20 April 2007

A blast from the past: Simple Minds

The Apple iPod stands to revolutionise everyone's personal stereo experience. But not this blogger yet. He's not yet sold on the way that iTunes catalogues tunes on his hard disk, nor with the proprietary format that Apple uses for music files - he's still on mp3 and prefers it that way. aac doesn't really allow for file sharing, which is today's version of lending your CD out to your friends so that they can have a listen.

Also, I think that there is more to follow on the solid state memory front - a hard disk means moving parts, and it is this blogger's view that as flash memory gets better and better, the need to carry round a hard disk drive - for that is what the iPod is, essentially, will get less and less.

In the meantime, however, the fact that CD stackers are now redundant is a plus. This ties in well with my post.

I went and saw Simple Minds, INXS and Arrested Development recently.

Not really my choice of gig, but having said that, I enjoyed myself immensely.

Arrested Development were good, and Speech sings a mean rendition of 'Redemption song', however, without crucial early member, Headliner, I felt a bit cheated.

INXS did quite well, even though it was clear that singer JD Fortune was about to lose his voice. Fortune has a voice that is quite close to the late Michael Hutchence's and they did reasonably well. My complaints from their set mainly centres around the fact that apart from 'Don't change' (off Shabooh Shoobah) and 'Original sin' (off The Swing) they didn't do any more earlier stuff.

But Simple Minds.

You know, I wasn't really a Simple Minds fan back in the day. I remember thinking that 'Love song' was pretty cool, and also 'Someone somewhere in summertime', but I wasn't really prepared for the ripsnorter of a live set that these guys put in.

I told my travelling companions that they would start with 'Love song' and finish with 'Waterfront', and sure enough they did, although, I checked their set list online, which had them doing 'Alive and kicking' last which I'm sure isn't right. Also, I was a bit surprised to find them leaving off 'Promised you a miracle' and 'Someone somewhere in summertime'.

But all that aside, what I remember of Simpler Minds was largely of their earlier New Wave period where they were largely synth heavy. Live they're still a very much ROCK!! proposition.

And even though only Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill remain from the original line-up - although drummer Mel Gaynor pretty much qualifies as he was in the 'classic' line-up - I still thought they were the real deal.

Incidentally, Burchill has aged disgracefully.

So I went back through the bargain bins and picked myself up a copy of The Best of Simple Minds together with Early Gold - a compilation from their first 6 albums.

It's really quite revealing the change that happened to this band.

Early Gold starts with two songs from their first album - Life in a Day, and these songs suggest both a punk and glam rock influence as well as an underlying suspicion that this band should not have been in the studio at this point in their careers.

Reel to Real Cacophony is represented by three tracks - and these show a darker edge, most notably a heavy Joy Division influence in the tracks 'Changeling' and 'Premonition'.

Empires and Dance appears to have a huge almost industrial feel - and given that this was the heyday for bands like Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle, this is hardly so very surprising. the 3 tracks represented give a great idea of what this album must sound like.

Sons and Fascination and Sister Feelings Call were recorded and released at the same time, and are well represented by 3 tracks on Early Gold. The Best of includes a fourth track - 'Theme for great cities' (from Sister Feelings Call) which is an instrumental. There appears to still be a proto-industrial influence here, although it's waning. The overall feel is terribly typical New Wave, which is really where audiences started noticing this band. 'Love song' and the almost funky 'Sweat in bullet' are off Sons and Fascination and are pretty good examples of the work of this period.

The last album represented by the early compilation is New Gold Dream - which appears to be pretty much pure New Romantic. There is a fairly obvious Cure influence showing itself here, as well as an overt Roxy Music one, and the more polished stadium rock sound that they ended up with over the late 80s is starting to exert itself - notably on 'New gold dream (81-82-83-84)' and 'Glittering prize'.

The Best of is divided into two disks. The second one is pretty much the nineties onwards, which is kinda interesting, as it shows quite well how the band managed to completely lose their way.

The first disk has some overlap with Early Gold, but given that Early Gold includes album cuts, and not the hated single edits of The Best of, this is not too bad. It isn't in chronological order, though.

Sparkle in the Rain is the next album represented by these compilations. The tracks chosen for The Best of - 'Waterfront', 'Up on the catwalk' and 'Speed your love to me' - show a very much rock edge where the stadium rock feel is starting to gain traction. It appears that this was the last album where Kerr sounded like a strangled cat, as by the next album, his voice had been cleaned up immeasurably.

It's probably Keith Forsey's fault that the band went into free- fall, quality wise from about this point. On the soundtrack to the movie, The Breakfast Club, their contribution, produced and co-written by Forsey, 'Don't you (forget about me)' changed their sound to production line stadium rock and led to the first of many unfavourable U2 comparisons.

Their next album, Once Upon A Time was really them milking this teat and probably the only redeeming tracks, 'Sanctify yourself' and 'Ghostdancing' really give an idea of what the band were really capable of during this period.

After this, the band's stuff is a mixed hotchpotch of ideas half-baked and not really properly realised. Although, I am reliably informed that their two most recent albums are a return to form of some sort.

The good thing about all of this, is that you can take Early Gold and The Best Of and create a bitching playlist for your iPod.


Anonymous said...

Surely this once I can mention ogg vorbis - truly non-proprietary (unlike mp3) and much nicer sounding at lower bitrates.

I like FLAC too, for archiving CDs.

My mom recently purchased an iPod nano with a respectable amount of flash (4GB) but the problem with iTunes still stands. It's a pretty lame piece of software if you don't buy 100% into the way it works.

Throbbing Gristle, eh... is this a hint of Dikkii's days as a goth?

Dikkii said...

Dammit Taj, I knew you as a card carrying linux user was going to mention ogg vorbis at least once.

Incidentally, when are you going to update your blog? We never did find out what happened with Messrs Cauty and Drummond.

And as for Throbbing Gristle, well, I did go through a bit of a phase with those guys. I can't actually remember whether it did coincide with my gothdom, though. I suspect it didn't, because I would have been more into the Sisters or Rosetta Stone back then.

Anonymous said...

As long as we agree that I had to. Now I've gotten it out of my system. I must add that when I have to bother myself with Windows, I use foobar 2000 which, despite a somewhat odd interface, is a very clever bit of software and plays oggs competently.

I ran out of steam with the Cauty and Drummond thing; despite their indirect abuse in my formative years I couldn't come up with a credible reason for them to give me their money instead of burning it en masse. I'm not exactly a convincing charity.

I'll get back to my blog eventually, I got a new server and have been putting off moving the blog to it for more than a year.

Dikkii said...

Foobar 2000, eh?

Here's my question for you - is there a portable mp3 player that also plays oggs yet?

Taj, even I would have been a better charity than the KLF sending it to be burnt. I'm a little disgusted with you.

Awaiting that blog...

Anonymous said...

of course there are, just google "portable ogg player". Even an iPod will play them if you install Rockbox on it, though I'm saving up for one of the nice iAudio players. In the mean time my Nokia 6680 phone, with a big flash card, plays them very well.

Re the justified ancients of mu mu: I agree that the money-burning was not exactly the best thing to do with it from a utilitarian perspective, but the act can claim a certain level of poetry. Giving it to me would be far less poetic.

Ryan Michael said...

Arrested Development were good, and Speech sings a mean rendition of 'Redemption song', however, without crucial early member, Headliner, I felt a bit cheated.

Yes! So one of the greatest ever! When I think "hip-hop", this is the first band that comes to mind. They were so good, and so ahead of their time.

Whenever people accuse me of being only a cock-rocker, I point out my love of Arrested Development and Speech in particular.

Dikkii said...

You know, Ryan, I would never have picked you as an Arrested Development fan.

And, yes. They were totally ahead of their time. Good call. I just wish that when they reformed, they'd invited Headliner along - although I hear that him and Speech haven't spoke to each other for some time.