25 years ago this very day…

Street Fighting Years WPIt’s a long time since Simple Minds toured the world with their new FM radio hits bouncing forth over stadiums around the globe. The world has changed too in those three years, something which hasn’t gone amiss to front man Jim Kerr.

The first notes we hear in three years from Simple Minds are very Celtic and traditional with sweeping strings. The opening to chart topping Belfast Child only offers a slight glimpse as to the feel of the upcoming album Street Fighting Years.

Having dispensed with art rock and then sure fire radio play, to return with a song so out of step with the mainstream and one near seven minutes in length, it’s a bold move. 

Yet, the mood is serious from the opening, and never changes until the silence encroaches from the final runout groove.

The atmospherics from a maturing band, where Mick MacNeil and Charlie Burchill create wistful, highland imagery rather than pulsating Krautrock, are the sonic centre of an adult record overflowing with brilliant musicianship and production.

The title track covers all the bases the rest of the LP has to offer, grand gestures, echoing slide guitar, expansive vocals, shrilling Hammond and, surprisingly for Simple Minds, subtleties. Kerr’s vocal shifts from a yell to a whisper as the music recedes into softer realms.

A gentle bassline opening bursts forth into tumbling drums, rolling piano and squalling guitar to create a thunderstorm building up over six and a half minutes.

The songs flow with the same sonic theme of tracks produced within an inch of their political life, but to the culmination of an amazing sound.

Simple MInds 1989 WPMichael MacNeil employs his Hammond in a thorough workout, weaving with Charlie Burchill’s electric guitar, then an accordion with an acoustic hinting further at a traditional Celtic folk sound.

Both are on peak form throughout, while Jim completes the triumvirate with such lyrics to awaken the most latent soul or stone hearted individual to life. They’re focused and minimal rather than the abstracted impressions of earlier work.

The triton attack gives Simple Minds, not just a canon of great songs, but an armada ready to attack what ills the world has to offer. It’s a more personal journey than the worldly worries of previous record, Once Upon A Time.

But the band have crafted a selection of songs fully moving on from Top of the Pops shoe-ins to songs with no beat for the dance floor and of no length for radio, putting more pressure on them to meet Olympian greatness.

Wall of Love gives the band a harder edge, while This Is Your Land shows subtitles are there to be seen. The presence of New Yorker, Lou Reed, offering a great baritone opposite Kerr’s, then moves towards a rootsy feel, and the blues influence becomes apparent with Burchill’s prominent use of slide guitar.

As musical pomposity is on the brink of taking over, Take a Step Back arrives with an aggressive blare of squealing guitar notes, a steady drum beat and forceful, urgent vocal from Kerr.

The band cut loose with Kick It In, a frantic amalgam of Hammond shrill, hard snare, dramatic bass and a guitar sound not heard from Burchill since 1981. Whilst not a fun pop track it shakes the album from its seriousness. A song of many movements, but condensed to six minutes through the tight production of Trevor Horn and Stephen Lipson.

Let it all Come Down turns the album on its head. A sensitive guitar motif and soft lyrics show Kerr isn’t lost on Morrison and Springsteen comparisons, but can offer an insight to Celtic romanticism. A salient moment unable disrupt the equilibrium of a majestic LP. Kerr’s stadium hammer brought down softly on rock’s anvil.

SM mountain WPThe remainder of the record is made up of the three songs from Ballad Of The Streets EP, Mandela Day, Belfast Child and Biko. A very timely collection of tracks which settle after serpentine openings.

The greatest Scottish rock record of the year then closes with bagpipes, an instrumental, as if the band can’t end this high culmination of work with words. Not a negative slant, but rather a quality move on an elegant, often brilliant, collection of songs, a coherent finish to a new era of rock.

When the Scottish mist has settled, you’ll remember just how quiet the record sounds, for all the bombast, it is not a noisy record. The panoramic grandeur and dramatic sweeps have created an album of widescreen testimony to the rough, wind battered highlands and the serenity which can be found in its arms, if sought hard enough, while addressing the political concerns late in a chaotic decade with revolutionary uprising in the air.

3 Responses to “25 years ago this very day…”
  1. postpunkmonk says:

    A rebuttal from a Simple Minds fan of 33 years

    Oh dear. The Simple Minds story gets REALLY scary with this album, my absolute least favorite by any band I ever liked. With a year since their double live album and three years on
    from their dreadful sellout disc [“Once Upon A Time”] disc, the net effect of all of this wasted time is apparent on a band who, when they were nimble, had no problem issuing two albums a year
    [’79, 81] and at the very least issued one per year. On the face of it, there
    was a time that I would have greeted the news of Trevor Horn producing Simple
    Minds with some enthusiasm. But in the post-Frankie Goes To Hollywood world,
    Trevor Horn seems to have totally lost the plot. The last production of his that
    I cared anything for was his Pet Shop Boys single “Left To My Own Devices.”

    Trevor was by this time, well-documented in his quest to take the maximum amount
    of time to record and re-record the maximum amount of tracks. He would think
    nothing of bouncing 64 tracks down to 2 and starting over again. If anyone was
    expecting a pleasing mixture of ZTT overkill and Simple Minds, that was
    certainly not what was delivered. What we got instead was Simple Minds most
    bloated, self-righteous and overweeningly pious album ever. If an album ever
    deserved a pie in the face, it’s THIS one!

    With the exception of the fair single, “Kick It In,” there is a severe dearth of
    energy on this album. The song lengths seem to be well over six minutes per cut,
    and while they could support that conceit during the “Sons + Fascination” era,
    by now it was a whole different ball game. On this album you feel every dragging
    minute. The lead off single was the turgid “Belfast Child,” a loathesome folk
    ballad given a new set of lyrics by Kerr and every atom of orchestral bombast
    that Trevor Horn could muster. I’m sure Paul Hewson was kicking himself in the
    rear with mighty vigor over not thinking of this track first. Of course it hit
    #1 in the UK as did the ponderous album.

    The second single was the equally pompous “This Is Your Land,” which benefitted
    nothing in the least by having Lou Reed guest on vocals for a verse. As you
    listen to this and the earlier single, you may be hard pressed to imagine a
    Bizarro universe where songs as under-powered and hookless as these are selected
    by clueless executives to be singles. Never the less, they are not significantly
    better than the surrounding album tracks. The ONLY cut on the album which
    maintains listenability was the third single, “Kick It In.” It actually has a
    pulse and the 12″ remix is the only fruit of the union between Trevor Horn and
    Simple Minds that sounds like what one would expect. The misbegotten album
    closes with a pointless and bloated cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Biko.” Where
    Gabriel achieved a compelling and powerful blend of politics and art, Simple
    Minds are content to merely abuse the song as a signifier of their political
    righteousness. Feh!

    The weirdest part of Simple Minds’ career followed this album. The fourth single
    from this album, if you will, was the “Amsterdam EP” which featured the inertia
    inducing “Let It All Come Down” from the “Street Fighting Years” album as well
    as two new cuts. One of these was an instrumental take on the hymn “Jerusalem”
    which fits the band like a glove at this point, and the a-side was a cover of
    Prince’s recent “Sign O’ The Times” single. I have no clue whoever thought of
    this idea but the end result is not appreciably different from the original
    Prince cut. The song is just as skeletal in its construction and only on the
    house-influenced 12″ mix does the song take any new direction. The lyrics do
    sound awfully affected issuing from Jim Kerr’s lips, however.

    • Thanks, man. It’s good to hear from fans who are older and see what they feel abut the sonic shift by the band from the early years in to stadium. For me, the drop off started as the Good News From The Next World album progressed and didn’t pick up again until Black and White.

      • postpunkmonk says:

        Alexander Tate – Ha! We have very different ideas about this band, which always fascinates me. I spend a lot of time on the So Simple Minded forum and realize that I’m just one voice of many when it comes to this band, who have alternately beguiled and vexed me for decades. I think the band just got better with each album through “Sparkle In The Rain,” and didn’t much care for the stadium years [apart from “See The Lights” – a great song], but it was “Good News” that managed to re-engage me, and I love that album, as well as “Neapolis” and especially “Cry.” Okay, “Neon Lights” was some experiments on cover tunes. Some worked while others didn’t. But I feel it laid the groundwork for “Cry” which I really loved as it moved away from rock and embraced pop and dance, which I was happy to hear. I didn’t care for “Secrets” at all, and felt that “Black + White” lost all of its energy halfway through. “Graffiti Soul” and “Lostboy” were hugely enjoyable records for me. I’ve gotten a little tired of waiting for the followup, frankly. We’ll see this October.

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