but since “Architecture + Morality” was their magnum opus, it was also paired with a DVD of their 1982 “Live At Theatre Drury Lane” home video and selected videos. For the next two months, the band were playing throughout Europe and the UK in a series of shows that few had anticipated following the low key demise of OMD eleven years earlier. It’s entirely natural that one of these would have been filmed and recorded for release.

Next: …The OMD Problem [in a nutshell]

Posted in Core Collection, Rock GPA | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Record Review: Simple Minds – Walk Between Worlds [pt 4]

[continued from last post]

The album was a fairly airtight eight song traditional album, with nary an ounce of fat to be heard on it. It has become something of a Simple Minds tradition to offer their previous two albums in an extended CD configuration. “Graffiti Soul” was released in a 2xCD version with a bashed out covers album “Searching For The Lost Boys” of questionable merit. “Big Music” had a deluxe boxed edition with a DVD and second disc with six extra tracks, one of which “Liason,” was truly world-class Simple Minds. The extras for this album were more modest in number; relegated to a hardcover CDX with three extra tracks appended to the basic eight track CD. Finally, there was a B-side to the colored vinyl 7″ of “Magic” available with a pre-sale bundle from the Simple Minds webstore. It meant paying $18 for just one more song, but I’ve done worse!

“Silent Kiss” was a sleek, propulsive song with hints of trance/EDM… or was that Moroder hiding behind the computers after all? This one had a compulsive, cascading melodic structure over the motorik pulse driving it down the hill like a slipstreaming slalom skier. It was all about movement and leaning into turns to increase speed. There was only an eruption of guitar with a classic Burchill solo at the song’s middle eight. Elsewhere, the environment was almost entirely synthetic. The sequenced coda at the song’s end could form the basis for an expansive remix of this one should someone get the nod from on high. [a hint]

It was surprising when “Angel Underneath My Skin” appeared, showing perhaps not all of the “Our Secrets Are The Same” songs had been mined for their lode. It was the only non-cover version here not written by either Jim or Charlie. This was from the pen of Jim’s  normally problematic brother Mark Kerr with a co-write by Erikah Karst; an unknown quantity. All of the Simple Minds songs with a Mark Kerr credit in the past have been unlistenable to me. This one actually broke the mold, though it has the same dark, drug-hazed vibe of the unappealing “Our Secrets Are The Same” material, this time leavened by having a somewhat upbeat chorus of some pop merit bolted on to the lurching, downbeat verse structure. There’s even some “la-la-las” lifted from the neighborhood of “Don’t You [Forget About Me]” that took some chutzpah. While it’s the weakest track here, I can’t judge it a failure by any means. Had all the material from the “Our Secrets Are The Same” been of this caliber, I would have bumped my 0.5 point rating to at least 1.5, if not 2.0.

When the CDX package was first announced, eyebrows raised at the inclusion of the final song on the CD. “Dirty Old Town” was a folk standard from the pen of Ewan McColl. Everyone from The Dubliners to Rod Stewart [note: he’s not Scottish] have sang this one; including Simple Minds with Jimmy Johnstone taking the lead vocal before his death from motor neurone disease. This surfaced in 2006 after Johnstone’s death and I have in truth, never bothered to hear it, even though I knew about it from day one.

It had been resurrected during the Simple Minds acoustic tour of the UK last year as a response to the Manchester bombing that had occurred concurrently with their tour, as MacColl had written the song about Manchester. It was hastily added to their set once they cajoled Sarah Brown into learning the song at a soundcheck. Good thing to, because the live performance as recorded here skates through this album on the immeasurable charm of Ms. Brown’s vocal; described by Kerr as sounding like Mahalia Jackson. A bit sweeter I think, but still…I can’t imagine bothering to listen to this song without Ms. Brown’s  glorious performance. I’ve heard this is a duet with Kerr, but truth be told, I’ve not yet noticed him on this song. It’s way off the mood and vibe of the album, but remember; bonus tracks are the new B-sides, where bands can try something very different should they want to. Her performance utterly validates its inclusion here.

Finally, the “Magic” 7″ had another fine song to offer with “Direction Of The Heart” sounding like a revisit to the familiar climes of “Theme For Great Cities.” The trance-like rhythms had lead synth lines that harkened back even further to “Real To Real Cacophony” to these ears. I enjoyed Kerr’s lower-resister lead vocals ever since hearing him branch out on “Cry’s” “One Step Closer.” I was glad that the 7″ package was worth it for the extra B-side. Knowing this band, there’s every chance that this one could show up in the next ten years with some more refinement and surprise us all. It’s got the foundations to do so.

I have to say that I was shocked at how much I enjoyed this album, not only because I have been calling many Simple Minds albums for the last 20 years “the best one since ‘Sparkle In The Rain” and this one’s the best of that lot [“Neapolis,” “Cry,” “Graffiti Soul,” “Big Music”] even as I felt they might have plateaued with “Big Music,” which now seems pretty flawed next to “Walk Between Worlds.” Certainly there’s nothing in evidence here as maladroit as the title track of that one, and there’s just a higher caliber of song and performance across the board.

I love all of the vocals on this album, for a start. Jim Kerr can be a terrible lead vocalist at times. His blown-out and bloviated performances in the mid-80s are legendarily awful to my ears and his penchant for overstatement can certainly dog at his heels if he’s not careful. The songs here all benefit greatly from his sense of taste and restraint that is a common thread between all of his best performances. As for subtlety, the band had set new heights in that regard with the compelling “Utopia.” The backing vocals throughout are also varied and perfect, with even Catherine A.D. not sticking out like a sore thumb. I’m certainly not a fan of her solo work, to put it mildly.

The band managed to send out some impressive shoots of new growth that can’t simply be put down to lineup changes as evidenced in the booklet art. The fact remained, that Mel Gaynor, no longer in the band, was the drummer on most of the tracks here simply due to the often long gestation period of Simple Minds songs. And of these songs, I’d bet that half of them at least were simply programmed by Burchill or Owen Parker. While there’s nothing quite like a living timekeeper for this band, the reliance on drum programming does insure that the dark shadow of their stadium era can be successfully kept at bay.

Another surprise here was the inclusion [on the main album] of only Kerr/Burchill songs, with just Owen Parker getting the nod on “Summer” and “Sense Of Discovery” as their co-writer. The latter definitely had its origin in the abandoned “Lostboy II” album from 2012 which has spawned many Simple Minds tracks of note. One supposes that with the band celebrating its 40th year, maybe Kerr might have wanted the band to look particularly powerful as a font of such wonderful songs. The band have not been shy about engaging co-writers over the last 16 years. If that was intentional, then I can only conclude “mission accomplished.”

At first blush, I had initially thought that the production of the album had sounded muffled and cluttered. That was before the whole thing was in my hands and exposure to its dense and layered vibe made me realize that a kind of modern shoegaze vibe was deliberately being cultivated here. It honestly fit well within an album that more often than not, looked back to “Sons + Fascination” as a touchstone. As it stands, Andy Wright and Gavin Goldberg co-produced an album that was drastically different to the earlier “Big Music” album that they also helmed for the band. I am fascinated to see if they continue to work with the band, and recently published a fascinating interview with the pair, illuminating their work and methods here.

So as Simple Minds celebrate their 40th year, they appear to be in fine fettle, having produced definitely, their best album since “Sparkle In The Rain!” Years of sometimes painfully gradual progress have begun to speed up a little; giving them a big growth spurt on this occasion. I thought they had plateaued on Big Music” but it seems like it’s conceivable that they could yet further engage my respect and admiration, which…as we have seen, can be very tight fisted with this sometimes vexing band.

Simple Minds 2018 lineup

My sole regret in regards to “Walk Between Worlds” is that the band are not very likely to find themselves treading the boards here in North America on tour even though this album saw them back in the top ten UK album charts at number four for the first time since 1995… and rightly so. Even though you and I know that means they might have sold sold 8000 copies in their first week out. Still, it’s a bragging right that has become fairly common with my favorite “heritage acts” like OMD [also #4] and Sparks [at #7] with their own latest [strong] albums. The UK got a special tour where they played the entire album as the first part of their set and I can now fully understand their decision to do so. It’s already a classic Simple Minds album in my estimation. How I would love to see them play it in America but I have to admit that it’s not going to happen. With just two US tours in the last 23 years, it’s fairly out of the question.

When I first listened to this album my “critical hat” was on and I had a very guarded and remote approach to it. On the second playing, it was already tapping into my spinal column and injecting rushes of dopamine even before my brain was done processing its conclusions. It was at that point where I realized that this one was built to ride and I’ve been on it for almost six weeks now and it’s a tight ship. After the dreadful acoustic album that preceded this one, I am well and truly amazed at how quickly and successfully that Simple Minds managed to re-trim their sail and correct their course with such aplomb. Bring on the next one!

– 30 –

Posted in Core Collection, Rock GPA, Scots Rock | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments