Black and White. 050505" I got this album in the spirit of trying to find new bands to get into. The only Simple Minds song I’d heard before was “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” from The Breakfast Club soundtrack. I didn’t know what to expect from this – a band of aging rockers’ desperate try to find form was my best guess but instead what I got was a record that was very surprisingly good and actually made good use of modern techno influences, something that’s practically non-existent on the old school rockers’ albums, even new ones.
I’ve been wanting to review this album for a long time now and finally found the time for it. Only I didn’t realize it was going to be this tough. I’ll try though. A disclaimer before I start. I have close to zero knowledge on their earlier albums and styles and this review will try to only deal with this from an absolute musical standpoint.
Simple Minds is a Scottish band that started out way back in 1977 as a punk band evolving over the years into a “New Romantics” band. During the early 80s they were constantly compared to then rising Irish stars U2 and most critics often called them the lesser U2. However, come 1985, everything changed with the release of The Breakfast Club. Their unabashedly commercial album that followed soon after spawned multiple international chart toppers and finally gave them their much overdue fame and respect. Things fell apart in the 90s though, with critically-well-received-yet-slowly-diminishing-in-sales records. This record supposedly received the most positive reviews that any Simple Minds record has received in many years. Believable" Yes. Justified" A more emphatic yes.
On this record Simple Minds are:
• Jim Kerr
• Charlie Burchill
• Mel Gaynor
• Mark Taylor
• Eddie Duffy
- Bass guitar
“So what does the new record sound like"” can be answered in two ways. The first is it sounds like a hybrid of U2 and Enigma made darker in terms of atmosphere. The other is that sounds spot on to what someone hoping for musical appreciation would like to listen to. Things do not get technical here. There is no big purpose behind the album which is shrouded in mystery or anything like that. It’s a record with good songs. Plain and simple.
All the songs on the album rely heavily on atmosphere and that’s where the techno comes in. The Enigma influence finds relevance here and this is possibly THE main thing that sets this album apart, giving it a unique feel. The techno backing in all songs is very well done and also helps give the whole album a very dark feel; not a doomsday’s coming metal kind of feel but a more melancholy atmosphere. There is a heavy use of synthesizers (Mark Taylor) in some songs and pianos too (sometimes with effects). The main staple-rock instruments though are a bit more minimalist which is not a bad thing.
The rhythm section holds its own here. Its solid. Especially the bass which is the main base on which all the songs build around. Not that it gets very technical (in some places though it does) but the use of the guitar is so minimal on all the songs that the bass ends up being the sheet anchor of the whole song. The drums are staple rock beats. Nothing special on the whole record.
The guitar is used sparingly on the album (for a rock album at least). It mainly provides guitar lines (well written I might add) in the background and a few arpeggios. There are a few leads scattered over the album which even though are very simple add a lot of feel to the song. None of the leads or interludes or lines feel forced. They just fit into the whole song very well which is one of the most positive aspects of the album. Also even with the sparing use of guitars, there is a lot of variation on the album from the use of delay (ala U2), Floyd styled guitar slides, semi acoustic…. Its all there.
The vocals on this album, at many points, sound very Bono like, especially when he does the falsetto, no more so than in Stranger
, which IMO is the best track on the album. Kerr’s use of the low registers in a lot of places gives the songs a dark passion that almost sounds sultry, a technique he used way back in 1985 on that song “Don’t you (Forget About Me)”
. The lyrics I found a little vague. They are well written but open to interpretation. This might be a good thing for some but for someone like me who is new to Simple Minds and does not really know the lyrical themes they follow, it becomes a little frustrating. There are some recurring themes though, like going back to a place you belong or “home”, breaking free from unwelcome bondage, and a lot of space references which honestly had me stymied (the internet doesn’t hold a lot of information on this either).
One of the more clear lyrical content is on their first single of this album “Home”
“God gave me travelling shoes,
God gave me the wanderer's eye,
God gave two gold coins to help me to the other side.
He then turned around and said - be careful how the small things grow,
When God gives you travelling shoes,
You know that it is time to go.
Its actually kinda wrong for me to dissect the songs this way, because really, individually nothing stands out. It’s the amalgamation of all the components that gives a very unique sounding album. All the songs are relatively slow, set to either basic 4/4 or 8/8 beat patterns, with Jeweller (Part 2)
being the fastest song on the whole album. And this is the part where I get lost for words trying to describe the album because it all seems so commonplace when you listen to it. Yet it’s catchy in its own unique way and manages to keep you listening. The whole emphasis is on how the whole thing fits together. They dwell on each note they play long enough, but not long enough for it to seem dragged out or tedious. They’re slow enough to help you relax but not slow enough to put you off to sleep.
Please note that all the review comments I have made here apply to all the songs on the album. They all share many common characteristics and yet at the the end of two or three listens each song will stand apart uniquely in your head which is kinda amazing. And they all flow really well together too -- consistent and continuous.
If you’re looking for something fast, something to jump to, something to headbang to, look away. If you want to listen to some soothing rock (yes soothing) while sitting back in an easy chair and escaping to a far-off land closing your eyes, this is for you. Simple Minds, with this album, manage to tread a very very thin line between a slow record and a boring record and make it an enjoyable, refreshing listen. Cinema had Serendipity which with its faults managed to take the audience off to a far off place. Alt. Rock has this album. A perfect bit of musical escapism and undoubtedly an underrated jewel.