Simple Minds was one of the last bands that I would have expected a covers record from. Don’t ask me why, but I just didn’t peg them as the type. Needless to say, I was fascinated by Neon Lights when it arrived. I pondered it for days before I even put it on. I just don’t think I knew what to expect. Jim Kerr is a brilliant vocalist with a ton of integrity built in. I expected the songs to be portrayed with his own special touch the “Simple Minds way” of doing them.
The list of artists covered is also expansive, spanning contemporaries of the band during the Eighties, to Sixties classics to Krautrock. Well known songs, to obscure diamonds in the rough. Are these tunes straight-up covers or “interpretations” based on the originals? And what was the success rate of the project? Let’s take a listen and see for ourselves.
Right out of the box, Kerr and Company bust through an updated version of the Van Morrison/Them classic “Gloria”. You wouldn’t really recognize it though as the band spices it up with techno beats and a bouncier groove derived from the original. Kerr’s vocals are hidden in the mix; yet they are as full and smooth as ever. It definitely has a sound and feel all of it’s own. The band takes a step back from re-interpretation for David Bowie’s “Man Who Sold The World”. Kerr cites Bowie as a large influence in his musical endeavors, and it’s evident in this fairly straightforward rendition.
The band keeps the early 70’s space rock feel in place and augments it, adding a bit more “spaciness” to Bowie’s already “Martian” persona. Former Buzzcock Pete Shelley’s lesser-known “Homosapien” gets a hint of an update with flashes of techno programming, and more of that dance groove that appeared on “Gloria”. You can hear some of the classic Simple Minds sounds filter in and out of the grooves… but where this tune ultimately falls short is in the drum department. A live drummer would have added much more force and vigor compared to the programmed beats.
The first single from the collection is a rejuvenated take on Patti Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot.” The trend of club influenced beats and grooves continues, yet the band keeps the arrangement sparse, allowing the vocal come forward and captivate your attention. This is where this song excels… Kerr’s smooth voice. It’s rich body and comforting aroma puts most of what Juan Valdez brings back from the coffee fields in the dustbin. We even get a taste of the soul influenced backing vocals found in early Simple Minds work. The band nicks the title track, “Neon Lights”, from Krautrock legends Kraftwerk.
A hearty piano takes some of the lead bits from the original, but the band remembers to retain the airy and ethereal elements from Kraftwerk’s box of tricks. Even Kerr gets into the act with an easy and poignant reading of the lyrics. The “computer filter” in the last verse is a kitchy, yet relevant embellishment. This understated update is splendidly done. Another one of Kerr’s idols gets put through the wringer as they take on the mighty Doors classic “Hello I Love You.” A sinister, yet not quite industrial bank of sounds is employed emphasizing the gritty street element of Jim Morrison’s tale. Again, strength comes from Kerr’s vocals. I’d give this re-working an A for its use of claustrophobic sounds and moods.
Kerr and the band wanted to pay homage to their contemporaries from the Eighties scene, and picked a slightly unlikely candidate – Echo And The Bunnymen. “Bring On The Dancing Horses” is completely stripped down on the musical level and turned inside out. A dub-influenced groove is laid out over another understated dance groove. Like “Gloria”, you have no idea what the tune is until Kerr comes in with a faithful reading of the lyrics. When the guitars come in for the choruses, the whole package comes together. Again… where’s the real drums? I bet this re-working would kick live. Switching gears back to the past, how ’bout some Neil Young?
The band places an appropriately dark and claustrophobic twist on “The Needle And The Damage Done.” A big beat drum loop gets us going, leading into some heavy guitar. Before you know it, the walls come in on you slowly as the sound is compressed and turned even more lo-fi. Fascinating. Another influence on the Simple Minds is accented with their cover of Roxy Music’s “For Your Pleasure.” Like the Bowie tune, they give this one a fairly straightforward reading, adding just a few of their now familiar sweeping embellishments and mood altering tactics. In a similar vein of influence, the Velvet Underground staple “All Tomorrow’s Parties” is tackled with vivacity. A full spectrum of noisy additions and a fat bass steal your attention, accenting the tension that Kerr brings to the vocals.
The obscurity mine is dipped into again for “Being Boiled” a very early Human League tune (and one I’m not familiar with). As one would expect, it’s full of those thick sounds that characterized the time period. I really dig the vocals and the sounds used, but it seems like they’re trying too hard to make it to the dancefloor. The routine dance-beat is tired and played out, as are some of the cliched “dance sounds” we have been hearing for years. Not the best one on the record.
The record is closed out with Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” I’ll tell you one thing; Kerr’s got balls. I would never cover this one… it’s a sacred cow to me, and quite frankly, this is terrible. The dance groove employed here is atrocious, routine and outdated. The Giorgio Morodor hip-hop/disco sounds just don’t fit… and the whole soul of this song has been stripped away from it. Again, this approves it should be left alone. While not everything works as well as it could, the good and the inventive certainly outnumbers the weak and the half-baked.
The side-steps, for the most part (exception being “Love Will…”), are forgivable and easily glossed over. I applaud their updates as having been given a lot of thought, not just slammed together for some sort of “novelty experiment.” The emphasis on electronic, programmed drums can become a bit tedious at times, but my guess is that some of this record is headed to a dance club near you where it should prosper. The strengths that this band built a career on are still there, from interestingly thoughtful arrangements to Kerr’s unending voice. They are in the studio working on material for a new album; I wonder how much of this sound will show up there? It should be interesting. Yes, my friends, they have emerged with their integrity still intact.
John Harris – Q Magazine (UK)
In the 18-year wake of David Bowie’s Pin-Ups, few artists have been foolish enough to “do” a covers album. Duran Duran were the last notable culprits with 1995’s inexplicable Thank You; and now Simple Minds have decided to come after them. Thus, anyone who’s ever thought “You know what?
I’d really like to hear Them’s Gloria done in a kind of sub-Zooropa techno-rock style” will be delighted to know they’re in business ? although even they might balk at a goth-synth version of Neil Young’s The Needle And The Damage Done. There’s nothing as gloriously dotty as Le Bon and co’s version of White Lines (Don’t Do it) ? which denies Neon Lights what might have been its one redeeming feature. Really, to call this a turkey would be unfair to the birds who share the name.
Jane Stevenson – ‘Toronto Sun’ (Canada)
These ’80s synth-pop holdovers hold up better than most. On their latest album, in stores Tuesday, the Scottish veterans take on classic songs by such revered songwriters as David Bowie, Patti Smith, Neil Young and Lou Reed with mixed results. Let’s put it this way: Best intentions notwithstanding, it’s hard to improve on perfection in the case of Smith’s Dancing Barefoot and Young’s Needle & The Damage Done, although these are two of the better renditions here.
There’s also a nice, slower, acoustically minded spin on Pete Shelley’s 1982 hit, Homosapien, as Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr croons: “I’m the cruiser, you’re the loser, just me and you sir, I’m a homo sapien too.” A respectful, dreamy take on Kraftwerk’s Neon Lights and an anthemic version of The Velvet Underground’s All Tomorrow’s Parties are also worth pointing out. The one big mistake is The Doors’ Hello I Love You, a weak track to begin with that’s certainly not improved by Simple Minds. The Canadian version of this album contains two bonus songs:
An almost unrecognizable cover of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, which subverts the normally searing song into a breezy electro-pop tune, and a forgettable version of Human League’s Being Boiled. Simple Minds launch a world tour next year.
Who would have thought Simple Minds were such big fans of Patti Smith, Lou Reed and Neil Young? Well, that they are, and this album pays ‘tribute’ to some of Simple Minds supposed original inspirations. This album arriving as it does, on the back of Simple Minds continued slide into irrelevancy, seems to be some sort of hope at getting a freak hit single and back onto a profitable commercial path. We have a heavy dance layer over many tracks here.
An honourable updating of Simple Minds sound? Or an embarrassing travesty? All will become clear! On the embarrassing front we have an ‘Achtung Baby’ U2 era sounding version of ‘Gloria’. Simple Minds always were seen to be riding along in U2’s wake somewhat. Still, ‘Achtung Baby’ also featured good original song-writing and much blistering guitar. And, it was well done, with imagination.
Simple Minds dance/rock mix sounds clumsy, undignified and the spelling out of the song title during the track, possibly the most embarrassing of all. Lots of techno effects on Jim Kerr’s voice hardly help. Simple Minds as dance-floor fodder? Its never gonna happen, really, is it? And, god, we even have a little U2 style falsetto part! Do they have no shame whatsoever? David Bowies ‘Man Who Sold The World’ could be applauded as a great choice, were it not for Nirvana’s famous ‘Unplugged’ version that appeared seven years previously.
Simple Minds add much fuzz and distortion to their guitar sound. The original captivating riff remains however. So, not a total disaster. Fairly palatable, actually. Highlights? We have a couple. ‘Dancing Barefoot’ is fine. Nothing great, but its ok. And, er…. that’s about it! One highlight then. We have a truly awful version of Echo And The Bunnymens ‘Bring On The Dancing Horses’. They’ve dragged it out, experimented with dance, fallen flat on their faces.
The Velvet Undergrounds ‘All Tomorrow Parties’ sounds extremely messy in its dance/rock mix. Joy Divisions ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ has been rendered in a bland, house rendition that bears no resemblance to the original song at all. At all. And, that’s offensive! Well, it offends me, I’m a huge Joy Division fan – but leaving that aside, it seems wholly inappropriate. Simple Minds, as a band, now consist of Jim Kerr and writing partner Charlie Burchill. And, that’s it.
A singer and a guitar player. The problem with doing a dance album, and a dance album of rock songs, cover songs too – is that it requires some real skill in re-interpretation. Simple Minds are hardly renowned in this field. Still, Jim Kerr does do a ‘funny’ Neil Young impersonation during ‘Needle And The Damage Done’.
They’ve already tried to sell us back their past. And if the current trend for American teen movies is any indicator, it can’t be long before simultaneous reissues of The Breakfast Club (starring, lest anyone forget, the altogether loveable Molly Ringwald) and its theme song, Don’t You Forget About Me, hit cinemas and record stores. Trouble is that in trying to sell us back their past, they’ve only succeeded in drawing everyone’s attention to the fact that it wasn’t worth buying.
So now they’ve tried the oldest trick in the industry book: trying to sell us back the pasts of other bands whose reputations, they hope, have held up rather better than their own. Yep: Neon Lights is Simple Minds’ covers album. Perhaps predictably, the newest song on here is 15 years old. And the number of people who really want to hear Jim Kerr grunt his way through Echo and the Bunnymen’s Bring On The Dancing Horses must be in single figures.
The rest? A mix of covers-band staples and aren’t-we-just-soooo-alternative cuts: Roxy Music (For Your Pleasure, though it really isn’t), the Velvet Underground (All Tomorrow’s Parties), the Doors (a dreadful Hello, I Love You), Van Morrison (Gloria). But despite this cavalcade of crap, the album’s lowlighted by two other tracks. The version of Kraftwerk’s Neon Lights is acutely embarrassing. And the cover of a song by Neil Young, who’s been making records for 35 years but who’s still vital, still worthwhile, still listened to today, only brings the desperate, pitiable hopelessness of this exercise into clearer focus. Lights out; g’night, fellas.
Simple Minds covers Bowie, Roxy, Doors on new CD
Scotland’s Simple Minds are letting their roots show. The band is releasing an album of cover songs by the likes of David Bowie, Van Morrison, Patti Smith, The Velvet Underground, and Kraftwerk. The album has been dubbed “Neon Lights” and is scheduled for release in Canada on Oct. 2, via Eagle Records/EMI, the current home of Yes, and Robert Palmer.
“It certainly wasn’t easy when we looked at the prospect of doing a cover version album,” singer Jim Kerr said in the announcement. “There have been so many great songs, so many different sounds, so many artists and acts that have influenced our band. We tried to hone it down to the key acts involved, and you could say that Simple Minds came out on a basis of listening to David Bowie, Roxy Music, Peter Gabriel and, of course, Lou Reed. On top of that there was always Patti Smith, The Doors and Neil Young, as well.”
Many of the songs are well known, and in the case of “Gloria” (by Van Morrison’s early group Them) and “Dancing Barefoot” (by Patti Smith), the band has essayed the songs in concert. Many of the songs are well-known choices — Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” was covered by Nirvana on their “Unplugged In New York” album — but two selections come as a surprise.
“Bring On The Dancing Horses” was a one-off single and a minor hit for Echo And The Bunnymen, whose singer Ian McCulloch has for years derided Simple Minds and singer Kerr in particular; so covering their song may seem like an odd choice. Buzzcocks’ guitarist Pete Shelley launched his solo career with “Homosapien,” which never graduated beyond cult status and, along with the title track by Kraftwerk, it’s the least obvious choice of the bunch.
“Real fans of Simple Minds who want to discover the genesis of our sound, want to hear what we were listening to as fans and understand the excitement that propelled us to make our sound and write our own songs, can trace it all on this album,” Kerr said in the statement. The album will be preceded in the U.K. by the release of a four-song EP, pairing “Dancing Barefoot” and “Gloria”
with two as-yet-unidentified tracks. The group is also working on a new studio album, with an intended release date of December 2002. Virgin, the label the band was affiliated with for much of its career, is considering a best-of compilation, as well. Meanwhile, an unreleased album the band recorded for EMI, “Our Secrets Are The Same,” will remain in the can for the foreseeable future.
’80s Music’ (UK)
In a sea of wretched tribute albums, this concept album by 80s Pop masters, Simple Minds, is one of the exceptions. Released in released “Neon Lights” in October of 2001, it is a strange mix of mainstream and obscure covers, Simple Minds tip their hats to heroes of their youth and 80s contemporaries that they were inspired by, treading on both hallowed and unchartered ground.
Released in two versions, a nine-track release and a limited edition twelve-track issue, many of the strongest tracks on the albums are the ones, which are the most unlikely. The album starts out with Van Morrision’s track “Gloria,” teated with Techno and Trance-y elements, a departure from their usual sound, and a weak opener. Next up is David Bowie’s song, “The Man Who Sold The World.” While it is really a nice cover of this song, the song was ruined for me back in the 90s with Nirvana’s cover. The third track is Pete Shelley’s song, “Homosapien,” which comes off as a slower almost trancelike tune, but a superior New Wave cover.
Patti Smith’s song, “Dancing Barefoot” is a strong track on the album, and their take on the classic is a great effort. “Neon Lights,” the title track and a Kraftwerk composition is a building, beautiful homage to Electro-pop geniuses. The Doors track, “Hello, I Love You” has been given a Euro-disco treatment, which is a bit heavy-handed. I guess when I think of Simple Minds rarely does
“dance club” come to my mind as much as Pop innovators. “Bring On The Dancing Horses,” a favorite track of mine from Echo & The Bunnymen. It is a nice cover, given a slight Techno twist and has a nice vibe, and not overly done like some of their other Techno explorations. Neil Young’s track, “The Needle and the Damage Done,” one of the most successul tracks, it is poignant and has an undulating, if not sinister undercurrent and some of Jim Kerr’s finest vocals.
Next up is Roxy Music’s song, “For Your Pleasure,” is a nice cover, however it’s not too dissimilar from it’s original. Nevertheless, it is a wonderful tribute. “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” a song by Velvet Underground has easily fallen under Simple Minds hypnotic spell. Probably my most favorite track on the album is a cover of Human League’s song, “Being Boiled,”
but that could simply be because I love Human League’s version. The closing track, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division, left me with an almost discomforting feeling. One of those most-holy of all songs, Simple Minds have given it a Techno beat complete with repetitive vocals and dance floor bass. Call me a purist, but there are some songs, which should never be touched. This is one of them. Essentially any of the tracks that they didn’t choose to Techno-fy are the most successful and in some cases wonderful new takes on classics. Definitely worth a listen.