Tom Topkoff -
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
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.
(1 out of
- '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
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
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.
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
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
(3 out of
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.
covers Bowie, Roxy, Doors on new CD
Paul Cantin -
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
wasn't easy when we looked at the prospect
of doing a cover version album," singer Jim
Kerr said in the announcement.
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
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.
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
'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
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.
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.
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.
(3.5 out of