That bands that have been around for a while come with up ways to re-sell older material is nothing new. Just look at darn near any group from the ‘80s and you will see two if not three compilations that were repackaged with the same songs. It’s interesting when compilations opt to go for tunes that came before the big massive breakthrough, and that is what you have here with this compilation by Simple Minds. Before there was The Breakfast Club and the song you couldn’t forget about, the group had made a string of critically acclaimed albums. This record, originally released in the UK in 2003, is a snapshot of the best of those pre-Molly Ringwald brat pack tracks. Just don’t expect to hear “The Waterfront”. It’s not here.
The album is heavy on the synthesizers and keyboards, bringing to mind groups like Depeche Mode and particularly Kraftwerk during the bouncy “Life in a Day”. Taken from the band’s 1982 Celebration album, it’s a nice kickoff tune that has Jim Kerr sounding like a youthful, well, Jim Kerr. And like anything else that comes and goes, the tune could have fit easily on the Killers’ Sam’s Town with its catchy yet quirky arrangement. Just as promising is the softer, gentler “Chelsea Girl” that sounds like the Kinks around the same time period, or a latter day Sloan without the heavy use of guitars. Think of a lighter version of Bowie’s “Heroes” and you get the gist of the number, a very fine one at that.
Prior to the big breakthrough hits, Simple Minds made some fine music, particularly with the danceable, inviting, and infectious hi-hat friendly “Changeling”, which seems to have haunted bands like the Rapture, No Doubt, and Franz Ferdinand. Meanwhile, there is a certain “then and now” quality to a couple of tracks, including “Factory”, which sounds like Depeche Mode if they were mentoring the Futureheads. It seems like the experiment went correctly on this occasion. What takes a bit more time to warm up to is the funky bass line setting the stage for the moody, Primal Scream-ish “Premonition”.
Each of these songs stand on their own, especially the dark, swinging, jazzy electro-pop “Celebrate”, which settles into a nice hook and rides the hell out of it. It could be the greatest pop song Soft Cell never recorded. What could be seen as definitely not the greatest pop song ever recorded is the challenging, experimental “Thirty Frames a Second” from Empires & Dance that falls in line with Talking Heads. Thankfully, this track is the exception to the above average norm. Just take a track like “The American”, which has as much punch and substance as it did two decades ago.
Perhaps the biggest complaint for Simple Minds is that they truly turned their back on their early material. Although it pales in popularity to the latter day hits, they certainly cut their teeth with some very credible records and songs. Another example of this is the mid-tempo, meandering funk pop found throughout “Sweat in a Bullet”. However, not everything they touched turned to gold; just take a peak at “Promised You a Miracle”, which basically needs a miracle to pass any sort of quality bar. Kerr and crew atone for this miscue with the simple but terribly pop-oriented “Glittering Prize”, which shines from start to finish.
The last tandem of tunes shows that the band were on the cusp of something big, even if they were kicking and screaming in disgust at having to record “Don’t You Forget About Me”. “Someone Somewhere in Summertime” has that seminal Depeche Mode-like vibe going for it, while Kerr hits all the appropriate big notes during the chorus. And “New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)” caps the record off with much the same pizzazz and verve it started. While you won’t hear Simple Minds perform hordes of these songs live, one would be wise not to overlook them.
// Notes from the Road
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