Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Simple Minds: An Appreciation, Part The Third

(continued--parts 1 & 2)

Back in '82, and what a year it was, there wasn't much that was bigger among my circle than New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84). Still largely considered to be Simple Minds' ne plus ultra, their magnificent octopus, etc., ad nauseum, this album is so iconic according to my memory banks that it's hard for me to analyze it. Looking at it now, I can see mighty strengths and a few weaknesses. On the plus side for a young teenager on the make, it was the first SM record that your girlfriend was likely to enjoy. Some of this is due to Jim Kerr's shift in lyrical emphasis from Euro-alienation to a brand of Catholic earnestness, and some to the giving over of the production reins to journeyman Peter Walsh, who infused NGD with a sound that is warm, lustrous and crystal clear, if a little vacuum-sealed for mid '00s ears. Sounds aren't echoing around in outer space, like on the last couple of albums; everything's very present, intimate and approachable, Kerr's vocals especially. Charlie Burchill's guitars are more upfront in the mix and generally brighter, and Mick MacNeil uses, as usual, a huge array of synth colours with a particular emphasis on mallet-percussion sounds. My big two cents: you'd be hard-pressed to find a finer display of the pop keyboardist's craft than right here.

Is this their best album? Hard to say, as long as no one's paying me for this. It's certainly very consistent, but I'm not sure it has the same appeal to me now that it once did. It's a more sensual aesthetic on display here, for sure, quite a change from the band's previously objective approach...and I liked the objective approach. The loss of forceful drummer Brian McGee has had a considerable effect on the back-line dynamic, especially as the drums here are provided by a barely-distinguishable consortium of players who take the word "restraint" very seriously. The bass groove, while still there in "Big Sleep" and the absomofolutely great "Colours Fly And Catherine Wheel," one of the group's finest songs, is becoming less of the foundation and/or not so dug-in when it's there, as in the occasionally hard-to-take "Glittering Prize." Song structure is much more conventional--only the searing title track has Sons And Fascination's free-floating tendencies--but the arrangements are beautiful and there's lots of sectional contrasts and colours.

Side one is a peach, with the aforementioned "Colours Fly," the bouncy explosion of sound that is "Promised You A Miracle," and crooner's delight "Someone Somewhere In Summertime," which sidles up to the listener like nobody's business. The instrumental "Somebody Up There Likes You," a mutant version of Sons' "Theme For Great Cities," is a sonic delight. Side two isn't quite as good. "Glittering Prize" sounds great but hasn't aged all that well, and I've always thought "Hunter And The Hunted" was the album's weak link, a sort of excessively dramatic version of "Someone Somewhere." "New Gold Dream" is mighty refreshing in its (relatively) visceral simplicity, and closer "King Is White And In The Crowd" has a nice sprawl and tension to it, kind of like Empires And Dance's "This Fear Of Gods" with some human feeling. All in all, an extremely easy album to like, and one that's for the most part deserving of its laurels, but one that might have had the shine worn off it for me by overexposure.

Yet yet more to follow...