GOOD NEWS FROM THE NEXT WORLD
Jamie Kastner – ‘Toronto Sun’ (Canada)
As though in response to rumors of their death, Simple Minds are coming out with Good News From The Next World. Due for release on Feb. 7, their first new material in four years seems a logical next step in a career built on hits like Alive And Kicking and Don’t You (Forget About Me). Frontman Jim Kerr, half of the core Simple Minds team (the other being guitarist Charlie Burchill) was in town yesterday promoting both the album and a Feb. 23 gig at the Warehouse. The vision behind the re-born Simple Minds consists of the duo plus hired players, guitar rather than keyboard-heavy arrangements, and a compact nine songs.
In their absence – they never did actually die – the Minds were practising what Kerr now preaches: “90% of making a record is songwriting,” he says. Cross-legged in a hotel chair in off-pink velvet pants and a silk snake-skin shirt, Kerr may still dress the rock star, but the gospel is considerably toned-down. Unglamorous as it may sound, Kerr says the time off was spent at work. “To us, spending time on songwriting was exotic. We have a place in Scotland and it sounds so mundane, but we work there Monday to Friday. And the Friday night driving back, it’s a vibe, you feel like you’ve done your week’s work. That’s the way we had started the band, put our life into it.”
Naturally, the band had to go through a lot before reaching the point where the work-a-day week sounded exotic. “The truth is that when you get a success, there’s a kind of industry that comes with that success. We didn’t do a good job of managing that industry – the people around us, the people we chose to have around us. “We kind of took our eye off the ball – there was less and less time spent on the source. Without the music, the tours and the videos and the managers and the agents – they don’t exist. When it comes down to it, songwriting is what it’s all about.”
Kerr’s newfound artistic isolation excluded even his wife, actress Patsy Kensit. “Even though the album was done in August, I didn’t play it to her ’til last week. She might have said something like `Oh, I liked it better before, when…’ and I might have been influenced by her and pulled back the tapes. We don’t hide things from each other, but we tend to go out and do things rather than dwell on what’s been done.” Accompanying the new philosophy is the new stripped-down sound. “Our band had come full circle. It was Charlie and I that started the band and wrote all the songs that got us a record deal.
“Through the ’80s, when we worked as a quintet, the Simple Minds trademark was the banks of keyboards – now we found ourselves without a keyboard player. We wanted to break the old habits, so we said `Let’s see if we can write some songs that at their foundation – i.e., if they work on just a piano or a guitar – we know that they work.” It fits then that a guitar band – even Simple Minds – should tour large clubs rather than stadiums. “In some places we genuinely have to – we’ve been away a long, long time. But that’s fine, it’s also exciting. “We’re not going to pretend that we’re a brand new band – we love the heritage and the experience that we have – but all around us there is a feeling of a new start.”
GOOD NEWS FROM THE NEXT WORLD
Alive, but fading fast
Craig McLean – ‘VOX’ February 1995 (UK)
As the ’80s loomed, Simple Minds looked east while all around them looked west. Post-punk Glasgow was enjoying a love affair with America-from Alex Harvey and his theatrical R&B; to the Love/Byrds/Motown obsession of Orange Juice, the stars ‘n’ stripes was the favoured way forward. But not for Simple Minds. They wore mascara and mutant wedge haircuts and eclipsed the New Wave’s mandatory scratchy guitars and blunt manifestos with synthesisers and pretentious titles. Europe was their land of plenty, where groups like Can and Kraftwerk were broaching new frontiers with new technology. By the time of 1980’s Empires And Dance and 1981’s Sons And Fascination/Sister Feeling call, Simple Minds had given us club classics ‘I Travel’ and ‘Love Song’, and had mastered the knack of making music that was both icily aloof and naggingly passionate.
Then the ’80s kicked in and rock hit Simple Minds. They turned their gaze to the west, to grandiloquent anthems purpose-built for that American-derived phenomenon, stadium rock. Live Aid, the Mandela birthday bash, Live In The City Of Light, ‘Belfast Child’, Glittering Prizes 81,92: these are the watersheds in the band’s career, numerically impressive (sales, chart positions) but artistically void. Good News From the Next World is Simple Minds’ 13th album, begun in their own studio in Perthshire in 1993 and finished in LA last summer. Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill, the remaining original members, have created an album that has less of the epic pomp of Once Upon A Time and Street Fighting Years, but also fewer tunes. It’s nine tracks are almost uniformly stodgy and soulless. Nuclea-fired drums, a fleet of guitars and vainglorious vocals tough it out to see whose teetering tower of power will crush the listener first.
During ‘And The Band Played On’, the drums pummel out a titanic tattoo that helps distinguish it from the preceeding ‘7 Deadly Sins’ and the succeeding ‘My Life’. It’s not much, but when adrift in a sea of mediocrity, you grab what you can. In the past, Simple MInds at least furnished their breast-beating anthems with head-battering riffs and refrains. You maybe didn’t like them, but you couldn’t ignore ‘Waterfront’, ‘Alive And Kicking’ or ‘Let There Be Love’.
‘Criminal World’ raises hopes as it slinks in on funky rhythms, but quickly degenerates into AOR OTT Fab FM schlock. ‘Hypnotised’ stands clear (and alone), simple because it has some space and light in which a melody glows dimly. ‘She’s A River’ is the single; Kerr sings things like “Shine on” and “move on” over some shrill shriekings from some LA session dames. Once Simple Minds looked east; then they looked west. Now they just look down… at their navels.
GLASTONBURY FESTIVAL, PILTON 25TH JUNE 1995
By Roger Tavener – Western Daily Press (UK)
The cred rating was low. Simple Minds arrived with a label saying “uncool since three months in 1980”. Some challenge for Jim Kerr and the lads. Nay problem for the Scotsmen, stadium gig specialists for centuries. Sassenach land, Bannockburn are remembered, hit ’em hard and early. Kerr worked the stage and the audience like only he can and did all the big numbers. Two tracks in it was ‘Hypnotised’ and he had them under his spell. Point proved. Thirty million albums sold and sex kitten actress wife, Patsy Kensit pouting to him from the wings.
GOOD NEWS FROM THE NEXT WORLD
Laura Lee Davies – Time Out (UK)
And then there were two. Between them Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill (plus an impressive array of session musicians) still manage to crank up the music, but the effect of the whole is more about feeling good than feeling spiritually redeemed. In songs like ‘Night Music’ and ‘Hypnotised’, they return to the tighter, more inspired form of earlier works circa ‘New Gold Dream’ and ‘Sparkle In The Rain’.
GOOD NEWS FROM THE NEXT WORLD
John Harris – Melody Maker (UK)
The sound will soon boom around the cosmos. It approximates the noise that would be made if the entire contents of a music shop were strapped to an Empire transport ship from Star Wars, while a new age vicar hollered millennial thoughts into a 2000 watt public address system mounted on the ramparts of the Death Star. It is the new Simple Minds album, clear the way.
Like it’s distinctly post-pies creators, ‘good News From The Next World’ is an ungainly creature, so stuffed with embellishments that the average stereo can barely contain it. Whether it’s swerving into INXS-type uberfunk (‘Great Leap Forward’), paeans to rumpo (‘Hypnotised’). At least one close relative of U2’s ‘Even Better Than The Real Thing’ (‘7 Deadly Sins’), or something approaching stadium gospel (‘And The Band Played On’), it consistently conjures up images of crazed technicians yelling “More echo! More overdubs” as the tape stretches to breaking point.
Unfortunately, as with most Simps products – ‘Waterfront’, ‘Don’t You…’ and (possibly) ‘Sanctify Yourself’ expected – it’s a monumental folly, built on such weedy foundations that the most half-hearted critical attack could break it into 1,000 measly pieces. For all it’s cod-Wagnerian vastness, there are no tunes. This, Lord Jim and Viscount Charlie should be reminded, is kind of important.
And the lyrics! “They say that every heaven’s got a thousand rooms/So take me on a freedom ride/My heart is like a hunter’s in the silent moon/My nerves feel electrified.” sings Jim. “Shake the ghost within you/Get up, meet the rising sun,” he continues. Most of this cut-and -paste doggerel translates, according to the press release, as ‘we are coming up to the end of a decade, a century and a millennium and everything is changing very fast, but sometimes the speed of things and the pace of change is frightening’, Either that or ‘Love ya, Patsy’.
So, ‘Good News’ plainly isn’t. It’s the sound of two ageing, increasingly porky geezers trying to turn on the old empty magic and bring a wee bit of drama to the lives of people who once drove XR3is and lived on Barratt estates. And there’s the rub: the cars have been sold, the houses repossessed and, like Jim says, the world’s move on. The folly, if I’m not mistaken, will soon crumble.
GOOD NEWS FROM THE NEXT WORLD
Donna Roger – CMJ New Music (US)
It’s amazing that, for a band that has been around for over 15 years, Simple Minds can prove on their 12th album that they have remained on the cutting edge and evolved with the times. The element which they’ve managed to hang onto, despite the winds of fashion, is their ability to write a solid, hook-filled song such as “She’s A River,” the first single off Good News…. “Night Music” recalls the band’s early-’80s synth-pop sound, “The Band Played On” rocks it up with lots of guitar, and “Hypnotized” lends itself to an intoxicating rhythm that wraps itself around you and pulls you in.
Simple Minds still hang on to key elements of their signature sound, including lush keyboard accompaniment and choppy sharp percussion. Time has taken no toll on frontman Jim Kerr’s voice, which, on “7 Deadly Sins,” sounds just as vibrant and strong as it did on New Gold Dream. The good news for Simple Minds fans is that by the sound of these nine new songs, the band plans to continue playing on and on.
GOOD NEWS FROM THE NEXT WORLD
‘Encore’ – July 1995 (UK)
There may only be two of the original members left – Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill – but the sound is still as big, as shrieking and as utterly pompous as it ever was. In other words it’s exactly what you’d expect from the latter day Deep Purple.
GOOD NEWS FROM THE NEXT WORLD
John Sakamoto – www.canoe.ca (Canada)
One of the by-products of the “do-it-yourself” ethic so prevalent among the new mainstream (i.e. what started out as “alternative rock”) is a decline in the influence of the autocratic producer. For better or for worse, more and more albums are simply being allowed to stand or fall on their own merits. That, unfortunately, is not the case with Good News From The Next World.
Reduced to a duo of frontman Jim Kerr and guitarist/keyboardist Charlie Burchill, there’s an underlying sense of panic throughout their first new music in almost four years. How else to explain the decision to bring back producer Keith Forsey, the man behind the band’s biggest hit, (Don’t You) Forget About Me, a song about which Kerr, in particular, has repeatedly expressed ambivalence, since the band had no part in writing it? What Forsey has done is saddled Simple Minds with the most intrusive production work of their career. Now, there’d be nothing wrong with stripping away the band’s trademark keyboards in pursuit of a more adventurous sound,
but adventurousness has little to do with the way this album sounds. In a misguided attempt to commercialize the group’s sound, Forsey has utilized slabs of “heavy” guitar and the kind of ludicrously big drum sound we haven’t heard since the mid-’80s. Worse, he seems to have brought out every excess Kerr has ever succumbed to, from melodramatic phrasing to heartfelt but hopelessly cliched lyrics. It’s to their credit that Kerr and Burchill manage to occasionally transcend this detritus, notably on Criminal World and Hypnotised. Let’s hope next time they entrust their future to someone more than just a proven hit-maker. Themselves, perhaps.
GOOD NEWS FROM THE NEXT WORLD
The War Against Silence (US)
For a few minutes, a few times, in the semi-cylindrical confines of Boston’s Avalon nightclub, on a winter Saturday night not long ago, time stopped and a decade digit fluttered, for just a moment, to 8. The opening notes of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”, from the stage, were suddenly also coming out of the one functioning speaker of the radio in my parents mucus-green 1970 Toyota Corona, the inescapable soundtrack of my 1985. But as Kerr, Burchill and their new accomplices ambled cheerfully through the song, I discovered that it was not exactly the same 1985 I lived through ten years ago. In the one I remember, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” was resented as the commercial sell-out of a great band, as the watered-down, soundtrack-pop, mall-ready adulteration of a band whose crashing Sparkle in the Rain grandeur belonged to the shadowy New Wave (turning “alternative”) elite. As “Pretty in Pink” destroyed the Psychedelic Furs the following year, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” destroyed Simple Minds.
Listening to them play the song to a packed 1995 nightclub, though, revealed a shifted view of loyalties and values. From a commercial sell-out, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” has somehow been transformed for me into something universal, a symbol of a great time in pop music, and a classic that also transcends its time the same way it transcends the exact personnel makeup of the band. The people who originally latched onto it without knowing anything about the band have long ago forgotten about it (top 40, as a whole, has a pathetically short memory), and into that void the band’s “true” fans have started to return, retaking the song for themselves, relegitimizing it posthumously. As the song, and in part the band, returns to obscurity, those of us who thrive on obscurity have shown up again to see if their old place in our hearts ought to be cleared out again for them. And as, midway through the show, they explode into “Waterfront”, the joyous acceptance of the crowd is palpable.
Myself, I’d already made up my mind well before the concert. It took about thirty seconds of hearing “She’s a River”, the opening track of Good News from the Next World, on the radio, to convince me that the Simple Minds deserved a new chance. Once I put the album on it didn’t take more than three songs to get me smiling, and nodding “Yes, the Simple Minds are back.” I’m nostalgic by nature, and always eager for the “they’re back” feeling, but this band did have some hurdles to reacceptance. Their last decade had left me completely unmoved, completely untouched by the impersonal expanse of their music, by the way their songs had come to seem directed at the concrete, metal and Astroturf of arenas, not even at the people filling them.
And not all of that tendency is gone from Good News from the Next World. This is not a Sparkle in the Rain redux, and the big guitar chords and synth washes here were very much a part of the Simple Minds phases I wasn’t interested in, as well. The backing vocals on “She’s a River” are reminiscent of the wailing accompaniment way back on “Alive and Kicking”. On Sparkle in the Rain the band’s early art-synth leanings still occasionally poked through, and you’re pretty unlikely to detect any of them here. What’s been reestablished, though, in my opinion, is a sense of balance, or perhaps more precisely, of scale. The production (courtesy, ironically enough, of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” producer Keith Forsey) puts the music back in a much more personal setting. The drums sound more like drums, and less like ancient cannons; the guitars don’t sound like instruments constructed as Texas State Fair publicity stunts; the synthesizers sound like musical elements, not Valkyries swooning.
And, most of all, Jim Kerr’s voice is almost completely stripped of effect, with the result that this album rides confidently on the warm tones and careful details of his singing, where for a while he was just another element of the music striving for something ever bigger and perhaps forever unreachable. It’s notable (and here is another point of similarity with Richard Butler) how good a singer Kerr has become. Even back when I really liked the Simple Minds the first time, I’d never have listed his technical singing ability among their particular strengths, but somewhere in the process of lasting more than 15 years in rock music, he’s become quite an impressive and appealing vocalist.
If this album is still missing something, compared to Sparkle in the Rain, it’s a whole killer song. None of the nine here stick in my head in their entirety the way “Speed Your Love To Me” did the very first time I heard it, nor the way “Waterfront”, “Street Hassle”, “The Kick Inside of Me” and “Shake Off the Ghosts” have come to. This album has its high points instead in individual moments: the drum entrances to “She’s a River” and “Nightmusic”, the falsetto vocal bridge into the chorus of “Hypnotised” (the part where he sings “I remember the look in your eyes”), the slashing guitar on “Great Leap Forward”, the grumbling bass of “And the Band Played On”, the mechanical drum-machine undercurrents of “My Life” and “Criminal World”, the insect-whine backing vocals of “This Time”. If no one song quite captivates me as a song, conversely none are without qualities to recommend them, and the aggregate experience is certainly my second favorite Simple Minds album, and a worthy contender for a short list of great and, to me, welcomed, comebacks.
KERR’S AT A CROSSROADS
Paul Cole – ‘Evening Mail’ 24th March 1995 (UK)
Rock supergroup Simple Minds are going back to basics as they prepare for the end of the millennium – and an uncertain time of change. The band you see tonight at the NEC is a very different animal than the electo-pop experiment that launched Jim Kerr & Co on an unsuspecting world. It’s a progression echoed in the Good News From The Next World album, which sees Simple Minds stripped down in pomp and circumstance.
“In a sense we have completed a full circle,” says Jim. “The band started off with just Charlie and I when we were kids. “Then we became a big keyboard band – we were a collective band in the old traditional sense – but over the years, people have come and gone. “Now we’ve stripped it down again and have gone back to being a guitar band. I think on the last album, we tried to emulate the sounds of old whereas on the new record we knew it just wouldn’t work. We had to change and had to make the economy of the situation work. Times change.
“We feel that we’ve gotton rid of a lot of baggage that the musical tradition of the band carried. There’s much less keyboards than you’d normally expect.” Jim admits that he’s at a crossroads of sorts, without firm ideas as to where the band should go from now. “We’re approaching the end of the millennium,” he says. “I think that at such times there’s often turbulence and great excitement accompanied by fear of confusion. People begin to question where they stand in the greater scheme of things.
“In personal terms, I’ve reached a certain point in my life whcih is both exciting and yet uncertain.” Perhaps there’s a clue in the new album track And The Band Played On. Jim’s lyrics read: ‘The old days they’re the dying days – and the new day’s just begun”. “Yes, people talk about the good old days,” says Jim. “But we’re living now. Like most people, I’ve been through some pretty heavy things but I have no bitterness. I really feel that no matter what the times are, they are our times.”
THERE IS LIFE AFTER DEATH
Simple Minds are back from the brink with a new album and an undented determination to play venues the size of Brent Cross… and fill them
Alan Jackson – ‘Vox’ April 1995 (UK)
You think of Jim Kerr as a man given to wearing big girl’s blouses and running hither and thither across stadium stages, posturing before millions. You associate him with all manner of fellow Celtic breast-beaters, ranging from U2 to Runrig. You can only picture him sharing a stage to feed Africans or rebuild Japan. But here he is, getting up on stage to raise the band’s profile in America.
“How’s this for a bill?” he asks, seeing the positive side of the economy-sized, 12-acts-a-night US tour that SImple Minds have just completed on behalf of a bunch of the most influential college radio stations. “There were the Black Crowes, Grant Lee Buffalo, Green Day, Live, Richard Butler’s new band Love Spit Love, The Go-Go’s, Jesus And Mary Chain, Hole, Tom Jones, The Cranberries. Seal…. and us!”
Dressed, as he is today, in collar-to-heel crushed velvet, it’s difficult to imagine Kerr backstage cadging a spliff from Chris Robertson, sharing a joke with William Reid or discussing Plato with Courtney Love. So what did an audience drawn by the desire to see and hear the latter make of an old gimmer like… “Like Me?” Kerr interrupts, grinning.
Actually, I was going to say Tom Jones. “Well,” says Kerr after a snort of disbelief,” audiences in America seem to take it all in their stride; they see it as just music… You don’t get any of that ‘Tom Jones? He’s an old cunt, so what’s he doing coming on after the Mary Chain?’. Bizarre programming, admittedly, but it worked.”
It was, he maintains, both liberating and exciting to be playing live without all the pressures of The Big Tour. “A one-song soundcheck, then on you went, did 20 minutes and were off again. Play for any longer and they would pull the plug on you. Initially, I was very wary of the time element thing, but I ended up thoroughly enjoying myself. Twenty minutes is perfect, really. You just play all the good ones and clear off!”
Back in the top-seller rack of the nation’s record stores with ‘Good News From The Next World’ – his and Charlie Burchill’s first album since 1991’s poorly received ‘Real Life’ – Kerr must feel relieved that a policy of subtly repositioning Simple Minds appears to have worked. But he also accepts cheerfully the point that, for many music-buyers, the band will be forever associated with pomp, ceremony and stadium theatrics, and he with the image of a Bono wannabe.
“No one made us go the route we did,” he shrugs. “It was what we wanted and I offer no apologies for it. And so we can’t be surprised at people’s perceptions of us, given that the only time they may ever have seen us on TV was against a backdrop of millions at Live Aid or Mandela Day.” In retrospect, he admits, things could have been handled differently. “I mean, SImply Red play stadiums as well, but you never see any live footage of them doing so – they’re always in clubs or small venues.”
Burchill attributes Simple Minds’ conspicuous dispaly of their ’80s success to “a pickpocket mentality – take it cos it’s there to be taken”. He adds “We’d done all our growing up as a band on the big European festival circuit. No one really knew who we were to start with, but getting on to the bill gave you the chance to play in front of these vast crowds of people. We’d just go on out there and try to steal the show.”
back home, meanwhile, ska and Mod were in the process of being replaced on radio by Adam And The Ants, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran… “So we couldn’t get in the Top 40 at all – in fact, we didn’t have a hit single until we released our fifth album,” Kerr recalls. “But what we did have was a music that just seemed to work in front of those huge audiences. So when eventually we had the chart success to play such places in our own right, we naturally did. And I was very wary of the likes of Paul Weller and Joe Strummer for not going through that same door. Maybe they though it was hack, or maybe they were just afraid. I don’t know. They’d propbably have their own rationales for it.”
For Simple Minds, the headiest heights of fame were triggered by the success of 1985’s ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ which was recorded for the soundtrack of ‘The Breakfast Club’ and became a US Number One. Produced by Keith Forsey – who didn’t work with the band again until his involvement with the current LP – it’s the only single they ever released written by an outside team. And to rub their noses in it further, Billy Idol had already turned it down when it was presented to them…
“It’s not sheer hatred or disdain we feel for it,” says Kerr, referring to contemporaneous reports that he and Burchill loathed the song. “We felt guilty that we didn’t like it more and a bit fearful, perhaps, of where it was taking us. That said, the follow-up ‘Alive And Kicking’ reached Number Two in America and the LP did great – even though we didn’t put ‘Don’t You..’ on it and it’s said we lost a million sales as a result. But really, it represented just a day in the studio. We were hardly on the thing.”
The re-involvement with Forsey comes after a period of dubious fortunes for the band. Kerr admits that their US record company of the time, bullish after such significant chart success, was nonplussed by the decision to follow up with first a live album and then one that included songs about Belfast, Nelson Mandela and other such conscience-on-your-sleeve topics. “Again, our choice entirely, but sometimes you don’t realise how much you’re drifting creatively. You’re so busy making the most of your success that you go on auto-pilot.”
Despite having shed all remaining band members and replaced them with all session players in time for ‘Real Life’, the two reamin disappointed with the album. It was ruined by over-production, they feel, and essentially uninspired. “We’d got lazy in our writing,” Kerr admits. “It was a case of: ‘If it sounds impressive, let’s leave it at that.'” So the impetus for ‘Good News From The Next World’ was to re-engage with the nuts and bolts of composition, find a freshness and vitality more reminiscent of the band’s output of 1984 to 1986, before stereotyping had decreed Simple Minds to be the XR3i-driving young professional’s choice.
Not that the resultant album is modest in scale or acoustic in tone; its nine tracks propel themselves forward with all the reticence of a joyrider behind the wheel of a turbo-charged juggernaunt. But as the very annoying voice in that Vauxhall Tigra ad says, it’s fun, if you like that sort of thing. Simple Minds will be performing it live in Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham and London in March. The set will last longer than 20 minutes. And yes, of course Simple Minds will be playing stadiums.
GOOD NEWS FROM THE NEXT WORLD
‘HMV’ Instore Newsletter (UK)
Almost four years on from their last studio album, Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill have created a powerful new work from a revised musical perspective; a guitar-driven mix against the range of human emotion. “We knew we wanted an album that unquestionably said that this was the first step on a new journey”.
SHEFFIELD ARENA 20TH MARCH 1995
It’s stadium time as Simple Minds start their national tour in Sheffield
Simon Warner – ‘Daily Telegraph’ 22nd March 1995 (UK)
It’s offical. Rock, that huge, lumbering beast we thought had been exiled to the sports stadiums of the American Midwest is alive and almost kicking, returning, not to wreak a terrible revenge, but merely to fill hearts of the ordinary fan with pleasure and a yearning for pop values of yesteryear.
Simple Minds, in a phrase, are back. Almost four years on, the band, now condensed to a twosome of vocalist Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill plus assorted musicians, have issued a new album and embarked on the sort of globe-spanning trek – 25 countries, a million paying customers – that was once the expected inheritance of every successful British rocker. Fortunately for Kerr and Burchill, they still speak a brand of musicial Esperanto that engages with an international audience. Like their Celtic comrades U2, they build a solid rock structure – giant blocks of sand, the big, brash gesture – which retains an appeal beyond this isle, a trick more recent pretenders to the UK rock crown have found difficult to pull off.
Certainly Sheffield Arena, a dream-like cavern of space was of suitable scale to hold the group’s show – a 90 minute odyssey plus encores – an almost complacently self-assured affair lit in stunningly dramatic fashion, high in theatricality but shomehow cold. If the crowds response was occasionally overpowering, the five players seemed all too distant. The music, too, had, for the most part, a grey uncertainty – a plodding counterpoint to the fireworks of light that seemed, at one point, to transform the auditorium into the nave of immense rock cathedral. The worshippers were suitably drawn in.
Until the fifth tune, Hypnotised, the canvas was like a thick, well worn tapestry. But, as Burchill’s spearing slide vividly recreated the album cut, the following song, The American – a very early single with a swaggering, Latin refrain – added verve to the vigour. True, Mandela Day and Belfast Child served as reminders that the Simple Minds repertoire is not bereft of a well-honed intelligence, bu the mainstream anthems – Waterfront and Stand By Love – had the ponderous predictability of an earlier age.
Epic keyboard chords, massive guitar figures, relentless power drumming once stood for muscular potency; now they are macho over-statements. Even Kerr’s balletic choreography could not subvert the sub-text – this is men’s music in an era when masculinity has been discredited. There was a nod elsewhere as the band trotted back to acknowledge the applause with a version of the Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat, but every sinister, neurotic nuance had been excised, and quickly it was back to the humping bravado of Don’t You (Forget About Me). And in some ways that is the band’s fundamental problem – too literal, desperately short on irony.
That said, while numerous thoughtful songsmiths from north of the border – the Bible, Danny Wilson and others – have stuttered in the years since Simple Minds emerged, the two Glaswegians appear to have concocted a commerical formula with its own constitunency, whose members just ignore the sell-by date.
SHE’S A RIVER
Sinking fast with no chance of salvation.
DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT US
‘Grooves’ – 22nd January 1995 (UK)
They sell millions of records, live the millionaire lifestyle and lead singer Jim Kerr is married to actress Patsy Kensit. After three years away, they’re back with a new single, She’s A River, which is out now and a new album, Good News From The Next World out on January 30th. Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill talk to Grooves about the Simple life.
After such a long lay-off, how did you find approaching a new LP?
JK: We were 3 years away from putting new music out and, as a result, you get to experience a touch of normal existence, which gives you a chance to examine things. And I’m glas it happened because it led us to where we are now. But it was like I had to make a new start, I had to bump some things down to basics.
The new LP see’s a return to the basic line-up of yourself and Charlie. How did that come about.
JK: Simple Minds began as Charlie and I when we were kids at school. Through the ’80s we were a collective – a band in the old, traditional sense. Looking at our last record, Real Life, one of it’s sins was the fact that we were afraid to admit that it really became Charlie and I again.
Good News From The Next World is much more guitar based than your previous outings, why?
JK: We’d always associated Simple Minds with being a big keyboard band, which is very limiting. On the last album we tried to emulate the sounds of old, but we realised it wouldn’t work. We were on a sinking artistic ship, unless we faced up to the fact we a guitar band now – guitarist and singer.
What difference do you think the emphasis on guitars has made to the feel of the new LP?
CB: The whole feel is now more urgent. It gives us this energy that we needed. As a player, I had to face up to the fact that we’re now a guitar and a voice, and I had better make the most of it. It kind of focused us to really push hard at what we do.
The release of the greatest hits LP ‘Glittering Prize’ closed the door on an old era. Did you feel that?
JK: We knew we wanted an album that unquestionably said this was the first step on a journey. We needed an album that really said what it was, called a spade a spade, proclaimed the nature of the beast. There’s not a bit of this and a bit of that on the album!
And what does the future hold for Simple Minds?
JK: The future’s a precarious thing. A lot of people think it’s all downhill from here, and there’s a lot of evidence to support that. But for me, it’s kind of hard to believe that. It’s the questions that are still to be asked that appeal to me, the songs to be written and the life to be led.
THE POINT, DUBLIN 17TH MARCH 1995
Minds gig is Kerr-ific
‘The Sun’ 19th March 1995 (UK)
Simple Minds are back on tour after three years – and their music is as brilliant as ever. Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill went down a storm at The Point, Dublin. They tore into a selection of their greatest hits including Waterfront and Belfast Child. New material from their album Good News From The Next World went down just as well at the sell-out gig. Jim thrilled fans with his energetic performance during a superb two-hour extravaganza.
GOOD NEWS FROM THE NEXT WORLD
Simple Minds: they know how to thrill
John Aizlewood – ‘Q’ Magazine February 1995 (UK)
Rock music, it could easily be said, should be big, bold and full of primary colours. It should sweep “through space, through time” as Jim Kerr sings, like a comet. It should, perhaps, “feel like a runaway train”, even, if we’re in a reckless, devil-may-care, gung ho sort of mood, it could last “from dusk to dawn”. This is where Simple Minds come in.
They’re a cartoon rock band, whiter than white, dinosaurs with attitude; they’re Emerson, Lake & Palmer without the stage hooverer; they’re a Soundgarden eager to please; or they’re the bare-chested, rousing arousing trobadours Neil Diamond seems to think he is. This is a splendid state of affairs for those on the up, but for a band like Simple Minds, commercially and (before now) artistically on the wane, it’s not far from them becoming the first Wishbone Ash of the next century, plodding on for the benefit of bachelor blokes with beards and being absolutely massive in Moldova.
pre-grunge, as recently as August 1991 in fact, Simple Minds played Manchester City’s Maine Road ground: for all it counts now, it could have been August 1971. The workhouse isn’t beckoning quite yet, their last album, Real Life, despite a sloppy Stephen Lipson production, managed 25 weeks in the British album charts. A decade, though, has passed since their last proper hit in America and that country is surely forever lost to them. Simple Minds’ universe is contracting. They saluted the enw age and it sniggered in thier faces. They could make Blood On The Tracks or Searching For The Young Soul Rebels and nobody would take them seriously, apart from themselves. So what then do they do? It’s obvious really.
When Don’t You (Forget About me), written and produced by Keith Forsey, turned down by Billy Idol, went to Number 1 in America, Kerr churlishly disowned song and production. Now comes Good News From The Next World and it’s produced by Keith Forsey. Hip hip hooray, for Forsey has the delicate touch Kerr needs when he’s trying to turn everything into the hob-nailed Waterfront as you suspect he’d secretly like to do. Forsey seems to have a better grasp of Simple Minds’ back catalogue and the essence of their truly outstanding songs – Factory, Up On The catwalk, I Travel, Sanctify Yourself – than Kerr himself.
There are nine tracks, all within a minute’s length of each other. There are no covers, no remixes, no unlistenable codas (oh that The Stone Roses were so wise) and no flab apart from their own, occasional pomposity. Grunge, rap, hip hop, new country or indeed any musical developments since Journey’s career began to flag have bypassed the group. In Simple Minds’ case and in their case alone, this is definitely a good thing. Good News From The Next World cuts out the things Simple Minds do badly: gone are the silly flirtations with musics world and Celtic, as, mercifully, are Kerr’s more worldly lyrical concerns. Bizarrely, they’re sounding English these days,
God knows how or why. There are no outlandish experiments, Simple Minds were never flexible enough for that; instead, they’ve elected to concentrate on what they do best – trying to thrill, and to this end most of the keyboards have gone, along with some lesser Minds, to leave just Kerr and sidekick from Life In A Day times, Charlie Burchill, plus a plethora of sessioners including Sting’s drummer, Vinnie Colaiuta. They understand one fundamental thing about rock: if it’s exciting, that’s enough. Others have slightly better tunes, most have better lyrics and the Minds are looking a touch old and porky these days, but it’s hard to imagine anyone so tub-thumpingly enthusiastic about breast-beating. This, in any parlance, is a result.
She’s A RIver begins the album at a fair old gallop and in a sense it’s the key to what Simple Minds are about. The lyrics are daft tripe about an alleged muse, but the feel, the musical twists, the hints of Promised You A Miracle make the whole much greater than the sum of its parts, genuinely exciting (if not moving) of course, yet never out of control or self-indulgent. It’s dervish music made for wheeling around to and it’s what seasonsed group watchers would expect and hope for.
7 Deadly Sins (“Blood is sweet, like a deep red river”) and Criminal World (“I need you tonight”) are close relatives of the opener, indeed no song is overdifferent to the rest, but nobody ever accused Simple Minds of being They Might Be Giants and a unified feel never had to mean stodge.
More interestingly, what limited chances Good News From The Next World takes, tend to work. Hypnotised is perhaps, after all this time, after all these years, their best song to date. the lyrics aren’t down to the usual standard and the sonstant refrain of “I still remember the look in your eyes” is delivered with what even Kerr’s old nemesis, P.W.Botha, would recognise as love – touchingly, Kerr and patsy Kensit are still married, three years on. The melody is gorgeous. Forsey gives Burchill’s guitar room to gently further the cause. It’s almost a ballad and they don’t sound out of their depth. It still excites, but in whole new ways, similar to one-time equals sellers U2 did with One.
Another song to benefit from a more Spartan approach is And The Band Played On. The brittle semi-funk suggests that the band playing might just be the current incarnation of The Rolling Stones, only with significantly more swagger. It’s also the only point, possibly in his whole career, where Kerr has sounded sexy. There are even a few strong lyrical ideas.
Of the remainder, Night Music is a spightly call to arms which even paul Gascoigne might spot as a sex analogy; My Life is intricate old-style SImple Minds, always seemingly about to burst into The American; Great Leap Forward is a rather weedy filler, there seemingly to make everything else sound better, but the closing This Time is superb, full of bangs, crashes and has Burchill’s finest moments before collapsing in a crumpled, gasping heap.
It’s back to basics for the new Simple Minds and, of course, they get it right more often than John Major. What will become of them? Time has moved on too much, even with this record, for the stadiums to be revisited. Maybe Kerr and Burchill will believe that less is more or maybe if Simple Minds aren’t globally massive there is little point in them at all. Whatever, they sound like a band on their first album discovering the joy of making music, but they have the acumen of what they really are, a band on their 14th. They’re hardly indispensable, they have as little to say as Whigfield, yet they know how to thrill, and life is always somehow slightly better when they’re around. Good News From The Next World is as good as they’ll ever get. It’s a scream, in the best possible sense.
BIRMINGHAM NEC 24TH MARCH 1995
Jim is simply stunning
Andrew Coleman – ‘Evening Mail’ 25th March 1995 (UK)
Simple Minds encored last night with their biggest hit ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me’)’ – a message their Midland fans had taken to heart. It was the band’s first visit to Birmingham in four years, and they were given a heroes’ welcome by the near capacity NEC crowd. The show’s ear-splitting volume shook the rafters, making it one of the loudest concerts there since heavy metal giants Metallica.
From the opening ‘She’s A River’, the pace rarely dropped with singer Jim Kerr darting at breakneck speed around the 60ft wide stage. The crowd-pleasing front man also used a specially constructed walkway to get nearer the fans and slap some palms. Songs from the new album ‘Good News From The Next World’ proved popular, but it was hits like ‘Waterfront’ and ‘Sanctify Yourself’ that were the real crowd pleasers.
THE WAREHOUSE, TORONTO 23RD FEBRAURY 1995
Simple Minds makes U-turn
Ira Band – ‘The Star’ 24th February 1995 (Canada)
If you hadn’t checked your ticker stub, you could be forgiven for forgetting it was really Simple Minds on stage last night at RPM Warehouse. “Don’t you forget about me,” they sang defiantly on their 1985 smash hit of the same name. But with a resolute U-turn in their musical approach, dropping most of their synthesizers in favour of a chunkier, guitar-driven groove, singer Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill – the two remaining original members of the quintet – seemed to be asking their fans to at least forget about the band’s old sound.
For the first half hour of the show, no coaxing was necessary on that front, not with Burchill’s screaming riffs and a thundering rhythm section. It wasn’t as if a sense of familiarity was entirely missing from the performance. New songs such as “And The Band Played On”, “Criminal World”, “She’s A River” and “Great Leap Forward” were rooted in the same dense swirls of lush atmospherics that defined so musch of the Scottish group’s music during most of the ’80s.
But whereas the band’s earlier work was graced by the juxtapostion of chilly synthesizers and singer Kerr’s warm, impassioned vocals, the effect of newly introduced, raucous guitars actually dampened some of Kerr’s powerful wailing and created a rather cacophonous sonic climate.
Still, it was Kerr who anchored the concert, sustaining the lesser known material – which dominated the first half of the show – and acting as a sort of cheerleader when the sell-out crowd came to life mid-way through the evening on the anthemic “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” and “Waterfront”. On the other hand, he cut a decidedly petulant pose, stopping the proceedings abruptly at one point because of a perceived disturbance at the front of the stage.
Ex-Who songwriter and guitarist Pete Townsend once observed in a 1982 Rolling Stone interview that the use of the guitar in rock music would be replaced with synthesizers by the early ’90s. Given last night’s show, not only has ol’ Pete been proved radically wrong, it may be a good idea to dump any shares you currently hold in electronic keyboard companies.
GOOD NEWS FROM THE NEXT WORLD
Virgin Records American press release – November 1994 (US)
“I feel good, I’m a bit cracked, I feel good.” It’s about midnight – on a phone call from Madrid – and Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr is reflecting about the band’s first album of new material in three years and their first for Virgin Records in the U.S., Good News From The Next World. It’s a powerful album about trying to keep the faith alive – and the challenge of self-renewal – in the face of disillusionment and dread. And Simple Minds sound adamant, even defiant, playing and singing with a do-or-die urgency.
You can detect it right away in the new musical approach. Partner and guitarist Charlie Burchill spearheads a sound that instantly stands apart from the group’s previous albums. “There’s about 90-95% guitars and the rest is keyboards,” says Burchill, pointing out that producer Keith Forsey (with whom they last worked on their classic “Don’t You Forget About Me”) ignites the guitar-driven mix even further. Sparks fly on Good News From The Next World. It’s lyrics are bold, the rhythms swift, the vocals resolute, with Kerr’s phrasings as ineventive as ever.
“Like the air that led me to it, she’s the wind that sucked me through it,” sings Kerr on the opening track and it’s rhythmically driving first single, “She’s A River.” It’s a song – sensual and dangerous all at once, finding it’s protagonist being driven irrationally but seductively by what Kerr calls “the muse” – that sets the stage for the rest of the album, which zooms in on temptation (“7 Deadly Sins”), decadence (“Criminal World”), redemption (“Great Leap Forward”, “My Life”), faith (“This Time”), and love against all the odds in the deep soulful grooves of “Hypnotised”.
“When I hear the strange night music, it’s a warning signal there’s a bridge to cross,” Kerr reveals in “Night Music,” a pivotal song whose theme is central to Good News From The Next World: the need to find the strength and courage to move on to the uncharted next level. In “And The Band Played On,” Kerr sings “The old days are the dying days and the new day’s just begun.” These lyrics apply to not only the LPs spiritual quest, but underline how Simple Minds have faced the future as artists, with their fighting spirit intact. As Kerr intones in “My Life”: “A red guitar can get you far but you still know how to fight.”
“Creatively, I’m not always Happy Jack,” says Kerr. “We’re three years away from putting new music out and playing live. As a result, you get to experience a youch of a normal existence, which gives you a great chance to examine things. And I’m glad that it happened, because it led us to where we are now. But during that time, there was a lot of looking in the mirror and I don’t really like to do that. For a period, I did lose a lot of confidence and I kind of cracked. It was probably for about a year. Depression is a much over-used word now, but something went on. It was almost like I had to make a new start – I had to bump some things down to the basics. It’s the only time that’s happened in my life.
“Compared to a lot of people, I don’t have a grudge to bear.” Kerr adds. “Things have gone pretty smoothly for me. But it’s not those kind of surface things I’m talking about; maybe it’s about having to face up to the ensuing adulthood. Coping with that, trying to deal with that, and the next part of my life. You’ve covered so much ground and you go through all those big questions. I’m glad to see that just like it came, it went. And I think the fact that being a musician and a creative person, you have a great sense of company or companionship from that.”
This period of reflection drove home a crucial reality, explains Kerr. “The fact is that Simple Minds began as Charlie and I when we were kids at school. That was how the whole thing started and through the ’80s we were at a collective – a band in the old, traditional sense, like a football team. As time goes on, you see a kind of realism. People come and go – so much that we’re back at the point of just Charlie and I. In looking at our last record, Real Life, I think one of it’s sins wasn’t in the songwriting – it was the fact that we were afraid to admit that it really became Charlie and I again.
“We had always associated Simple Minds with being a big keyboard band,” continues Kerr. “And to think of us as not having a keyboard player, it was immediately like, ‘The Doors wouldn’t play without keyboards’ or something. Which, of course, is very limiting. I think on the last album we tried to emulate the sounds of old, but we realized it wouldn’t work. We were on a sinking artistic ship unless we faced up to the reality of the fact that we are a guitar band now: a guitar player and a singer.
“We had to not only feature the guitar, but we had to be really creative with them: make them speak different ways, try things we would never have done,” continues Kerr. “We have to make economy of the situation work – we’re the lifeblood of the whole project and I think that’s why you have this defiance, this kind of adamance. We’d felt that we actually got rid of a lot of baggage that the tradition of the band had brought on. The ’80s were great to us, but you don’t want to be harping on about old things.”
Says Burchill, whose incisive and impactful guitar lines emerge from the songs like searchlights at night: “The whole feel is now more urgent. I think it comes from the fact that we finally admitted to ourselves what we were going to do, which was to take away most of the keyboards and focus in on the guitars. It’s given us this energy that we needed. And as a player, I had to face up to the fact that we’re now a guitar and a voice, and I had better make the most of it. It kind of focused us to really push us hard at what we do.”
According to Burchill, some of the keyboard sounds on Good News From the Next World are actually generated from the guitars through the use of Lesley speakers, a harmonizer and a special octave guitar. “But at the same time,” he points out, “there is definitely a different approach when you get these sounds from a guitar as opposed to what you would play on a keyboard.
Production-wise, Burchill says that Keith Forsey “has this incredible energy. He’s very rock ‘n’ roll in his approach to things and it’s as if he’s quite mad. But at the same time, he has brilliant drive. We found that when we tended to step back, he was able to really push both of us to accept who we are, and the voice didn’t need to have all this echo on it. He was much more direct with things.” Kerr adds that Forsey “got us some great guys to play with, especially drummer Mark Schulman, a young American guy. We told Keith, ‘We don’t want the usual hot guys, we don’t want the usual hired hands, we want musicians who were truly exciting.”
Just as Simple Minds’ last release, Glittering Prize – a compilation album of their greatest hits – closed the door on one era, Good News From The Next World opens up another one. “We knew we wanted an album that unquestionably said that this was the first step on a new journey,” states Kerr. And the band has delivered nine strong songs (over the course of 48 minutes), with no excess. “We needed an album that really said what it was, called a spade a spade, proclaimed the nature of the beast. There’s not a bit of this and a bit of that on the album and, ‘Oh there’s a novelty track.’ There’s none of that.”
Good News From The Next World is clearly a statement of intent, a declaration with a purpose, as Simpl Minds restlessly probe the world around them and their own lives. The lyrics originated from Kerr’s notebook – phrases, thoughts and ideas he’s always writing down – and dialogues with songwriting collaborator Burchill. “During the day when we’re working, we’ll have the most fantastic conversations and arguments,” says Kerr, who later gets inside the melodies. “You see the picture and you hear the words, and I’ll look in my notebook and there’s usually something that’s been written in the same period that matches up.”
In the end, Good News From The Next World poignantly reflects the countdown to the end of the century and validates our own conflicting feelings of hope and dread. “It’s the end of a one-thousand year period,” notes Kerr, “and they say that in these times you get this turbulence and great excitement, but also a great fear or a great confusion. So exactly where are we in the grand scheme of things? I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that, but it’s definitely hanging above us and I also think my age is reflected in these songs – I’m no longer a youth, that’s for sure. I certainly don’t feel like an old man, but I’m hitting on a certain part of my life. There’s a great uncertainy that’s also exciting.
“The future’s a precarious thing. A lot of people think it’s all downhill from here, and there’s a lot of evidence to support that. But for me, it’s kind of hard to believe that. To me, it’s like you’ll go somewhere else, there’ll be another state of consciousness. Not that I have any secrets, not that I’ve been given some special map. “It’s the questions that are still to be asked that appeal to me. It’s the songs that are still to be written that appeal to me. It’s the life that is till to be lived that appeals to me. I don’t find the search tiring at all.” Sounds like there’s Good News From The Next World after all.
KERR IN THE COMMUNITY
If even his daughter told him not to do it and his wife, Patsy Kensit, calls him ‘an old cunt’, what chance does Jim Kerr have of reclaiming the ’90s for Simple Minds? Don’t you forget about them, advisies Laura Lee Davies, who reckons their first album for four years could put the band back on top.
Laura Lee Davies – ‘Time Out’ 25th January 1995
Paris is soaked. The sunlight has been blocked out by the foulest cloudy drizzle of the winter. The Sacre Coeur has disappeared behind a miserable dark grey curtain. It’s 2pm and the photo session which was due to take place on some charmant, typically French avanue has been re-located to the stairwell of one of the city’s more luxurious hotels. At 4pm Simple Minds are supposed to be performing their first single for three years in front of a ‘Top Of The Pops’ film crew, halfway up the Eiffel Tower. Guitarist Charlie Burchill sighs: ‘More Simple Minds’ Scottish weather…’
Despite the lack of crisp blue skies and the prospect of spending most of a wet and windy evening several hundred feet off the ground with nothing but a few iron girders for shelter, Simple Minds are remarkably chipper. “I was in the car with my kids the other day,’ says Kerr ‘and my ten-year-old daughter asked me whether we were about to release an album. And when I told her that we were, I could hear her in the back going “oh no”! She was cringing over the thought of her dad being on all these programmes that her friends watch and she was worried about what I was gonna be wearing. I was feeling a bit bad and then I thought, hang on a minute, what do you think pays for your ballet lessons?” Jim and Charlie crease up laughing.
There must be plenty of people who share Kerr’s daughter’s misgivings. We know there’s an ’80s revival going on at the moment, but do we really need the return of Simple Minds? Before I met the band, a quick straw poll of friends suggested that the coolest thing about Simple Minds was the rumour that Jim Kerr is no shrimp in the trouser department. Until you hear their latest album, you might well think the same.
Simple Minds have sold over 20 million records worldwide, but they have also suffered from the Sting-syndrome, ridiculed as often as they were appaulded for being one of the most active of post-Live Aid bands to address political, ideaological and ecological issues in their songs and at major events. It got to the point where you could imagine every album coming complete with it’s own survival kit and a group hug from the staff at your local record shop. Eventually, with the rest of the band galling away, founding members Kerr and Burchill decided it was time to take a break. having spent the last three years writing, without thought of deadlines and units to shift, in the civilised wilds of Scotland and Ireland, the pair’s forthcoming album, ‘Good News From The Next World’, finds them leaner and more focused than they have been since the beginnings of their runaway mainstream success ten years ago.
‘The only plan we had before we made this album was that our tenth studio album shouldn’t sound like our tenth,’ explains Kerr. ‘The ’80s whizzed by for us. We really enjoyed it, but y’know, when you start a band you daren’t believe it could last more than a fortnight, then you find you’re working on your tenth album!’
In the early days, when their albums were icy Euro-soundscapes, Simple Minds wore pale make-up and didn’t smile very much. Even now, with a new single entitled ‘She’s A River’, I expect them to be a bit serious. However, even after plating pop stars in the galeforce open air, they thaw out extremely quickly. The first topic raised is football. Jim Kerr has known Kenny Dalglish for years but confesses that his voice still goes up an octave whenever he speaks to him. They interrogate me about Manchester United’s various signings and injuries. We all agree that Charlie was foolish in the extreme for ever suggesting that Eric Cantona was a ‘dumpling’. So much for right-on causes and furrowed brows.
These days four years between albums isn’t an unusually long time, but Kerr and Burchill certainly think of ‘Good News From The Next World’ as something of ‘a comeback’. ‘It goes with the territory: if you’re a successful band, you become an industry. You spend more time with lawyers, accountants and taxmen and you only have a couple of weeks here or there left. It gets so the first eight or nine ideas you have become the new album and then you’re back out on the road because you can sell tickets.
‘We were a bit shocked at how much a kind of auto-pilot had crept in. Before we thought that if we stopped, the whole thing would crumble, so we just kept on. There were certainly enough slaggings of “this is so un-hip” and all of that, but we’d never listen to that, we had to find our for ourselves. There was enough in the songwriting for us to think that what we were doing was still good, but the attitude was completely stale, that’s what the whole heading for the hills was about, to struggle free of all the baggage.’
Some common questions asked by interviewers have become a running joke. Apparently one even comes with a raised eyebrow and a distinctly shuffled body language: how are they going to compete with all the ‘new gods’ pop has produced since they’ve been away? When their answer is usually something along the lines of ‘we don’t know and we don’t care’, the interviewers seem somewhat disappointed. ‘One guy said to us, “I didn’t think I’d be interviewing you lot again.”,’ says Kerr. ‘He was quite an elderly journalist and he said he thought we’d been replaced by all these new bands. I asked him how long he’d been a jounalist and when he told me he’d been doing it for 18 years I just said, “Well where are all the new journalists? What are you fucking talking about?” We didn’t replace anybody. If anything we filled a hole, with working-class kids, that The Clash and The Jam had, as opposed to Elton John, Rod Stewart and Eric Clapton, who unfortunately (speaking as music fans) stayed around.’
Charlie cites unrelenting success, from the pumped-up pomp of the Number one album to another, as the perfect excuse to put off all those important decisions. However, they have no regrets about being forever linked with the decade of the Filofax, they’re just looking forward to claiming the ’90s too. ‘In a way it’s quite a compliment to come from a decade and survive,’ says Kerr. ‘For instance (not that I want to be compared with them or anything), The Stones, no matter what they do, will always be seen as a ’60s band. Bowie, although he got through, y’know, it’s a ’70s thing. Very few bands get through and have a chance to go on. It’ll be nice to look back on one day and think that we had six Number One albums, but right now nobody really cares. At the time everything had, without thinking,
got bigger and bigger. And the bigger we got, the more fucking technology there was. This album was written on piano and guitar. Not that we had any Pol Pot, back to basics, thing, but that more, more, more idea was a very ’80s thing. Lyrically, Simple Minds were known as optimistic, earnest and all that stuff. Whether it’s age or a certain relaxation, this time it was fun for me to write the words, to have two sides of the coin: the whole poetic thing and just putting a good character in there. For us as songwriters, not even as Jim and Charlie, when we write a song like “Hypnotised” off the new album, we’re like: Jesus! We can write like thbis and there’s only two of us! Now it’s a challenge again.’
Looking back, sleeve designs like those for ‘New Gold Dream’ (which are marked like bible verses) look like the beginnings of ‘Simple Minds as the gods of anthemic pop’. At the time they just looked good. But I have to admit that, having enjoyed the band’s years as prolific alternative-pop experimentalists and John Peel regulars, I joined the ranks of those who were growing tired of the BIGness of their lyrics even by the time Jim Kerr was stepping on to the ‘Waterfront’. The band themselves describe their last two albums as ‘sprawling’. Again, with a title like ‘Good News From The Next World’, you’d expect the new album to bring yet more lumbering solos and preachy lyrics crashing into the shops. In fact, though Simple Minds haven’t exactly reverted to the spacey keyboard plinkiness of the late ’70s, they have managed to recapture the vitality of their past and strip away the padding. When I told someone I was interviewing Simple Minds the other day, she just said, ‘Has he stopped being boring yet?’
Simple Minds as saviours of the world sort of happened by accident. Jim Kerr was on one of the most watched television programmes in America and, wishing to get the subject off the usual promotional gubbins, the interviewer asked him what he’d been up to the night before. It just so happened that the band had bumped into the president of Amnesty International in the hotel bar. ‘Without thinking about it, we had a cause on our hands. We took it on tour and then Live Aid was coming, and Greenpeace, and once you’re known for that stuff, ant-aparthied and everything, yeah of course you’d do things you were asked, no qualms. And then it’s bound to come into the songs because you’re not just gonna turn up to the gala events.’ So followed the likes of ‘Mandela Day’ and the band’s rendition of ‘Belfast Child’.
‘A lot of people have asked us if we think we’re still relevant? Relevant to what? To radio? The media? To Joe Bloke? When I first heard “Losing My Religion” – and REM were already really big by then – I was thinking, I wonder what Joe Bloke thinks about this lyric? To sell those vast quantities, people just get it. They hear it on the radio and they like it. It’s relevant because they like it. It’s a real industry thing to get caught up in whats relevant or not, what’s hip or unhip. Sure, no one wants to feel they’re not in touch with what’s going on, but for a time last year, I got really fucked up and decided I didn’t want to read a newspaper.
I’d had enough, for someone who was so influenced by current events, because I thought: I don’t know how it’s benefiting me to know there’s a war going on here or there. I’d spend seven hours a week reading papers and at the end of it I’d learned very little in terms of what was intellectually nourishing. I might as well have read a great book that was written years ago. Also it dawned on me that they were owned by these cunts, and that really I was just reading someone’s column out of habit.’
Instead the band, who can still breeze through a Wembley gig here, spent some time on an unlikely American tour with such acts as Grant lee Buffalo, Hole and The Cranberries. They’ve also been exchanging records; Jim got Charlie into the last Suede album. ‘Sometimes you don’t want to listen to other people when you’re making a record in case it makes you feel inferior because their thing is finished, and in the charts and relevant,’ Kerr smiles. ‘it’s strange when you have a partner (he’s married to Patsy Kensit) who’s eight or ten years younger than you. On so many levels you’re equal, but then they’ll run in and go, “This record is brilliant, you have to listen to it!” And I’ll sit there and spot all the bits that the band have nicked from this or that and my wife’ll go, “Oh fuck off! I’m not interested in the social references or where it’s from’ the guy’s really good looking and it’s groovy and you’re an old cunt!’ More laughter.
Simple Minds’ own mujsic means many things to different people. ‘People say we were never reinvented, that we’ve stayed the same,’ Kerr contiunes. ‘When we started we were tagged as a New Wave group. Then we were even lumped into the New Romantics, Electro Disco thing. Then there were the dodgy Paul Morley years, in with Joy Division and all that. Then there was the Live Aid ‘pop’ thing, “Don’t You Forget About Me” and all that. Then the stadium/political thing.
‘I’m not saying REM haven’t progressed, but image-wise they were always this American, Bryds-ish type of band with weird lyrics. U2, until very recently, were known as this straight-ahead rock band. They were like that for ten years without change. Some people know us under the same umbrella as Roxy Music or Ultravox and other people think of us like Bryan Adams or Bon Jovi’
Once Jim Kerr is on the subject of effete air stewards who associate them with gay discos in ’80s San Fransico and denim boys who love them alongside Springsteen, there’s no stopping him. Indeed, ten albums down the line, Simple Minds still have lots to talk about. After a particularly long outpouring, Kerr gets up to go to the toilet. Charlie, who can only compete if he talks in tiny gaps in between, grins ‘Ah, you scored a hat-trick there, Jim’ ‘Nah,’ Kerr replies. ‘She’ll probably say one hit the bar, one hit the post and the other one was offside.’