Forty years after their seminal New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) album, Simple Minds are back with their 18th studio LP, Direction of the Heart. Incredibly, the former classic was the culmination of a period that saw them produce five albums in three years since their debut, Life in a Day, in 1979.
Sonically, 'Vision Thing' is one of those songs immediately recognisable as Simple Minds. It motors along with its punchy vamp and guitar lines. You would not believe that this track is a dedication to Jim Kerr's late father, who passed away during the making of the record. It is anthemically bold, full of joy and an uplifting appreciation for a life well-lived - as Kerr sings, "you have the gift, and you show me the path".
This sets the tone for a sound across the album that rarely lets up in positive energy. 'First You Jump' is in the same vein with a piercing guitar riff from Burchill in the middle-eight. It feels like Simple Minds have yet again shifted into another gear.
Following a chance meeting backstage at one of their recent US gigs, Kerr reached out to Russell Mael from Sparks - a band that the guys were inspired by in the early days of post-punk. Mael was delighted to provide some of the vocals on the catchy 'Human Traffic'.
Simple Minds have never been afraid to let their music mirror & amplify their views on a myriad of political and social challenges. 'Who Killed Truth?' feels like a unifying call to action for people to rise up and question the very morality & blasé dishonesty in our so-called leaders that is eroding the very heart of society - "People coming together...stop the illusion...there's a space, there's a place, there's a sound".
As Graeme Thomson vividly illustrates in his 2022 book - Themes for Great Cities, Simple Minds do not get the credit for their creativity and ingenuity on those first five albums. Their intangible brilliance & mystery often get blown away by the volume of the likes of 'Don't you (Forget About Me)' and 'Alive and Kicking'. If there is one criticism I could have of Direction of the Heart, it would be that it is missing something more wistful and reflective. However, I can see that there was a clear route that Charlie and Jim were trying to take after some very uncertain times in the cultural landscape.
'Solstice Kiss', with its quiet, Celtic intro, provides a short glimpse through that mystical lens, a song that bassist Ged Grimes co-wrote. The backing vocals by Sarah Brown come through strongly here as the song explodes in a Once Upon a Time vibe.
'Act of Love', one of the first songs Burchill and Kerr penned together, has finally found its time on this album. It is in the same class as the re-work of 'Love Song' back in the early 1990s. Its lyrics capture the energy and potential of a fledgling band that was to become something truly great - "Nothing to lose, so much to reveal".
Drummer Cherisse Osei has brought a new and refreshing jolt to the group. Her dynamite drumming seems to have ignited the flame once again in Burchill and Kerr, who have always relished the live experience. This explosion of sound opens the brilliant 'Planet Zero', one of the standout tracks on the LP.
A cover version of 'The Walls Came Down' by American band, The Call, is a nice touch to close the album. Kerr sees the late Michael Been as a significant and supporting figure when Simple Minds first broke into the US. The two bands toured together on occasion. This song is a lasting recognition of the humanity and friendship of a fellow musician.
Simple Minds have been like a chameleon from their art-house origins to stadium rock and everything in-between. In founding members, guitarist Charlie Burchill and lead singer Jim Kerr have to be two of the most industrious guys in music, barely stopping for a breather. Direction of the Heart is a full-throttle juggernaut of an album flushed with celebration, stomp and euphoria.
INTERVIEW: Charlie Burchill on new Simple Minds album 'Direction of the Heart' - Listen here.