I remember listening to this album in my bedroom as a 14-year old kid in 1989. It was the first Simple Minds album that really hooked me – quite a departure from the likes of the ‘Once Upon a Time’ and ‘Sparkle in the Rain’ releases which had catapulted the band into the rock arena stratosphere in the mid-80s. ‘Street Fighting Years’ is much more reflective, politically energised and layered than its predecessors.
Lead singer Jim Kerr remembered the album: “Every song seemed to be about conflict, and it describes this age of chaos, the battle to try and remain intact with all this hurricane around us.”
Street Fighting Years was the band’s fourth number one album in the UK and featured their first UK number-one single, ‘Belfast Child.’ It was recorded in Scotland with an original release date of May ‘89. That’s approaching 31 years if you do the maths. So, why the 2020 issue, missing the 30-year anniversary? Not entirely sure. In any case, it is simply a great album and has stood the test of time very well, albeit re-mastered at Abbey Road studios in London.
The songs really bring out the full range of Charlie Burchill’s accomplished guitar-playing on the likes of ‘Take a Step Back’ and ‘Kick It In’, even though lyrically, the tracks themselves are some of the weaker cuts on the album. ‘Soul Crying Out’ evokes injustice – “…And you pay, still, you pay..”, whereas ‘Let It All Come Down’ speaks of hope amongst the ruins – “…When day breaks, there’s a light that shines through…”
When I first listened to the album all those years ago, aside from the legendary ‘Belfast Child’, I was unaware of the political gravity of the likes of ‘Biko’. The album led me to seek out the story behind the music of the South African anti-apartheid activist. I was curious back then and can fully appreciate now the conviction of the band to bring awareness of some of these political issues, characters & their struggles to a wider audience. Amazingly, ‘Mandela Day’ was written and recorded in less than a day, making it’s live debut during the Nelson Mandela 70th birthday tribute at Wembley Stadium, in June 1988.
The majority of the tracks could be considered full-blown epics with running lengths of over five minutes. None more so than the opening title track, ‘Street Fighting Years.’ It has an orchestral and grandiose feel to it with Burchill’s slide guitar solos adding to the wall of noise. The album features some impressive artists in support such as Peter Gabriel, Stewart Copeland. Lisa Germano and a Simple Minds hero, Lou Reed on the uplifting and defiant ‘This Is Your Land.’
The second CD of the set which features a selection of b-sides and remixes could easily have been left aside with nothing particularly new or memorable here for Simple Minds fans. There is an ‘unauthorised’ version of ‘Kick it In’, which is at best forgettable, and clear as to why it was never fully seen the light of day until now. Absurdly, three out of the final five tracks on CD 2 are different versions of Prince’s ‘Sign O’ The Times’ (originally featured on Simple Minds ‘The Amsterdam’ EP). I feel it’s one of those songs that should have been just left alone, but sadly we are exposed to not one but three versions on this particular release.
I was personally delighted to see the Verona 1989 concert make its way onto an official audio release across CDs three and four in this box-set. The VHS cassette was a well-worn item in my music collection. Although, according to the official set-list from that evening in Italy, a handful of songs from the gig have still been omitted on this latest version. Perhaps, one day there will be a release of the Verona concert in its entirety. This latest pack of ‘Street Fighting Years’ goodies also includes a brand new book that includes an interview with producer Trevor Horn, which should be welcome collectable for ‘Minds’ lovers out there.
Overall, I’m giving this ‘deluxe’ release a modest seven out of ten, purely because of the inclusion and questionable choices on the b-sides & remixes CD. A review of the stand-alone album in isolation would score much higher than that. On the flip-side, the box-set is a great reason to go back and remind ourselves what an excellent album that ‘Street Fighting Years’ was and still is, thirty-plus years after its initial release.