We Kerr a lot
Simple Minds have seemingly managed the impossible and made themselves cool again. But can we really trust a band that once let us down so badly?
If you’re of a certain age you’ll be familiar with the idea of ”Ëselling out.’ For today’s jobbing musicians it’s an archaic concept especially when dwindling physical sales means having a song placed in an advert or a film is the only way to make a living. But in certain musical circles there can be no greater sin than consciously changing your sound to appeal to a wider demographic. Most bands sell out at some point but has there ever been an instance of a band trying to sell back in? I ask as this seems to be what Simple Minds are attempting with their 5X5 project. For this tour the band have eschewed their best know numbers in favour of revisiting their first five albums ”â handily collected in a recently released box set ”â each night playing roughly five songs from each. So there’s no Alive and Kicking, no Belfast Child, no “Hey, hey, hey, hey!”Â
The five albums in question ”â Life In A Day (1979), Reel To Reel Cacophony (1979), Empires And Dance (1980), Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call (1981) and New Gold Dream (1982) – have been retrospectively classed as ”Ëexperimental,’ especially when contrasted with their later multi-million-selling releases. However, as this quintet includes several top 20 singles and, in New Gold Dream, a bone fide platinum album we’re not exactly talking Throbbing Gristle levels of sonic terrorism. Rather these albums reveal the Glaswegians to have been a pioneering post-punk band that fused Krautrock, disco and electronics to build a new kind of pop music. Always a band to wear its’ influences on its’ sleeve ”â a good thing if it’s Magazine, Morodor and Motorik, not so much when it’s U2 ”â the music is expansive and sleek with wide-eyed singer Jim Kerr’s lyrics on the right side of vague, creating a notion of a modern Europe that seems both alien and beguiling in equal measure.
What Simple Minds are hoping, somewhat cynically perhaps, is that 5X5 will take them back to a time when fans and critics were united in their opinion of the band, something that’s not been the case for decades. And so far this appears to be happening: the tour has sold out, the reviews are universally positive and, however unlikely this may seem in 2012, people want to listen to Simple Minds again.
This is certainly evident at the Roundhouse. Pre-performance the packed venue is treated to an intro tape that includes Suicide, John Foxx and Joy Division, an indication of the bands’ desire to reposition themselves in popular consciousness. The message is clear: these are our peers and this is the context in which we should be taken. But the band that takes to stage is a very different beast to the one that made those early records. The only original members are Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill, the others – bassist Derek Forbes, drummer Brian McGee and keyboard player Mick MacNeil – were not invited to take part in 5X5. The songs may come from an electronic era but the modern ”ËMinds aren’t pulling their stadium punches. I Travel positively thunders off the stage in a blaze of strobe lighting and dry ice, Someone, Somewhere (In Summertime) is virtually a terrace chant and the coda of Room has as many arms in the air as one of their made-to-measure arena anthems. There’s also something quite impressive about seeing a band of this stature in such an intimate setting. It’s like watching a jumbo jet take off a close quarters ”â big, loud and you wonder how on earth it gets off the ground.
But fly it does and the trip down memory lane has obviously reinvigorated the band. Kerr in particular is a revelation. Lighter on his feet than one might expect he effortlessly sings in the higher register of his younger self, reveling in the chance to do so. He also has no trouble winning over the crowd – he is after all a man who’s had the world’s stadiums in the palm of his hand. And despite limiting the set list to the early eighties there nothing here to scare off the post-perfect pop punter. Sure Kerr’s been hitting the Kohl again and the flamboyant hand gestures have made a return but rather than regressing they seem to have located their earlier material’s stadium potential. It’s a heady combination.
But have they achieved what they set out to do? Will Simple Minds once again be a byword for shiny, forward-thinking pop or will they forever be remembered as a bloated, stadium throwback? It all depends on their next move. A summer of festivals beckons and they’d be foolish not to give the 5X5 concept a spin around the UK again but if they want to rebrand themselves as a band that pioneered rather than pissed it away, they need to make a new album that takes the adventurous spirit of those original records and makes good on their promise. And to do that Kerr and Burchill are going to have to pick up the phone and give Forbes, McGee and MacNeil a call. Reconnecting with their old material is one thing but they’re going to have to reconnect with the people who made it if they want to create something that is its equal. ”Â¨”Â¨[ends]