They say everything old is new again. These days Jim Kerr, Charlie Burchill and the other members of Simple Minds could attest to that truism. Simple Minds is in the midst of a musical renaissance. In October of this year, the band was awarded the Q Inspiration to Music Award, given to the band by none other than the admiring Manic Street Preachers front man James Dean Bradfield. This and other plaudits are returning Simple Minds to the limelight just in time for their latest release Big Music on November 3rd. A much-anticipated disc that begins a fresh chapter in the Simple Minds legacy. This is a welcomed event for a band that many have wrongly consigned to 80’s anthem rock history. Mr Kerr and company justifiably beg to differ with that assessment, and the proof to refute that theory is the stellar Big Music.
Big Music could be characterized as a return to the past with old collaborations and new. This release brings back Steve Hillage who worked on Sons and Fascination, and Sister Feeling Call into the production chair. Also assisting in the collaboration was Iain Cook of the Chvrches fame.
The band has over 30 years under their belt, and there have been many personnel changes, but through it all Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill have endured as has their childhood friendship. Joining them on this release are Mel Gaynor a long-term member and drummer, Andy Gillespie on keyboards, Ged Grimes on bass, and Sarah Brown and Catherine AD on backup vocals and additional keyboards and guitar.
Founded in 1977, Simple Minds harkens to a time when bands still had to play keyboards one at a time onto tape and splice and sequence by hand. What made Simple Minds pioneers at that time was their willingness to experiment with this sequencing and layering of sound. This ability was evident on albums like; Reel to Real Cacophony, Sons and Fascination and Sister Feelings Call, Empires and Dance and even on their more pop like early albums, where this trademark sound was always in the mix. They were at the forefront of this sonic experimentation when the bands they would later influence were still young lads. The winning combination for Simple Minds has been and always will be Jim Kerr’s voice and Charlie Burchill’s elegant guitar play combined with their computer keyboard savvy.
Kerr and Co would be the first to admit they ran out of gas in the 90’s with personal and professional upheaval taking its toll. The band was also a victim of Grunge and Hip Hop’s ascendancy. With neck-snapping speed the band went from stadium headliner to being undeservedly lumped in with other 80’s bands as “also-rans” in the musical popularity sweepstakes. Hardcore fans hung with the band through numerous quality releases that were not substandard by any measurement, but the band had lost momentum and promotional backing from the corporate music business. For fans that forgot about this glorious band, there is much to lure them back on this release. Simple Minds have figured out the conundrum that has stymied them, how to marry their uplifting music to modern listen to public demands, and utilize their storied music making past.
Big Music is Simple Minds answer to that conundrum. The band is bringing together crisp modernity, heart opening lyrics and the best sounds culled from their legendary career. The album is called Big Music and rightly so, because that is what it is, and it is what Simple Minds have always been about, Jim Kerr’s powerful voice, Charlie’s shimmering guitar, Mel’s driving drum and those hooky keyboards that filled any space with glorious music.
The album kicks off with Blindfolded, a song that is a distillation of everything great that Simple Minds have to offer. Containing excellent vocals from Kerr, and Burchill on top of his guitar with a driving sound that picks up where Once Upon a Time left off. This song gives notice that Simple Minds are back and ready to take no prisoners. An uplifting song you can dance to as it unreels over a large aural canvas. Midnight Walking was conceived by Kerr as he thought of his son walking the North London streets a bit worse for wear. Kerr is observing in the song how things are in constant movement but the questions always seem to be the same. It also seems to address the modern phenomena of having hundreds of friends on social networks but being alone. The music takes the listener back to New Gold Dream, then injects modern sensibilities.
Kerr moves on in Honest Town to recalling a conversation between his since passed mom and himself as they drove through Glasgow, his mother pointing out familiar if humble sites and concluding that the town was an honest town. A moving song that examines his relationship with his mother, and has a remarkable groove. The music returns to the early musical creations of Simple Minds, with just the right combination of minimalism and modern production.
Classically anthemic Big Music delivers the Simple Minds trademark sound fans have adored, with an added modern kick. This will be a huge song in concert. Kerr is going to knock the roof off with this one. It is an impressive groove filled tune. Human is an album highlight with a great killer chorus, with the lyrics”I’m human inside, a hunter in the chase, searching for the right place.” The lyric recalling the chorus off of New Gold Dream’s Hunter and the Hunted. Musically the band is just taking off to great heights.
Blood Diamonds is a song that displays all the collected maturity and experience of the band producing a song that represents them at their best. In essence, a tune that could be about lovers, friends or taken for an analogy of things going on in the world today. The song is a testament to the alchemy being performed in adding old and new together and creating sonic gold.
The must not miss song of the disc is Let the Day Begin, was written by the late Michael Been the lead singer of The Call and the cover is dedicated to him. It is a beautiful and uplifting song. If you know the original you will be thrilled by this rendition. Simply stated it is spine tingling. Bring on Concrete and Cherry Blossom this song has all of the experimentation and dance beats of the early albums. You have to admit no one gets more out of singing “la, la la” than Jim Kerr, and yes there is a section in the song where he does his best “la, la, la” and instead of it being tired, it is like you are hearing it be sung for the first time.
Enter the computer glitchiness of Imagination. The keyboards here give a nod to the 80’s and find the band embracing their techno past. Burchill has an ever so elegant guitar solo, and you can be in no doubt that this is a Simple Minds song. Shimmering Kill or Cure is another great rhythm driven track. Also on my must-listen list for the release. The skittering guitar glides across the bass and makes you want to dance around the room, the back vocals really nail down the track. A punchy beat accents Broken Glass Park a track that examines nostalgia for Simple Minds early days.
The final track, Spirited Away has a fat guitar and bass sound. Heartfelt lyrics make for a very personal song. Kerr seems to be discussing his own life and the history of the band. Kerr confesses to getting a bit lost on the wrong track but having the faith in the band and himself to know he is able to return and that redemption is always available. ‘We got spirited away, got separated in the night, and somehow drifted from the path, into some other place.” A large soundscape song as only Simple Minds can perform them, a lovely closing. When considering the album the word that comes to mind is uplifting, and that is the essence of Simple Minds.
I refuse to use the hackney word comeback for this album. Simple Minds have always released good music and, many of the more recent releases were woefully overlooked. I will call the album a triumphant victory for a stellar band. For prodigal fans that lost faith in the band, whether because they felt the band was guilty of too much sloganeering or a tendency in later years to be formula driven, it is time to come back. It is not an overstatement, to say this is one of the best albums they have ever released.
Simple Minds in not being scared to review their storied past and utilize it, have produced a near masterpiece. Big Music shows that Simple Minds have perfected what they do best; making uplifting music that will move you both physically and spiritually.