Saturday, 8 November 2014

REVIEW: SIMPLE MINDS BIG MUSIC - THE UNPROMISED MIRACLE

As long time readers of this blog will know, I love Simple Minds, because of, or rather irregardless of, their arch-pomp and poetic mannerisms. The Scottish alt-rockers have had a rocky career, but a fascinating one, of six stages.  From 1979-1982, they were a young new wave synth band, producing albums as beautiful, strange, and artful as any by Joy Division, New Order, OMD, or Depeche Mode - their natural equals. At this stage, they were heavily influenced by German music. Without Kraftwerk, no Simple Minds.

This period culminated in arguably the most romantic, visionary and poetic album of the last 35 years - New Gold Dream, which famously promised us a miracle. The second stage of their career followed right on the heels of the massive American success of 'Don't You Forget (About Me)' - a John Hughes film song that has become synonymous with feel-good 80s pop. This led to several LPs - the best of which like Sparkle In The Rain - yielded number one hits that were booming, joyous and uplifting, including 'Alive and Kicking' and 'Speed Your Love To Me' - still keeping the Christian tropes of light and brilliance alive as in 'Book of Brilliant Things'.

Basically, this was up until 1986, and at this stage, Simple Minds were one of the biggest stadium acts in the world, realistically viewed as a Scottish U2. They were millionaires and had big MTV videos. Sadly, the third era, that of slow decline, quickly followed - with a series of lacklustre, but still relatively popular, records and singles, increasingly maudlin - so we got songs about Mandela, Biko, a Belfast Child, etc - up until about 1991. By now, The Joshua Tree had made U2 triumphant, and Simple Minds suddenly felt bloated and out of ideas. But they did not seem about to implode, though they did, from 1991-2005.

Their fourth era, which ended in 2005, were bad wilderness years, of almost total disrespect, small tours, and sickly albums that seemed to utterly lack the magic of the first ten years.  It was a sad time to be a fan.  Finally, the slow resurgence began in 2005, hitting a high note with their 2009 album, Graffiti Soul, that was, say, as good as their Neopolis of the late 90s.

You could imagine you now had a second-rate, not third-rate, band to cherish. However, the 6th, triumphant stage of return, really began post-2009.  In the last five years, a new touring line-up, fighting fit, has seen a return to early albums, a realisation among critics that this is a classic group with genuinely important early discs, and some compilations, all solidified their achievement.  And, just as U2 released a portentous and overblown album free on iPhone, here came the miracle, the splendid Big Music.

Q, Mojo, even the NME, have all agreed Big Music is their best album in 30 years. There is something wonderfully moving in seeing these once-young new romantics, for so long stolid journeymen paying for excessive late 80s nonsense, returning, as in one of their biblical lyrics, resplendent with talent, and actually great new songs.  Caught somewhere between 'I Travel' and 'Waterfront', these 12 tracks are as upbeat, well-crafted, haunting, complex, and ludicrously "big" as the Simple Minds we knew and loved, and, in our secret hearts, never gave up on.  Few artists of any sort get to have a come back a quarter of a century later, so let us welcome this brilliant glittering new phase in the greatest Scottish alt-rock band of all time, the genuine peers of even, yes, say it, U2 and Depeche Mode, their only other credible 80s alt-survivors.
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