Blast From The Past – Simple Minds

May 31, 2011
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February 7, 1981: Gary Steel reviews Simple Minds, Dave McArtney and Bruce Cockburn for The Evening Post, Wellington.

On rare occasions, one stumbles across a record that affects, yet truly defies such descriptions as “good” or “bad”.
Empires And Dance (Arista) by Simple Minds (the third album of this British group – their first was released here but their second was not) is one such record. It is both original and derivative, and can make for both captivating and tortuous listening.
Influences come through in Jim Kerr’s Brian Ferry vocal mannerisms, and in the music can be heard random slices of Joy Division, The Cure and even Pink Floyd (circa ‘Careful With That Axe Eugene’).
Their original sound consists of hypnotic rhythms, over which colourfully layered textures are weaved. Sound as image-evocation is all-important; the instruments are often mixed in such a way that you cannot imagine which instruments are creating the sounds. This prevents the listener from creating an image of the band and leaves the music alone to think about.
Because the rhythms are repetitive, however, they easily obscure the sound textures and colourings from a listener who is not concentrating, and it is then that the music becomes a chore.
Surprisingly, Simple Minds is an instrumentally conventional rock lineup: vocals, sax and guitar, keyboards, bass and drums. It’s obviously the treatments, electronic and otherwise, they give to these instruments that make the difference.
The only distraction, I find, are Kerr’s lyrics that seem to cloud and inhibit the music instead of letting it speak for itself – of course, instrumental music does make statements.
In retrospect, I’m confused. I’ve an inkling that this is one to slowly grow to appreciate over a month or so.
Dave McArtney and the Pink Flamingos, with a lineup of names from such illustrious outfits as Hello Sailor, Dragon, Ticket and Streettalk, appear a supergroup mismatch of the first degree.
On their first, self titled Polygram album though, the Flamingos prove the perfect anonymous pro foil for McArtney’s songwriting sass.
Dave McArtney was responsible for some of Hello Sailor’s more distinguished fare, and it is his craftsman like MOR rock songwriting that this essentially solid but indistinctive group is here employed to display.
Many will already be familiar with the two singles lifted from this album, ‘Infatuation’ and ‘Virginia’ with its risqué lyrics.
Most of the songs are up to the same standard, if of a generally slower nature. Personal faves are ‘The Party’ (self explanatory) and ‘Sometimes’, which vocally echoes both John Lennon and Bob Dylan and musically bathes in that sickly morning after feeling.
Dave McArtney and the Pink Flamingos is no masterwork. But, if not for the over-crisp and clean production, it would easily measure up to the majority of overseas commercial releases.
Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn evokes emotion with his minor-chord melodies and tired-sounding voice in much the same way as Neil Young.
While he lacks Young’s frayed-edge howlings, his music is imbued with a deep melancholy, as well as a warm, jazz-hued humility.
Cockburn is that rarest of rare species: a thoughtful, unrighteous Christian. This man hasn’t closed his mind in order to preach gospel; he has opened it up and is still searching and pontificating.
On Humans (RCA) he is sometimes lyrically naïve, but always heartfelt and honest, as on ‘More Not More’.
His music is principally acoustic, soft and peaceful but multilayered. A welcome change.

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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