On November 22, 2011, the Scottish band Simple Minds announced the exclusive European tour 5X5 Live during which the band would perform five songs from each of the first five albums they recorded from 1979 until 1982. To coincide with this tour, EMI Music released in February 2012 the box set X5 featuring these five albums over six discs. This box set includes Life In A Day (1979), Real To Real Cacophony (1979), Empires And Dance (1980), Sons And Fascination / Sister Feelings Call (1981) and New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) (1982). All these albums have been released in a gatefold sleeve including bonus material and rare tracks which were previously unreleased on CD. These are mostly B-sides and remixes that appeared for the first time on special released maxi-singles and EPs. Sons And Fascination and Sister Feelings Call have been released separately.
Life In A Day, the debut album of Simple Minds, was produced by John Leckie and released by Arista in April 1979. The album took a cue from the fellow post-punk formation Magazine, and was a somewhat self-consciously derivative of the late seventies punk boom. However, the album possessed a similar AOR- crossover potential to that of Simple Minds' contemporaries The Cars and it also revealed influences by David Bowie, Genesis and Roxy Music. The album's title track was released as the first single and reached #62 in the UK-charts, with the album itself putting in a more respectable performance at #30 in the LP-charts. However, the next single Chelsea Girl failed to chart at all. Arista were disappointed with this failure, but the band themselves had rapidly become dissatisfied with the album. While preparing ideas for the next record, they enjoyed a well-received support slot for Magazine. Afterwards they went straight back into the studio with Leckie to work on new material.
The second album Real To Real Cacophony was a significant departure from the pop tunes of Life In A Day. The album had a darker and far more experimental atmosphere, announcing some of the new wave experimentation that would become the band's trademark over the next two albums. Much of the album was written in the studio, although they had been playing early versions of several tracks during the recent tour. Innovations which the band displayed on Real To Real Cacophony included minimalist structures based around the rhythm section of Derek Forbes (bass) and Brian McGee (drums), plus the occasional use of unconventional time signatures. The band also experimented with elements of dub, and included the wordless and atmospheric Veldt in which they attempted to create an impression of an African landscape with electronic buzzes and drones, Charles Burchill's improvised saxophone lines and Jim Kerr's chants and cries. The album also generated Changeling, an acclaimed but non-charting single.
The next album Empires And Dance was another stylistic departure and signalled the influence of Kraftwerk, Neu! and similar German groups on the band. During this period of their career the band promoted themselves as being a European band rather than Scottish or British. Many of the tracks on Empires And Dance were extremely minimal and featured a significant use of sequencing. Michael McNeil's keyboards and Forbes' bass became the main melodic elements in the band's sound, with Burchill's heavily-processed guitar becoming more of a textural element. With this album, Kerr began to experiment with non-narrative lyrics based on observations he had made as the band travelled across Europe. The band's label, however, demonstrated little enthusiasm for these experimentations and in 1981 they switched from Arista to Virgin Records.
Simple Minds' first release on Virgin were actually two albums. Steve Hillage produced both Sons And Fascination and Sister Feelings Call. The latter album was initially included as a bonus disc with the first 10,000 vinyl copies of Sons And Fascination, but it was later reissued as an album in its own right. Sons And Fascination perfected the formula that began with Empires And Dance, and showcased the band's musicianship during their most prolific period. Their comparative musical virtuosity aligned them with the more streamlined end of progressive rock rather than the flippancy of many other new wave musicians. Peter Gabriel selected Simple Minds as the opening act on several dates of his European tour. The single Love Song was an international hit that further increased the band's visibility. The more minimalist, dance-oriented compositions on this release, like those of Neu! before them, were examples of man-made trance before trance itself. However, this period would also see the end of the first classic Simple Minds line-up when drummer Brian McGee left the band at the end of the Sons And Fascination sessions. He became more and more exhausted, because of Simple Minds' constant touring schedule and he had a desire for more time at home with his family.
New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) was released in September 1982. The album proved to be a significant turning point for the band, becoming a commercial breakthrough and generating a handful of charting singles including Glittering Prize. The band were soon categorized as part of the new romantic outgrowth of new wave. Despite the success of the album, some fans of the band's earlier work criticised their new and more commercial orientation. While some tracks like Promised You A Miracle, Colours Fly And Catherine Wheel continued the formula perfected on Sons And Fascination, other tracks like Someone Somewhere In Summertime, Glittering Prize were labelled as pure pop music. In addition, jazz keyboardist Herbie Hancock performed a synth solo on the track Hunter And The Hunted. Drummer Mike Ogletree played on the first leg of the New Gold Dream tour, but left the band immediately afterwards in November 1982 to join Fiction Factory. Mel Gaynor was recruited as a full member of the band for the remaining dates. Simple Minds' first non-Scottish member, Gaynor would go on to become the band's longest-standing drummer, despite twice leaving and returning in the following decades.
The box set X5 is an absolute must have for all Simple Minds-fans, but not only for them since devotees of progressive rock will find some fantastic music on this release as well. I know a lot of them are fans of this great new wave band and especially the album New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) contains music that can easily be labelled as true progressive rock. But also on previous releases you'll find tracks that are more or less inspired by the prog rock bands of the seventies and eighties. I won't go any further into details about the songs on all these discs separately, because this review would become still longer than it already is. However, all the additional tracks are worthwhile listening to. They are fine extras to the rich musical collection of this band. For me listening to all those early Simple Minds-albums felt like going back in time.
*** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
Where to buy?
All Rights Reserved Background Magazine 2013