Kerr-ful In Career

SM 1979 WPReviews of greatest hits can be considered as superfluous as yet another collection of a band’s work, finest or otherwise. Another Simple Minds compilation maybe considered so too.  During the 20 years since their last major retrospective the group have remained busy, touring extensively and releasing albums of varying quality.

Early 2012 saw 5×5, a box set of the band’s first 5 albums and associated b-sides brought together as a convenient reminder to the bands’ early, often forgotten, history. A time when European inflected disco meant a cool brand of beats and propulsive bass lines soundtracking travelogues delivered in an era before Kerr’s baritone was permanently turned up to ‘anthem.’ The accompanying tour, playing five songs from each of the five records a night, provided some of the band’s best reviews for years and a critical rehabilitation of their early work.

So what does Celebrate+ do? Both the 36 track two disc and 50 track three disc option offer a comprehensive, no stone unturned document of Simple Minds singles. After airing New Gold Dream in its entirety, then the early catalogue dusted down and now a tour of just the hits, Simple Minds are coming to the end of a major clearout, showing the public everything they have to offer, whether we like it or not.

Such a sweeping rundown of Simple Minds songs may seem unnecessary in these days of Spotify, iTunes and other means of digitally accessing songs. What Celebrate+ does offer is new edits to CD, many versions here are direct from the 7”, concise, punchy radio tunes. Completists rejoice! And casual fans can revel in reduced suffering with a host of sub-five minute versions.

April 1979 saw these Scot new wave punks offer Life In A Day as their debut single from the LP of the same name. So, in chronological order from non-hits and club hits, the Simple Minds evolution can be clearly heard in snapshot simplicity. A further document of how stadiums became a more natural habitat would be those infant live recordings. A mass audience was on the live radar well in advance of huge ticket sales. But slowly slowly, catchy pop tune, and New Gold Dream’s singles presented clear evidence of pop awareness with euro-syth stylings as the UK Top 20 was broken.

What happens nextSM 1984 WP is a complete surprise. The counted intro of Waterfront heralds a trio of thunderous tracks so opposite to any predecessors, it will be a wonder if listeners don’t think it is a different band. Waterfront is a stone cold classic though, the sound of a vast ocean liner’s engine room propelling the vessel through huge breakers with ease. But its grandeur is lost in this edit, the fuller version committed to 12” vinyl allows the song to breathe and you’re enveloped by its size, unfortunately these three minutes steal its glory. Speed Your Love To Me and Upon the Catwalk suffer the same consequence, as both extended versions supersede the 7” cut.

Those rough edges are then smoothed away with FM production, but there’s no halting of the bombast, it’s simply drawn into tighter focus as Don’t You (Forget About Me) and Alive and Kicking usher in the American radio hit procession. Simple Minds had reached their commercial zenith. Charlie’s huge riffs plying their trade along side Jim Kerr’s massive vocal, softened with Robin Clark’s soulful voice amongst the percussion ticking boxes for stratospheric sales.

Radio airplay SM 1989 WPubiquity continued with Belfast Child hitting UK Number One. But the edited version here again suffers from radio sizing, missing some of the drama of the full-length version; it creates a puzzling song. Where as, Kick it In’s four cacophonous minutes are the noisiest parts of the song amalgamated from MacNeil’s Hammond, Gaynor’s drums and Burchill’s rabid guitar. This should have stopped the hits coming. But it didn’t.

The booming singles continued, with 1995’s Hypnotised fluid bass line, toned down vocals and sky-high guitar licks, replacing the usual Burchill solo, becoming one of the bands finest tunes, if not a pop hit, showing the now Kerr/Burchill axis could still write great music in the Simple Minds mould.

Sales tailed off towards the end of the century as the band lost their way, but found contractual and record label issues, further compounding a band running out of steam.

Yet from this whirl of disorder comes Space, SM 2002 WPre-recorded and remixed for a potential single release but then shelved amid the chaos. Here it not only sees the light of day but allows Simple Minds to offer a rarely seen subtlety to their music. It’s not sparse or lo fi, but with it’s Beatlesque intro leading to Kerr’s delicate tones, Space is distinctly intimate, a real gem nestled in an era that almost broke the band.

The run of new greats, including 2005’s Home, and Stranger with its radio pop elements, redeem the band so often saddled with poor single choices, leading to the culmination of the Minds’ output. Two new tracks shine a light to the band’s immediate future, which harks back to their electro heyday. New Wave, European disco, art rock, stadium, folk but never really lacking in confidence. A unique sound that pitches them alone on that hilltop Jim Kerr often sings from.

When the current tour cycle concludes and Jim and Charlie pack away Don’t You for the foreseeable future, their catalogue can rest easily having SM 2013 WPbeen so thoroughly aired the past two years, providing a reminder of what a great band Simple Minds have often been.

For those with the stomach of a 50 track trawl, you will be rewarded with a feast of prime pop nuggets mixed to near perfection for the format; a producers skill rather than the band’s. It’s a meaty compilation, and if this doesn’t satisfy, then, really my friend, you are one stadium sandwich short of a Mr Creosote career picnic.

4 Responses to “Kerr-ful In Career”
  1. garythespud says:

    Nice piece, Alex. Makes me want to go back and listen to them all again. As we’ve spoken about before, New Gold Dream is just an astonishingly good album – great songs that sit together as a whole. Right, it’s going on later…

    • I agree, an amazing piece of work, the sleeve is fantastic too. As the review states, it’s what came next that threw people. Kerr has said he was wary of writing NGD part 2. There are elements of it present on Sparkle In The Rain, such as the LP title and the track Book of Brilliant Things, but sonically it’s miles away. Sparkle isn’t a fave SM LP of mine, far from it, but some hold it in very high regard.

      Because of your comment, I put NGD on this afternoon, really loud. Brilliant.

  2. postpunkmonk says:

    What I especially love about the 3xCD of “Celebrate: The Greatest Hits,” is that I could chuck disc 2 out of the window and have a perfect representation of all I love about this band!

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