NEW GOLD DREAM (DVD AUDIO)
Noel Megahey -19th August 2005 (UK)
Originating from a Glasgow punk band called Johnny and the Self-Abusers, Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill formed Simple Minds in 1978 and moved into experimental avant-garde pop with progressive and Krautrock influences through early albums such as Reel to Real Cacophony (1979), Empires and Dance (1980) and Sons and Fascination (1981). By the time the band came to record New Gold Dream (1982), they had picked up the pop sensibilities of Giorgio Moroder’s Euro-dance rhythms and the sophisticated poise of Roxy Music, also being explored by the more experimental pop bands of the 80’s, Propaganda and Japan.
After New Gold Dream the band would go on to greater success, breaking in America with their single Don’t You Forget About Me from John Hughes’ film The Breakfast Club before going on to rival U2 and fill stadiums and with tediously drawn-out bombastic anthems recorded by the then in-vogue radio-friendly producers, Steve Lillywhite, Jimmy Iovine and Bob Clearmountain (see the review for the DVD-A of Once Upon A Time). Simple Minds are still active as a band with a new album Black & White due to be released in September 2005.
New Gold Dream however is the sound of a Simple Minds at their peak, their tendency towards excess restrained here under the lush, warm, sympathetic production of Peter Walsh, focussing the songs into tight arrangements, yet allowing them space to breathe, improvise and explore the soundscapes they operate within. New Gold Dream is remastered and remixed for 5.1 sound by Jeff Levison and released on DVD-A format, but has a number of other high-quality sound format options that will make it compatible with most DVD set ups, including DTS 5.1 and PCM Stereo. As I am not equipped to test out the DVD-A track, this review is based on the DTS mix. Each of the surround mixes is 24bit at a 96K sample rate, the PCM Stereo 16bit at 48K. The video aspect of the disc is in NTSC format and the DVD is not region encoded.
The DTS mix of Someone, Somewhere In Summertime lifts Charlie Burchill’s chugging, echoing guitar out more clearly in the mix, but the drums are almost completely submerged, losing the considerable impact they have on the song. The bass is similarly heavy and unclear. This muddiness of bass and drums in the mix is unfortunately prevalent throughout the album. Jim Kerr’s echoing vocals are reasonably distinct, at least as much as they ever where, making use of the rears alongside Michael MacNeill’s keyboard flourishes. The poor quality of the rhythm section aside however, this captures the character of the original song very well.
The bass is a little more solid in Colours Fly And Catherine Wheel, but as if Kerr’s vocal mannerisms and mumbled delivery weren’t already incoherent enough they are practically reduced to solfege here in another rather muddy mix. The springy keyboard riff of Promised You A Miracle holds the song’s structure together, but otherwise it’s a mess in 5.1 with no clear directional sounds, just echoing from the front speaker out and swamping everything in reverb. This is very disappointing.
In contrast to much that has gone before, Big Sleep’s vocal is clearer than I’ve ever heard it on album before, and with the keyboards pushed to the rear speakers it has much more room to breathe – at least until Derek Forbes indistinct bass arrives in. Burchill’s guitar however also benefits from the wider mix, the chiming, echoing chords flitting from rear speakers to front in between the Kerr’s chanted refrain. “Where did you go, immaculate friend?”. The brooding, ambient magnificence of the song is intact here on one of the best mixes on the DVD, although the crashing punch of the drums is sadly toned down. Things continue to improve with the airy, floating dreamscapes of the instrumental Somebody Up There Likes You, Derek Forbes’ coming to the forefront with some Mick Karn-sounding fretless bass frills. Burchill’s guitar soars and chimes, coming through much clearer than on the stereo mix of the track.
This in turn sets the mood perfectly for what used to be the opening track on Side B of the vinyl version of the album, the title track New Gold Dream (81, 82, 83, 84). A pulsing, rumbling track, this sounds quite different in 5.1 and there is perhaps too much going on for the mix to handle. Underlying layers of keyboards and occasional flourishes are practically swamped by the thumping, muffled bass, which even drowns out the punch of the drum and percussion tracks, while Burchill’s guitar echoes somewhere off in the distance. This sounds a complete mess, but… it pulls together somewhere around the “81, 82, 83, 84” mid-section and Kerr’s vocals sound better and clearer here than in any of the other tracks on the disc.
What the poor mix can’t disguise though is just how good this song still is – six minutes of sheer brilliance. What should be a driving, chunky bass rhythm on Glittering Prize is again lost in the mix. However, some angelic backing vocals (Sharon Campbell) that I hadn’t really detected before, are clearly audible here. Again the husk of a good song can be identified here, but it feels like the soul has somehow been taken out of it.
When left on its own, the bass opening to Hunter And The Hunted can sound strong enough, but anticipating the crash of Mel Gaynor’s drums, I was severely disappointed again by how weak they are presented here. All impact is completely lost. The mix plays around with Kerr’s layered vocals, his whispers and interjections thrown backward and forward across the speakers, but this is MacNeill’s chance to shine, swirling around lush swathes of backing keyboard rhythms for Herbie Hancock to deliver his wonderful jazzy solo.
King Is White And In The Crowd is the one track that appears most noticeably remixed. I didn’t recognise the intro, with its count-in brought to the forefront and the track stops abruptly with a “yeah, that’s the one”, which has never been on any mix of the song I have heard before. The underpinning rhythm moreover is completely flat when its metronomic precision should be the structure for the other instruments and voice to work within. I didn’t like this mix at all. A previously unreleased track, In Every Heaven, has the clearest mix on the album – drums have impact and the bass has body and definition. I have never heard this track before and its pop-iness doesn’t have the same majestic quality as the rest of the album, but it clearly of the period and fits in well as a welcome extra.
As far as the album’s transfer to 5.1 goes, I can only hope that the DVD-Audio track, which I was unable to listen to, is better than the DTS mix. Either that or my equipment is somehow incompatibly calibrated with this particular album, but I have no reason to think so, as the PCM stereo mix is much more accurate, clearly defined, and faithful to the original mix with a fuller, rounded bass and stronger, solid drums. Saying that, it never sounds as good as my original vinyl copy of the album.
There is certainly an attraction to having New Gold Dream mixed to 5.1, and for one or two moments, when I really let the DTS mix boom out, it took me back like never before to the sixth-form discos at the King Arthur in Belfast in the summer of 1982, and made me want to go up and hassle the DJ to play the 12″ of ‘The American’. While it replicates the muddy bass of an 80’s disco, from a strictly audiophile viewpoint, the bass and drums on this DVD-Audio should really be much more solidly defined than they are here, and it would have made all the difference to this remix. For an album that relies on a strong rhythmic backbone, this weakness in the 5.1 mix is nothing less than criminal.
One other point to make is that evaluating an album in DVD-Audio is highly subjective and reliant on the particular strengths or weaknesses of individual audio setups. Personally, I got more accustomed to the 5.1 mix after a number of listens and found that my opinion on the mixing changed slightly depending on different external conditions. Things like the time of day and the room temperature also have a significant affect on the overall tone.
Lyrics are included for all songs except the instrumental Somebody Up There Likes You and the extra track In Every Heaven. Considering Kerr’s often mumbled delivery and obscure imagery, it is surprising that my understanding of the lyrics is pretty close with only some minor differences – what I always thought was “Eyes golden in great wondering” in Promised You A Miracle is actually “As golden days break wondering”. I think I prefer my own interpretation, although neither makes any great sense and working out your own meanings is part of the fun here. A Discography presents cover images for other Simple Minds albums, without tracklistings. Videos are included for Promised You A Miracle and Glittering Prize, in 4:3, NTSC format with both DTS 5.1 and PCM Stereo mixes. The video quality is very good indeed. There is some slight shimmering of aliasing artefacts, but otherwise they are clear, spotless and colourful. Links are provided to relevant web-sites.
New Gold Dream isn’t a perfect album, at least not in terms of it being made up 100% of 9 perfect songs – some tend to drag and show less sparkle or imagination – but as whole this is a magnificent album, one of the defining albums of the whole 1980’s music scene, wonderfully coherent, influential and, most importantly, standing the test of time better than any other album from this period. This is one of the best albums ever recorded and, although for the most part the 5.1 mix is woefully inadequate, New Gold Dream still sounds as brilliant and timelessly fashionable as it did back in 1982.
ALIVE & KICKING
In love with Bowie, Roxy Music and Neu! Simple Minds turned their own chilly soundscapes into a run of chart-busting singles and albums, capturing all the pomp and bombast of the 80’s along the way.
John Aizlewood – ‘Q Magazine Special ‘The Story Of Electro-Pop’ January 2005 (UK)
It wasn’t quite the beginning, but the first minute of the first track of the first album is a good place to start. In Simple Minds’ case, it’s Someone. As if caught mid-chorus, Charlie Burchill’s watertight guitar swirl gave way to Mick MacNeil’s keyboards, which set up teenage singer Jim Kerr to smash home the first verse, which begins, mysteriously, “Ruby says she does not dream”. Before 60 seconds have passed there is time for a chorus which begins, as all choruses should, “Whopopopopopoppop…” Fabulous. It wasn’t quite the ’80s, but Simple Minds were already ajead of their time.
Glasgow had lost its musical way in the late ’70s. With the exception of The Skids, punk had largely passed Scotland by. When Johnny & The Self Abusers appeared in 1977, they may have been cartoon punks with a cartoon singer in Jim Kerr, who wore sunglasses in the dark, but because they emerged into a vacuum they were not quite as other bands. Although Kerr and his childhood pal Burchill had fallen in love with David Bowie and Roxy Music, their punk heroes were Patti Smith and The Velvet Underground.
Following a demo tape that reportedly sounded a “bit like The Sweet”, Johnny & The Self Abusers fluked themselves a deal with Roger Armstrong’s Chiswick label. On the day Saints & Sinners, their first and last single (recently exhumed as a Simple Minds encore) was released, they spilt. Kerr, Burchill, drummer Brian McGee and bassist Tony Donald demanded a new name. “Johnny & The Self Abusers sounded like Big Dick & The Four Skins to me,” said Kerr, not unreasonably.
The re-branding was inspired by Bowie’s “so simple minded” phrase in The Jean genie, their horror of a band name starting with “The” and Iggy Pop’s The Idiot. Simple Minds it was, then shortly before Christman 1977, Simple Minds advertised for a keyboard player. Instead, just in time for their first gig supporting Steel Pulse in Glasgow, they decided to recruit another guitarist, Duncan Barnwell.
Finally, in March, the keyboardist arrived. Mick MacNeil had once appeared on Junior Showtime in a kilt. Now, with Donald replaced with Derek Forbes, the new electro direction could assert itself. In October, journalist Ian Cranna reviewed Simple Minds for NME for their first national review. “You know that band everybody’s been waiting for?” he gushed, “Well here they are. It’s hard to recall the last time I witnessed such an exciting yet thoughful new talent.” Perceptively, Cranna highlighted the pivotal relationship between Kerr and Burchill. Clearly the singer who sand to cure his stutter and the rather awkward guitarist/violinist were in it for the long haul. A month later, Barnwell had been sacked and Simple Minds had a deal. As 1978 became 1979, their debut album was beginning to take shape. Sort of.
Their label, Zoom/Arista, vetoed the band’s first production choice John Cale. Instead they were mated with Magazine’s producer John Leckie, taken out of their natural Glasgow habitat and dumped in Amersham and then Abbey Road. Released on 15 April 1979, Life In A Day was compared to Roxy Music, Magazine and Cockney rebel. Leckie had smoothed out some of the rawer edges, while MacNeil had become musically dominant. The introduction to Someone was – in more ways than one – only the beginning. Sleek, stylish, enigmatic and packed with strident melodies, at one glorious sitting Simple Minds became contenders. To everyone’s astonishment, the album reached Number 30 but, not for the last time, Simple Minds disowned their output, declaring it too obvious a homage to their influences.
Around this time Kerr began listening to Dusseldorf duo Neu! who had left Kraftwerk in 1971. Minimal, harshly rhythmic but quietly melodic. Neu! were Krautrock in excelsis. Inspired, Kerr and Burchill embarked on a frenzied burst of writing. Before the year was out, a second leckie-produced (the band had fancied Gary Numan) album would be out too. Real To Real Cacophony was a curve-ball. Where the debut shone brightly, this scurried away in the darkness. The Neu! influence underpinned the whole project, but the album went far beyond plagiarism. Tellingly, they refused to let Zoom/Arista hear the work in progress. Veldt and Scar were bug-eyed slabs of paranoia, but Film Theme and Changeling pointed the way forward, while Factory (“Elevators just don’t crash/The answer lies within/Elevators! Elevators!”) was their first truly great song.
Real To Real Cacophony was, noted a label executive, “the most uncommercial album Arista has ever released”. It didn’t chart, but Simple Minds had become a fully fledged electronic band. Better still, their musical adventurism had attracted the attention of Kerr’s hero, Peter Gabriel, who paid for them to support him on tour. If there was nothing Arista could have done for Real To Real Cacophony, they ruined Empires And Dance, effectively a Kerr tour diary. “I was 20, and I looked around me. We had the talent always to be in the place where the neo-Nazis exploded another bomb. Bolonga, a synagogue in Paris, a railway station in Munich. Don’t tell me anything like that could leave you unmoved.” First, Arista failed to ensure that the gloriously commerical I Travel – Kerr’s belated realisation of the genius of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love – was a hit. Then, as Empires & Dance began to sell, they failed to press sufficient copies and momentum fatally stalled.
Defiant, they left Arista and signed to Virgin, who introduced them to Steve Hillage, an ex-hippy working as an informal in-house Virgin producer. he understood Simple Minds and was prepared to work as hard as they were to release two new albums (Sons & Fascination and Sisters feeling Call) in one package in September 1981. The 15 tracks are among the zenith of Simple Minds’ electro period: cold yet luscious, unemotional yet curiously moving. The collection reached Number 11, but Sweat In Bullet, Love Song and The American could not give them the single they so desperately needed.
Three drummers were used on their next album, New Gold Dream (81,82,83,84) including the formidable Mel Gaynor, who had previously played with The Nolan Sisters. Although still electronic-based, the new songs luxuriated in warm, opulent textures that broke fresh ground for the band. “There’s a richness to us, a hugeness,” proclaimed Kerr. “Euphoria probably isn’t the right word, but what am I going to call it? Grace? Majesty? Momentum?” New Gold Dream (81,82,83,84) delivered two Top 20 singles, the UK album charts and a hint of the US. “Every band has a holy grail,” explained Kerr, “and I suppose that album was ours. The people who liked that record connected with it in a special way.” Some said Simple Minds had compromised. “It’s knowing when and how to compromise,” explained Kerr. “I love winners, I love success.”
Having tapped into the commerical mainline, they made Gaynor a permanent member and employed producer Steve Lillywhite, on Bono’s recommendation, for 1984’s Sparkle In The Rain, the first of their five British Number 1 albums. Two years later they achieved their commercial peak with Once Upon A Time, their only US Top 10 album and home to three UK Top 10 singles: Alive & Kicking, Sanctify Yourself and All The Things She Said. Their American great leap foward was spawned by a rare cover version, Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff’s Don’t You (Forget About Me). Taken from the film The Breakfast Club, it reached Number 1. Churlishly, Kerr disowned it and it never appeared on a Simple Minds album. “As soon as it started to sell and people got immense enjoyment from it I didn’t want to say, This is a piece of crap and we could do it with our eyes closed…” but he couldn’t help himself. Simple Minds’ faustian penance is to be forever doomed to play it.
Aided by some magnetic stadium shows, not least at the US Live Aid, these albums helped define a decade: bold, brash, heroic, but often sensitive. Although the link to the past was tenuous, it was never quite sundered and at their best Simple Minds created lusious, widescreen musical pictures, fuzzy at the edges, sweeping of sound and intent, all underlaid with genuine mystery. Their fame was almost perfect: all the cash and none of the hassle. “I was never interested in world domination,” said Kerr, “I’d rather leave that to people like Hitler. But there’s probably not a country in the world that hasn’t heard our music, yet we can walk down any street unnoticed.”
Even so, after Once Upon A Time, the decline was rapid. Its successor, 1989’s Street Fighting Years, topped the UK charts but peaked at 70 in the US. They parted company with MacNeil, Forbes and longterm manager Bruce Finlay, while Kerr swapped one showbusiness bride (Chrissie Hynde) for another (Patsy Kensit). “I have,” he said, “come out of both relationships with no axe to grind whatsoever.” Musically, too, they began to flail. Kerr marooned jimself in heartfelt but clumsy anti-apartheid politicking. Disastrously, he pretended to be Irish on a career-killing version of Belfast Child. Like sharks who die if they stop swimming the exhausted Simple Minds stood still and lost touch. By 2001, they were winnowed to Kerr and Burchill,
without a major deal and reduced to Neon Lights, a covers album. These days, Kerr prefers to spend his time constructing a hotel in Taormina, Sicily. Nobody used to cite Simple Minds in despatches, but the change began in 2001 when Raven Maize sampled Theme For Great Cities on their hit The Real Life. This year’s 5CD Silver Box – everything previously unreleased – also marks something of a rehabilitation. “We can honestly claim to be one of the great bands,” claimed Kerr. “It’s like with cars. You have new, old and classic. We’re somewhere towards classic.”
EW GOLD DREAM (81,82,83,84)
‘The album was shot through with sky-gazing ambition’
John Aizlewood – ‘Q Magazine Special ‘The Story Of Electro-Pop’ Edition Essential Albums’ January 2005 (UK)
Few bands slogged their way through the late ’70s with such Stakhanovite zeal as Simple Minds. An album on Virgin had followed three on Zoom/Arista. Yet all they had to show for it were some glowing reviews and an intimate knowledge of every two-bob venue in Europe. That Virgin debut, Sons And Fascination, did reach Number 11, but arguably only because it included a free second album, Sister Feelings Call.
Underterred, Simple Minds went, as the title of their breakthrough suggested, for gold. Although shot through with sky-gazing ambition, Kerr’s dreamy quest lacked the brutal certainty of That cherism. He told Smash Hits: “I’m not sure what I’m searching for, Is it a theory? Is it a person? Is it a God? Is it a pair of shoes?
Out went the tundra landscapes so influenced by Neu! and Magazine, replaced by a warmer, more expansive and intelligent sound. in 1982 Kerr described it as “ambient dance music” and was delighted when one writer spotted rhythmic similarities with the work of American avant-garde composer Philip Glass, a favourite of the band. Before the album was released, the uplifting Promised You A Miracle had given Simple Minds their first Top 20 single. The album peaked at Number 3 in late 1982. It was also greeted by some of the best reviews of their career, with NME’s Paul Morley describing New Gold Dream as “majestic and triumphant”.
Someone Somewhere In Summertime opened proceedings in magisterial fashion. Charlie Burchill’s Edge-like guitar descended across Mick McNeils textured keyboards, creating a ravishing sense of wonder. The title track is even more epic, a sweeping ride born from Kerr’s almost spiritual optimism. Back in 1982 Kerr explained, “There’s a line in the Werner Herzog film, Fitzcarraldo: Only dreamers can move mountains. I thought that was great. Dreamers have got a bad reputation, people say, He’s a dreamer, he’ll never do anything. You actually need courage to dream.” Big Sleep merged desolation with ethereal synthetics, the shimmering Hunter And The Hunted featured improvisation from jazz giant Herbie Hancock, Kerr’s naive, romantic vision illuminates Colours Fly & Catherine Wheel, and the delicate anthem Glittering Prize gave Simple Minds their second Top 20 hit.
Although Someone Somewhere In Summertime failed to breach the Top 30, New Gold Dream (81,82,83,84) stayed on the UK charts for a year. Finally the album reached 69 in the US. Soon, America would be Simple Minds’ for the taking – even if 1984’s more conventional Sparkle In The Rain and it’s massive follow-up, Once Upon A Time, would alienate some of their original fanbase.
Mark Allen meets a mind whose time has come
Mark Ellen – ‘Smash Hits’ April 29th – May 12th 1982 (UK)
Among the residents of a plush hotel in London’s Lancaster gate is a frail, slightly-built Glaswegian with a shock of black hair dangling over his eyes. He’s dressed in a sombre grey sweater and enormously baggy light grey trousers tapering to a pair of immaculate laced brogue shoes. Somehow, he doesn’t quite fit in. In fact, Jim Kerr gives the distinct impression that he’s never really fitted in anywhere. What immediately strikes me, as we settle down to a tray of hotel tea, is that he looks alarmingly old for his twenty-two years. He could possibly pass for thirty two. The furrows in his brow are so pronounced, I tell him, you’d think he must have spent his entire youth frowning.
“I probably did, come to think of it,” he says, quite matter-of-fact. “Glasgow being the sort of place where being a hairdresser was about the only form of self-expression, I used to think: ‘I’m not destined for this…. for the Cortina and The Attractive Girlfriend’. If people asked you what you did and you said: ‘I write words’, they’d say ‘Are you queer? Are you weird?'” Then he embarks on a colourful tale about his early teens, which implies that a lot of these comments he rather brought upon himself.
“I was always trying to draw attention, much like Japan do now. Going to concerts dressed up in the whole Glam thing – this was before Bowie was really big – y’know, big boots, mascara, painted nails. The next day I’d be working on my building site to try and get enough money to go hitch-hiking round Europe and i’d notice I’d still got a trace of this nail varnish on. And I’d be terrified these giants, these bears, that I worked with would discover it!
“Other than that,” he adds, “I was perfectly normal.” These days, Jim says, he feels no great desire to dress up off stage. He bumped into Mick Karn a while back, down at Virgin Records, and couldn’t believe the state of him. “He had all the gear on!” Lessons, however, have clearly been learnt from sharing a record label with bands such as Japan and the Human League. Much like Simple Minds themselves, both spent a good three years in the twilight of near-total obscurity before – almost overnight, it seemed – leapfrogging right into the charts. And now Jim Kerr’s boys seem firmly set on the same course. It’s no surprise to find that their overall attitude – as with the other two – has been in for a servicing. And it’s paying dividends.
Personally, I’ve never much cared for Jim’s compositions up until now. They seem a gloomy, almost dirge-like, and mostly lacking in force and direction. But the new single “Promised You A Miracle” – the band’s biggest seller to date – is something altogether different. Something of a classic, in fact. As Jim so succinctly puts it: “I was listening to the radio at the end of last year and just thought: ‘We’re never on the bloody thing!’ We put all this energy and enthusiasm into the band. Surely the more people who hear it, the better.”
The quintet immediately set to work to create a more durable sound – “something that hits you but wasn’t as jarring as our old ones”. It’s interesting, incidentally, that Jim’s an ardent admirer of the “draughtsmanlike” approach of Martin Fry. As he so rightly says: “ABC sound great whether you hear them on the biggest disco or the tinniest speaker. They draw your attention.
“I was half-way through writing the song,” he recalls, “when I thought: ‘this isn’t us’. Then I thought: ‘hang on a second, what isn’t us?’ What a terrible state to have got into if Simple Minds are all tied up in a box and finished.” The single sounds a lot more optimistic, I suggest. “Well, exactly. We are what we take in. I don’t get up at eight in the morning and play Joy Division. I play Diana Ross or something. I thought: ‘From now on we do absolutely anything we feel, at any risk, and if we lose friends well that’s too bad. We can make new ones’.”
The other crucial point about the song is that you can actually understand the words (well almost). They’re obviously about, as Jim says, “a He/She affair”. I never had a clue what he was on about in the past. “Me too,” he smiles. “Sometimes I think: ‘Yeah, that’s me and the things I see. The turmoils, the struggles, the hopes or the failures.’ Other times I think: ‘That’s not me at all. I wouldn’t expose myself like that. I’m too shy.’
“I don’t attach too much importance to the words. If they sound attractive and make a coherent picture, then great.” Part of the new Simple Minds policy is the result of their having come to terms with the whole process involved in getting singles into the charts. Jim happily admits that the band spent their first two-and-a-half years living from gig to gig, from LP to LP, occasionally releasing the odd album track as a 45 “because it might have a bit of a chance.”
Matters were hardly helped by the appallingly inept way the band were handled at their last port of call, Arista Records. The label’s bosses – experts all – saw one Simple Minds concert and hit upon the preposterous plan of splitting the band up for a year and packing Jim off for some mime lessons with the legendary Lindsey Kemp. “He did it for David (Bowie), he did it for Kate (Bush), he can do it for you,” was their reasoning. Things got worse, apparently, when Arista generously allowed the band a budget of £30,000 to record their “Empires And Dance” LP and then initially only pressed up 5,000 copies to put in the shops.
“It was ridiculous,” Jim says. “We’ve got a cult following of 30 or 40 thousand that buy all our records. Anyway I’ve probably got about 8,000 friends! “We feel confident about doing things for Virgin – like colour photo sessions – because we now recognise the need for them. “It’s the same with letters from fans. I see the need for that too. No matter who they’re from – young or old – they all want a piece of your heart ultimately. Before, it all seemed like a throwback from the past, like the girls running after The Beatles. And you thought: ‘Why?’ ‘Cos you never saw what happened when they met. It was just like band looks pretty and girls scream after them and buy their records.
“Now, I’d rather much rather have an attractive girl sitting listening to our music, tapping her feet, than get on the front page of a music paper.” Quite some change of attitude, you’ll agree. The person behind it all, though, says he’s little different. Asked if he feels he fits in any better nowadays, Jim shakes his head slowly. No, he says, maybe because he still gets too nervous about things. He hates going to the cinema because of all the crowds and noise. For much the same reason, he says, he’d rather take an eight mile walk than go on a bus.
And he never knows what to say to people who happen to recognise him in the streets. “It’s strange the way they gate-crash into your life for two minutes and then disappear,” he says. “Somebody told me today that once you’ve done Top Of The Pops there’s no peace.” He sighs in a resigned sort of way. “It’ll have to be the raincoat, hat, sunglasses and false beard, I’m afraid….”
NEW GOLD DREAM (81,82,83,84)
CMJ New Music (US)
It’s wonderful to see this Scottish quintet signed to a major American label! Favorites on the alternative charts since 1979, Simple Minds’ A & M debut maintains the band’s danceable beat and lyrical prowess. Like Echo & The Bunnymen, the Cure and Teardrop Explodes, Simple Minds present a rather dam, threatening and sinister sound without ever really sounding dark, threatening or sinister. In fact, their sound is somewhat light; it features an hypnotic rhythm which entrances the listener. Top cuts: “Promised You A Miracle” (the single), “Glittering Prize” and the title track.
NEW GOLD DREAM (81,82,83,84)
Mac Kenzie Wilson – All Music Guide (US)
One of Scotland’s finest imports, Simple Minds deliver a strong synth-reared release on New Gold Dream. This album harks the darker side of the band’s musicianship, and such material alludes to their forthcoming pop-stadium sound which hurled them into rock main stream during the latter part of the ’80s. They were still honing their artistic rowdiness, and Kerr’s pursuing vocals were still hiding. But Simple Minds’ skill of tapping into internal emotion is profound on songs such as “Someone, Somewhere in Summertime” and the album’s title track. But the dance-oriented tracks like “Promised You a Miracle” and “Glittering Prize” are lushly layered in deep electronic beats – it was only a matter of time for Simple Minds to expound upon such musical creativity which made them a household favorite through the 1980s.
THE PRIZE GUY
Mark Cooper – ‘Record Mirror’ 4th September 1982 (UK)
Jim Kerr is sitting in the bay window of a hotel in Portobello, his head surrounded by a halo of sunlight. Jim is smiling and the two frown lines on his forehead have all but vanished. He is enjoying a change of heart. “When I saw U2 on television recently,” says Jim, leaning forward, “I saw the same look in thier eyes when they were playing as I’ve seen in ours in our live videos. We both look transfixed and yet transported, as if we’d seen a vision. All the recent pictures I’ve seen of myself, I’m standing with my arms open where I always used to be fists clenched, arms crossed, holding myself in.”
Suddenly, Simple Minds have relaxed. Of course they’ve worked hard this year, travelling round the globe, promoting ‘Sons And Fascination’,’ celebrating their first English hit, ‘Promised You A Miracle.’ Yet it’s not exhaustion that shows on Jim Kerr’s face but enthusiasm. The old caginess has gone and in it’s place stands a more human, heartful Simple Minds. The evidence is there, shimmering throughout the joyful current single ‘Glittering Prize,’ and shining throughout the varied moods of the imminent album, ‘New Gold Dream – 81, 82, 83, 84.’
What on earth has happened? Where are the intimidating Euro-boys of old? Have the Human League taught Simple Minds to ‘open their hearts’ or are these mentions of U2 and the crosses on the new album’s cover indications of another rock ‘n’ roll conversion? Readers, I think we should be told. Jim, about the crosses…. “Firstly, I simply like the image, it pleases me. I used to wear a Communist hammer and sickle but not because I’m a communist or anything like that – I simply like the shape. In the past, Simple Minds have always been associated with the darker side of things. I think we encouraged the associated because it made us seem profound. But there’s always been other sides to our personalities and we haven’t allowed them to come out.”
Up to now, Simple Minds’ music has tended to explore a single mood with a relentless brilliance that verged on bullying. They stunned and impressed but they rarely moved me. Suddenly, in ‘New Gold Dream,’ they’ve conquered their fear of feeling and come our shining. “Last year was pretty successful for us,” says Jim. “We played all over the world and sold a lot of albums but we were being ignored by the radio. If you listened to our albums all the way through, they were all on one level, all the songs with the same intensity. When you heard us on the radio, on John Peel or someone, for some reason, we’d sound jarring…
During the course of this year, Simple Minds made some basic decisions. They wanted to be heard on the radio – they wanted to make records that could touch a variety of human emotions and, lastly, they didn’t want to repeat themselves. “Sons And Fascination’ was the end of an era for us. We’d pursued those images and atmospheres as far as they would go. If we’d have gone on, we’d have been repeating ourselves.”
Determined not to do that, Jim and the band, took a long hard look at themselves and decided to come out into the open. “The funny thing,” muses Jim, “is that when you’re prepared to show your weakness or your emotion and no longer hide behind a strength that you don’t really possess, people believe that you’re strong! People are intimidated by you because you’ve had the strength to show your emotion instead of hiding behind a ‘strong’ front.”
Simple Minds’ bombastic dance music had taken them to a pretty pass, as Jim realised when they were recording ‘Miracle’: “We got about half-way through and I said, ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t Simple Minds! Where’s the crashing drums and the groaning bass?’ Then I realised what I’d said and wondered, ‘is this what we’ve become? Who said Simple Minds had to have one sound?'” Once ‘Miracle’ was a hit, the predictable cries of sell-out were immediately to be heard: “‘Miracle’ was a spring record, the first sign of a new hopeful mood. Once we were in the charts, we had letters from fans who said’ ‘You’re not going to change, are you, and become stars? You’re ours and you won’t be ours anymore if a lot of people like you… And I realised that those people had never understood me, never been close to me, and they wanted us to go on being the same.”
If new pop has resulted in the triumph of a large amount of cynical and defensive music (ABC spring immediately to mind), it has also caused a number of unfocused energies to direct themselves and find their feet. Simple Minds havn’t sold out, they’ve simply found their stride. I mention to Jim that it was a pleasure to see himself and the Bunneymen stepping out of the underground and into the charts. Jim tells a story that is indicative of the state into which British ‘progressives’ had got themselves. “One time Charlie and I were in this bar in New York and the only two other people in the place were two of the Bunneymen. We’d always liked their music and we were going to go up and talk to them….In the end we said, ‘No, you klnow what they’re like, we’ll only make prats of ourselves…”
“Then we went to see them when we were both in Sydney; one of their friends came over and invited us backstage. We didn’t want to go – I hate all that backstage stuff – but she insisted and it was great, we did have a lot in common. They said, ‘We were going to come up and talk to you in New York but we chickened out, we just said to ourselves, ‘You know what they’re like!'” If the old Simple Minds made metal music, the new soul of the group lies in human emotion. With this in view, the Minds were delighted to hear that Stevie Wonder had been seen in LA, playing ‘Miracle’ maybe 10 times over, lifting up the needle and putting it on again. There’s confirmation from the master!
The Minds have discovered their hearts and, with producer Peter Walsh, a new simplicity. They’re beginning to be able to leave out a few ideas, instead of throwing them all in to show they’ve got brains. Their chart success comes from confidence, not calculation: “All it’s taken is just five minutes more care,” says Jim. “It’s not that we’ve chosen to work with some trendy producer like Trevor Horn who’s turned us into pop. We’d rather be at number 13 for six years than at number one for six months. I hate pap, I hate Dollar and I always have.”
Far from making pap, Simple Minds’ new album shows signs of maturity – a hopeful confidence in emotion and a fidelity to the drama of their material that makes the heart swell. Back to that cross…. “There’s always been a side of Simple Minds that’s been concerned with faith and hope and joy. I’m not talking about specifically Christian notions, as U2 might but I think the best music does uplift and give a sense of joy. Like them, we have an interest in giving, not getting.”
Jik Kerr, like SImple Minds’ music, has a fascination with appearances – the look of a cross, the shape of a hammer and sickle, the feel of a European city – and a love of what lies beneath. It is Simple Minds’ new golden dream to bring these together and grab the glittering prize itself, to make the music that moves: “In the last few years, we’ve got to the stage where you’ve got intelligent people who’ve got it all covered. They’ve got good style, strong atmospheres, interesting images but no real songs or melodies. We want to write songs that interest, that capture atmosphere and which have the real stone, the diamond beneath.”
NEW GOLD DREAM (81,82,83,84)
So often in music, artists produce their most thoughtful and mature work in their later years. But equally so artists can produce their best material in their fledgling careers and then seek to over-egg the pudding later. Simple Minds definitely fall into the latter category. 1982’s ‘New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)’ is often considered to be their masterpiece; more tuneful than their earlier work but also subdued enough to please the faithful. Heralded by a trio of top quality singles, ‘Someone Somewhere In Summertime’, ‘Glittering Prize’ and ‘Promised You A Miracle’ were amongst the best of the ’80s, Charlie Burchill’s guitar parts were memorable without being bombastic and the keyboards promised hopeful escapism.
The remainder of the album is not quite up to this standard but is at least atmospheric; ‘Big Sleep’ even finds success in mixing cheap keyboard motifs with slap bass. Their later career – which lest we forget is still a going concern – witnessed them trying to emulate U2 when really they were much better at being The Comsat Angels on this evidence.
NEW GOLD DREAM (81,82,83,84)
80s rock musics Holy Grail – this is as good as gets. You might be tempted to laugh at some of the song titles on this record – “Colours Fly and Catherine Wheel”; “The King Is White And In The Crowd”; “Somebody Up There Likes You”. Ive heard these being described as nonsensical, but until the recording “Space Face” (on their 2002 album “Cry”), nobody – not even the Minds themselves – were able to recreate any measured ballads like “King Is White” and “Colours Fly”, totally in a class of their own.
“Somebody Up There Likes You” is a haunting instrumental which amazingly has failed to make it onto any of the recent endless barrage of Chillout compilations that have appeared over the last 2-3 years. Shocking, because “Somebody Up There…” is probably the best chillout track ever recorded. There was the faultless “Promised You A Miracle”, of course (no detail needed), and of course the emotive “Glittering Prize” (which, incidentally, boasts an ingenious video featuring computerized gold plated graphics). You need a new word to describe this record – it really IS that good!!!
NEW GOLD DREAM (81,82,83,84)
‘Glasgow Kisses – Classic Albums Re-Visited’
David Stubbs – ‘Uncut’ Magazine May 2002 (UK)
Nineteen-eighty-two, the year of Simple Minds’ sixth and best album, was one of the greatest in music history. There was a thriving Club Culture, fed by the subversive narcissism of the new romantics, and across the water an explosion of synth-funk innovation, from Larry Levan’s The Peech Boys to Afrika Bambaataa, all of which fed the sensibilities of popists introverts New Order and Scritti Politti. The year also saw ABC’s The Lexicon Of Love, The Associates’ Sulk and, the third in that great trilogy of impossibly romantic, untoppable new-pop albums, Simple Minds’ New Gold Dream (81,82,83,84).
From theire raucous beginnings as Johnny And The Self Absuers, Simple Minds had been liked to refinement and a sense of the epic by a love of groups like Chic, but also by Eno, Roxy Music, Neu! and La Dusseldorf. They swiftly rejected the glum and parochial chrysalis of punk in order to find a sound that straddled the biggest and best of America and Europe: cinematic, transcendental, the stuff of distant dreams rather than gloomy quotidian realities – and if that sounds ‘apolitical’, remember this is the sort of ‘politics’ pop is very often, most effective at.
With Empires And Dance (1980), featuring ‘I Travel’, it was clear that Simple Minds had listened to the right German groups, watched the right European movies, read the right texts as they inter-railed across the continents. As brilliant a musical transcription of their experiences as it is – check the slide projection effects of ’30 Frames A Second’ – you can make out the joins of their influences.
With the follow-up albums, 1981’s simultaneously released Sons and Fascination and Sister Feelings Call, Simple Minds broke another punk taboo. Not only did Jim Kerr talk in interviews of his love of Genesis (circa The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway) but they hired Steve Hillage, the ultimate prog hippie, as producer. For those more interested in the credible than the incredible, this was heresy. Kerr’s pomp baritone, meanwhile, bristled with vaulting, epic ambition. But so it might with tracks like ‘The American’, ‘Theme For Great Cities’ and ‘Seeing Out The Angels’, Simple Minds were on the point of achieving a unique synthesis of pop, prog, punk, funk and avant-garde.
Come New Gold Dream and Simple Minds enjoyed critical worship and every prospect of a vast, dawning fan base. If they wanted to take over the world, there were plenty willing to hold Kerr’s coat: “Anything is possible…” Indeed. For the cover art, the Minds eschewed the oblique modernist tendencies of previous sleeves for a typeface and aura suggestive of some rekindled mediaeval mysticism. Had the contents been less than brilliant, more impertinent attention might have been paid to this conceit.
As it was, New Gold Dream glistened like a grail from it’s opening chimes. On ‘Someone Somewhere In Summertime’, Michael MacNeil’s keyboards are reminiscent of Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ (according to a mischievous Paul Morley, the best new music was “post-Abba rather than post-punk”) as Kerr hints at a shimmering and elusive fictional or authentically imagined state of environmental ecstasy: “Moments burn, slow burning golden nights, once more see city lights…”. ‘Colous Fly And Catherine Wheel’ equally twists and flickers and falters – grammar and sequence collapse to great effect. “Great times attack inexpensive thrills… catch a boy fell falling in love fell falling..” In conjuction with the intricate interplay between MacNeil’s keyboards and guitarist Charlie Burchill, there’s a perfect, dazzling sense about these non sequitars.
‘Promised You A Miracle’, which became the band’s first hit single, makes what has come before it seems like small fireworks. “Promises, promises as golden days break wondering.” What’s so great about this track, and indeed ‘Big Sleep’, isn’t just it’s combination of stinging riff with delicate mosaic musical colouring, but it’s subtle rhythmical patterns, which are a feature of the whole album. There’s no programming on New Gold Dream (though credit must surely go to producer, arranger and engineer Peter Walsh). Instead, three drummers were used, Mike Ogletree, Mel Gaynor and on ‘Promised You A Miracle’, former Skids drummer Kenny Hislop. Interwoven with Derek Forbes busy, funkified bass, the rhythms never tumble to 4/4 earth, seeming to dance and shape-shift in mid-air, like the aurora borealis.
Following ‘Somebody Up There Likes You’, a golden, dawn-breaking instrumental follow-up to ‘Theme For Great Cities’, which was generally the opener for gigs around this time, comes the title track, in which all of the pent-up energy of the album is finally unleashed with full-on locomotive optimism, a sort of celestial bullet train. “Crashing beats and fantasy, setting sun in front of me” – it’s as close to anthemic as the album gets, a chant for the New Pop Class of 1982 who didn’t know that Howard Jones and Nik Kershaw, were around the next corner.
‘Glittering Prize’ teeters gracefully, a stately but snowblinding display of the jumbled motifs on New Gold Dream – clear skies, dreams, romantic moments that are both perfect but transient and uncertain. It’s these last qualities that distinguish Simple Minds from U2, whose open-air, sanguine tendencies, while bracing, lack intricacy or nuance.
With ‘Hunter And The Hunted’, the album begins to draw to a close and cast long shadows. “Kyoto in the snow but heaven’s far away,” sighs Kerr, who even alludes to “the side effects of cruising at the speed of light, the side effects of living in temptation,” as if aware of the impending mortality of the moment captured on the album. Yet in the autumn of it’s 40-odd-minute life, it seems more beautiful than it’s springtime promise, as encapsulated in guest player Herbie Hancock’s magnificent, meandering solo – kudos to the lateral thinker who got him on board.
Finally, there’s the oblique and inconclusive ‘King Is White And In The Crowd’, with it’s surreal mix of Simple Minds’ influences, from Eno to Abba to Krautrock, and the sense that the much-vaunted concept of perfect pop is both fleeting and fragile – or ‘powerful and transient’. MacNeil’s decaying synth tones, the measured rhythmical pace and Burchill’s fire fly guitars all amount to a dignified fade-out into the dying light, leaving questions and ambiguities still hanging in the dark, electric air.
After New Gold Dream, Simple Minds gigged incessantly and became addicted to stadium crowds. The Steve Lillywhite produced Sparkle In The Rain (1983) had it’s moments, but after 1985’s ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’, a song not written by them but for the film the Breakfast Club (it had already been rejected by Bryan Ferry), the Minds’ golden sound lapsed into turgid, leaden parody. The political consciousness of ‘Belfast Child’ (1989) and Amnesty International campaigning did them more credit but seemed to lend a pious starch to their sound.
In a sense, though, the decline that followed New Gold Dream was the point. New Pop was only ever a glimpse, not a sustainable proposition – a break in the clouds, a shaft of sun. The moment may have passed but, 20 years on, New Gold Dream sounds as pristine and out of time as when it was first released.