Simple Minds – Sons and Fascination – Round 29 – Graham’s Choice

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 After the last meeting, I felt a more quirky offering may be due. I consulted my carefully compiled list and factored in listening environment, temperature and wind conditions (pre-takeaway).

Pulling this out of the archives was really inspired by Nick, following his Harmonia selection and mentioning he had picked up a couple of early Simple Minds albums. We may have already banned the word “journey” from DRC, but before we do, it’s a subject that keeps coming up for discussion as to how artists/groups progress, and the how and the why they ended up sounding (and sometimes behaving ) the way they do. Listening to any Simple Minds album post 1982, is a very different experience to anything prior to that date, and certainly not something I have done for 30 years. There is not much to connect the bombastic stadium rock “la,la,la,la’s” of ‘Don’t you forget………’, to the work of their first 4 albums.

I  bought New Gold Dream (5th Album) in 1982 when released. Thought it was great and still give it a listen now and then. Not sure it is quite the “classic” that some seem to revere it as now though. That inspired me to go through their back catalogue and see what else the band had to offer. From that period, this album is probably my favourite, but ideally I would like to borrow a third of their third album (or is that a ninth?), ‘Empires and Dance’.

‘Sons and Fascination’ was originally issued in 1981 with a bonus album ‘Sister Feelings Call’. I still have both, and ‘the American’ and ‘Wonderful in Young Life’ are probably the stand out tracks from the bonus offering. The tracks on both albums are heavily influenced by krauktrock/European themes/post-punk dance styles, producing an album which, while not truly original, still sounds interesting.

The first and last tracks on the main album, hint at the more sophisticated sound that would appear on ‘New Gold Dream’, but through most of the album there are driving bass lines and drums, along with edgy/aggressive guitars and vocals laid over a synth sound which vary from lush to sparse. ‘Love Song’ is the only really commercial sounding track on the album, but its more of a 80’s dance club song than any sort of  stadium sing-along. I’ve read some reviews which suggest the band lost their way/overstretched with this album, but to me, along with ‘Empires and Dance’, it represents their best and most interesting work, producing a sound sometimes reminiscent of a highly polished Joy Division, blended with a large dose of Kraftwork.

How they got from this to ‘Alive and F****ing Kicking’, is a blinking mystery to me, but one hell of a “journey”.

Tom Listened: One of the biggest surprises for me since DRC kicked off. I came to Simple Minds at the exact point when they went bad. The first Simple Minds song I remember hearing was Waterfront which was stodgy AOR at best (having just reminded myself of it on youtube, it is still as horrible as ever…those drums!!!). At the time, I remember various fellow sixth formers urging me to go back to the earlier albums claiming they were nothing like the bloated nonsense of their mid 80s output. I never did. But now that I have heard Sons and Fascination I have to concede that my SMs loving peers were right.

Interesting from the off, a little cold for my tastes perhaps, but a revelation in terms of how different this sounded to the stuff I am familiar with. How can a band eliminate all the positive influences from their sound (Joy Division/Krautrock/early Bunnymen) in the space of a couple of albums? Why they would do it is depressingly obvious – look at how the sales of their work rocketed – but how could they bring themselves to do this when they were previously producing music this vital is beyond me.

Rob listened: I’d like to associate myself with the comments of the member above, with the exception of his experience with sixth formers. I’m a year or so younger and by my time in sixth form the earnest young men were urging me to listen to Prefab Sprout, rather than early Simple Minds. I ignored them, naturally.

Otherwise what I found most interesting in the discussion of ‘Sons and Fascination’ were the notions of why Simple Minds changed so drastically after ‘New Gold Dream’. I have no idea, but I think it’s at least possible that rather then striking out for new territory as a deliberate move, they simply ran out of the sort of spiky ideas and diverse influences that make this record interesting, started making blander, and to compensate, louder, music thereafter and thus found themselves drifting onto the mainstream radar. If there’s even a grain of truth in that, then I think it makes their ‘journey’ even more interesting in it’s second half, even if their records were most definitely not.

Nick listened: As Graham mentioned, I’ve bought a couple of Simple Minds albums this year, following a piece in The Guardian about a box-set of their first five records, which greatly talked up their postpunk, krautrocking credentials. Intrigued, only knowing them at all from Don’t You Forget About Me, I picked up Real To Real Cacophony and Empires and Dance. I wouldn’t say I had my mind blown, being pretty familiar with all the ideas and influences that Jim Kerr and friends were mining, but I was pleasantly surprised. Sons & Fascination was at least as good as Real To Real or Empires.

Regarding Simple Minds’ career path, I find it vaguely amusing / intriguing that they appear to have taken an exact opposite arc to Radiohead / Talk Talk, in moving away from experimentalism into brash stadium-isms. I’m not as disenfranchised as Tom in their decision to do this in the first place, but I am always intrigued by the way that bands who seem to arrive at success after a few albums then seem to be victims of their own (and maybe record label) expectations in terms of how they then shape their music; i.e. once you’ve sucked the devil’s cock, it seems difficult to stop gulping and go back to where you were beforehand.

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