Simple Minds - X5 Album Review
It's 1985, the Breakfast Club is in the Cinema and its theme song, 'Don't You Forget About Me', has just helped break Simple Minds in America.
The most successful moment in their career is regarded by many as being the point their stock about faced and plummeted straight back down as they abandoned their routes in new wave Euro inspired dance rock.
Don't You Forget About Me led on to the unapologetic bombast of 'Once upon a Time' and their only number one song, 'Belfast Child'.
But now, Simple Minds are enjoying a resurgence in popularity in music circles as numerous new and established acts name check the Glasgow band's early material as strong influences on their own sound.
These first albums are now being released together as one delicious boxset with extra tracks featuring B-Sides, alternative and live versions, entitled 'X5'.
What people forget about early Simple Minds material is how incredibly prolific they were. 'Life in a Day', 'Real to Real Cacophony,' 'Empires and Dance,' 'Sons and Fascination/Sisters Feeling Call' and 'New Gold Dream 81-82-83-84' were all released between 1979 and 1982. These albums are the work of five musicians whose evolution over the course of these albums helped to merge dance and rock a decade before 'Screamadelica' and dance music as we know it even existed.
'Life in a Day', the band's first album, which was considered to have been inspired by the likes of Roxy Music, is a fairly guitar driven album from the band's axeman Charlie Burchill, which has influences of David Bowie.
The album's pop rock sound is summed up by single 'Chelsea Girl' but the album also has gems such as 'Pleasantly Disturbed'.
The evolution that the original Simple Minds line up went through, which featured drummer Brian McGhee and Uber bassist Derek Forbes, can be best conveyed in the difference between 'Life in a Day' and follow up album, 'Real to Real Cacophony'. It was clear to see that Simple Minds were becoming more of a European band than a British act. Their experiences of touring the continent and listening to the likes of Kraftwerk were beginning to rub off. The dramatic change in direction happened in a matter of months after 'Life In A Day' was released.
The sound of 'Real to Real' is strongly driven by Mick MacNeil's synths, which are particularly prominent on 'Naked Eye' and 'Carnival (Shelter In A Suitcase.)'
But to get a slice of classic early Minds, listen to 'Premonition' and 'Changeling'.
The band's third album, 'Empires and Dance' sees the band metamorphose into a completely different animal from how they began on their debut album. 'Empires' sees them perfect their euro kraut sound on classic track
'I Travel', where the song's lyrics examine the European political landscape.
Empires and Dance saw Simple Minds perfect the swagger in their music and a track perfectly displaying this is 'Celebrate', an incredible, almost disco sounding stomper. 'Empires and Dance' was notorious at the time for the sheer fact that it was murder to get a hold of. Arista Records, the label Simple Minds were on at the time, would only produce 15,000 copies of the album, and then wait for it to sell out before doing the same again. This incident lead the band to leave Arista and sign with Virgin.
Despite being called 'X5', the compilation actually has six albums.
Sons and Fascination contained Sister Feeling Call as a companion piece. Sons and Fascination/Sister Feeling Call contain tracks that can take a listener to a state of Zen. 'This Earth You Walk Upon' and 'Seeing Out The Angel' sees MacNeil and Forbes reaching some kind of utopia in musicality.
Jim Kerr's voice is also at its most haunting in the latter track.
Don't forget Charlie Burchill however. His tasteful guitar riffs also add to the luscious landscape and prime examples of this can be found on 'Lovesong' and 'The American'.
Sister Feeling Call contains, quite possibly, one of the greatest instrumentals of all time and is a track Derek Forbes will always be remembered for.
'Theme For Great Cities' verges on the hypnotic, with Forbes' basslines and the haunting synths of MacNeil.
If these albums were a pre-cursor of what was to come then 'New Gold Dream 81-82-83-84' is surely the early Minds' calling card. New Gold Dream is the album Simple Minds are remembered for before they discovered stadiums.
This is the album that really brought them to attention of the mainstream record buying public. It went to number three in the UK charts when it was released.
'Someone, Somewhere In Summertime' is probably the best opening track out of any Simple Minds album. Beautiful music is complimented by one of Kerr's best lyrics. 'New Gold Dream' is a synth pop classic while 'Big Sleep' and 'Hunter and the Hunter' merely cement the early line up's reputation as incredible musicians.
If you're a fan you probably have all these albums anyway, probably even the 2002 remastered versions of the albums which these are, so you might skip buying this compilation. If you are just discovering Simple Minds, on the other hand, you won't have a better opportunity to purchase five albums of music that stood head and shoulders above other bands from the early 80s.
Yes, we all know that they eventually discovered stadiums and their inspiration regressed towards the end of the 80s, but with these five albums, released under five years, they were astounding.