Classics from pre-stadium bore period.
‘Uncut’ July 2003 (UK)
There are people who were so disappointed at the Minds’ descent into sub-U2 stadium rock that it has had a retrospective spoiling effect on even their best work. They’ve partly atoned for that period, however, and it’s easier now to appreciate again their greatest years, which saw them wriggle out of their punk chrysalis (“Chelsea Girl”), lay down solemn, Euro-funk tracks like “I Travel”, then come magnificently and aurically into their own with the likes of “Promised You A Miracle” from New Gold Dream, a teetering moment of pop promise they could never surpass.
Pomp rockers’ early years in pretty good shock
Paul Moody – ‘NME’ 28th June 2003 (UK)
Hundreds of years ago, Simple Minds ruled the planet. While the ’80s raged, Jim Kerr leered ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ from every transistor in Christendom, and right-minded music lovers vowed that one day, they’d do just that. Twenty years on it is time for an amnesty. Simple Minds may have been among the most cringworthy of the stadium dinosaurs (think a Scottish version of U2 circa ‘The Joshua Tree’) but like many such bands their early stuff was fab. ‘Chelsea Girl’ is Bowie on a student loan; ‘Promised You A Miracle’ epic tosh to match Bono on mushrooms. ‘Life In A Day’ even got played at London’s Nag Nag Nag last week, which says it all really.
Excellent compilation of early Simple Minds…
Kevin Maidment – ‘Mysic’ (US)
Early Gold is a showcase for a very different Simple Minds to the earnest stadium band that had hits like Alive&Kicking; and Belfast Child in the 80s. It focuses on the band’s first five albums, from 1978’s Life in a Day to 1982’s masterpiece New Gold Dream. Early Gold betters the earlier Celebration-collection, as it focuses on the years 81&82 (even if it does miss off a few tracks from Celebration- notably Kant Kino & Kaleidoscope). This compilation shows that early Simple Minds were something very different- very individual; like Roxy Music they created mindblowing music and then drifted towards MOR.
This compilation provides enough evidence to realise that in post-punk terms they were as interesting and wonderful as Human League#1, Japan, Joy Division, Magazine & Wire. Like many acts (The Cure, Japan) Simple Minds debut would be flawed- though the two best songs Chelsea Girl & the title track have been selected (the former is great). It’s very formative, but producer John Leckie would help them develop. By 1979, Leckie & the Minds had made a much more promising album, Real to Reel Cacophony- from which there are several tracks. Premonotion is the missing link between Japan and Joy Division, while Changeling sees them create an alien electronica- if Gary Numan tried to play like Chic?
This compilation really takes off with 1980’s I Travel, a cut-up Trans Europe Express that offers a proto-techno sound: “Travel round/I travel round/Decadence & pleasure towns/tragedies, luxuries, statues, parks, and galleries…”. There is also the robo-funk of Celebrate and one of the highlights of the source album Empires&Dance;, 30 Frames a Second: bleak-krautrock inflections with sci-fi time reversal recalling Philip K Dick.
1981 saw Simple Minds switch producers- Gong’s Steve Hillage (System7, The Orb, The Charlatans) would give them a more epic soundscape on the albums Sister Feelings Call and Sons and Fascination. Here was blended funk with art, kraut and prog-rock. Just a pity that the three singles are the only tracks to be culled from them- Theme for Great Cities is sorely missed, partly as it has been reconstituted as Radiohead’s recent Where I End & You Begin! The American still sounds wonderful, even if we’re not quite sure what Kerr’s singing about; ditto Sweat in Bullet- a bizarre funk that suggests chemical experimentation “rolling & tumbling/ambition in motion…she’s sweating bullets”.
Love Song sees a pop sensibility that had been apparent on I Travel & Room- though here it’s wondeful alien pop that Bowie had been unable to produce for a few years now: “so well,so well/I cut my hair/paint my face/break a finger/tell a lie/so well, so well/America’s a boyfriend…”- this is up there with early Associates for godlike alien pop…
The final selections come from 1982’s classic New Gold Dream- which saw original drummer Brian McGee depart and producer Peter Walsh arranging the songs to explore their pop potential. This was the album of perfect pop in the year of perfect pop that saw such entryist delights as The Lexicon of Love, Songs to Remember & Sulk (following 1981, which had seen Dare!, Penthouse&Pavement; and Red Mecca). As Paul Morley noted in the NME it was now more Post-Abba than post-punk- New Gold Dream influenced as much by Abba & Chic as Can & Neu. We get the three singles and the mindblowing title track “until the world goes pop!/until the world goes higher”- the latter’s influence is still apparent in electronic music. Perhaps the latter tracks point towards the stadium Minds, though the pop sensibilities dilute the anthemic qualities…
Early Gold is a pretty definitive primer of Simple Minds from 1978 to 1982- a good way in for the curious; though being a fan I’d say everything from Empires & Dance to New Gold Dream is worth owning. Many great tracks aren’t here- eg This Fear of Gods, Boys from Brazil, League of Nations, Room, Wonderful in Young Life, Hunter & the Hunted etc. Regardless, a budget priced reminder of what a great futurist band Simple Minds once were & proof that they were as great as any band from that sublime era…
Simple Minds are a hugely misunderstood band- whose reputation as one of THE cult UK bands of the new wave/post-punk era alongside The Human League, Japan, Joy Division & Wire is frequently overlooked. This is largely due to the shift towards stadium rock with Sparkle in the Rain and then the success of Don’t You/Once Upon a Time, prior to their commercial high of Street Fighting Years (1989). Like influence Roxy Music, they moved from a highly original art-rock band to a largely popular stadium act who walked the thin-line between bombast & MOR. This compilation attempts to address their early works and provides ample evidence why Early Simple Minds rank as one of the great acts, taking in a selection of tracks from Life in a Day (1978), Real to Reel Cacophony (1979), Empires&Dance; (1980), Sons&Fascination; (1981), Sister Feelings Call (1981) & New Gold Dream (1982).
The selection is more or less perfect, an advance on the earlier ‘Early Minds’ compilation ‘Celebration’- the two tracks from the debut album are the best, particularly Chelsea Girl. The debut is not brilliant, but shows a band that were open to possibilities. Follow-up Real to Reel… was much more succesful- though sadly key tracks like Real to Real, Film Theme & Calling Your Name are passed over. Still, Premonition, Factory and the brilliant Changeling show a band advancing hugely on their debut.
1980’s Empires&Dance; would see a label change and the original Minds-line-up’s first complete success (its cover would also influence the cover to the Manics’Holy Bible)- the Kerr, Burchill, MacNeil, Forbes & McGee line-up making a perfect soundtrack to a world of European travelogue, to the height of the Cold War in the 80s (Iran-Hostage Crisis, The invasion of Afghanistan, the after-effects of Cambodia…)- an album as easily dark as Joy Division.
Though, like Human League#1, Simple Minds were streets ahead in the electronic sense- here the robo-funk anthem Celebrate and pulsing-Kraftwerkesque popsong I Travel show how ahead of the times they were. Even better is Thirty Frames a Second, which advances on those Krautrock influences (Can, Kraftwerk, Neu!, Bowie-Eno-Pop:Berlin). If Primal Scream or Radiohead did this now, they would be feted as the future of music; Simple Minds did this THEN and show that they’re as significant as early Suicide.
The final releases from the original SM-line-up were the twin set Sister Feelings Call & Sons and Fascination; here they teamed up with ex-Gong (&future; Orb/System7/Charlatans collaborator-producer) man Steve Hillage- who captures a more free form peak Minds. Personally I don’t feel three tracks from a possible fifteen is enough- bizarre that live fave Theme for Great Cities is passed over, especially as Radiohead appeared to have covered it as Where I End and You Begin on their latest Hail to the Thief! So, we get the brilliant singles Love Song, The American & the electro-funk of Sweat in Bullet- all brilliant- but what about songs like 20th Century Promised Land, Boys from Brazil & Seeing Out the Angel?
The compilation is rounded off by career high New Gold Dream (1982), which saw the departure of McGee (&shortly; after Forbes)& saw the Minds, expertly guided by Peter Walsh, towards a perfect pop album: the songs more perfect than the previous soundscapes of 1981. This release towered above most others in the year of entryist perfect pop- topping even Associates’Sulk, ABC’s Lexicon of Love & Scritti Politti’s Songs to Remember.
The influence of Abba and Chic is most definitely present alongside the usual Art, Kraut & Prog rock. The three singles Glittering Prize, Someone Somewhere in Summertime & Promised You a Miracle are all predictably present- though they are divine and wonderful, even if they sadly pointed towards the anthemic Minds that would follow (Promised…got into Uncut’s Top100 Single of all Time a few years ago). Obviously great tracks from NGD are left off- Hunter&The;
Hunted & Somebody Up There Likes You particularly- it’s one of those classic albums that needs to be owned: the whole album could be here. But we do get New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84), which is about as great an exit point as there could be- this track has been sampled for several dance tracks (notably Felix & Utah Saints) and is decades ahead of its time. As Kerr sang “And the world went pop!”- sadly only briefly, but this tops off a brilliant, if slightly incomplete, primer to early Simple Minds. Early Gold is a great introduction to this work, though I’m sure it’ll merely lead back to those brilliant albums. At this price then, a budget introduction to a band who briefly had everything and who warrant a place in music history…