Out of the spandex-loving, big-haired days of the '80s came the Rat Pack, cheesy movies and bands like Simple Minds. With an ever-changing lineup and musical style ranging from punk to pop to experimental rock, the band managed to put out 16 albums together. The group had one huge hit in the United States that lead singer Jim Kerr had doubts about - 1985's "Don't You (Forget About Me)" from The Breakfast Club soundtrack - and now the classic '80s band is re-releasing its albums "digitally remastered," which means little-to-nothing, except that you get to enjoy/despise them all over again. Thoughts on the albums seem to be as diverse as the albums themselves. Here, we take a look at some of Simple Minds' discography.
Life in a Day (1979)
Born out of the ashes of the late '70s Scottish punk band Johnny And The Self Abusers, Simple Minds had not yet developed a memorable sound by the time of its debut album, Life in a Day. You might even forget you turned it on. Heavy electric guitar, synthesizer, a steady drumbeat and Jim Kerr's high-pitched post-punk New Wave whine characterize most of the album's 43 minutes. Essentially, one song plays over and over. It is harmless but boring. In the lyrics department, the album scores low for triteness and bad elementary school rhymes: "You come on so sharp/ Yet be so nice/ Tell me that you're so hot/ But you're as cold as ice" ("No Cure"). Although the album falls short of original, the band gets one star for never lacking in energy -- and another star for looking so bad-ass on the inside cover.
Reel to Real Cacophony (1979)
1979's Reel to Real Cacophony saw Scottish rockers Simple Minds master their influences and transform their sound into a m‚lange of New Wave bliss. "Carnival's (Shelter in a Suitcase)" frenetic rhythms see an infectious calliope tune flirt with frontman Jim Kerr's energetic bark, as undulating bass plays in the background. It's easy to see how groups like Blur acquired their taste for quirky pop, as Simple Minds skillfully pull off presenting cut after cut of changing time signatures, varied sonic textures and inspiring rockers. Aside from two transitional tracks of directionless mumbling and repetition which mar what could have been an impeccable work of art, Reel to Real Cacophony delivers on its promise of aural perfection.
Sons and Fascination (1981)
Sons and Fascination may prove that the Simple Minds are not so simple-minded after all. But it also might certify the band as verifiably tone deaf. The "socially conscious" tracks, such as "20th Century Promised Land" and "League of Nations" are as lyrically and musically vapid as the titles themselves. The keyboard is overbearing and irritating, and the slap bass is redundant. If the song "20th Century Promised Land" represents any sort of "promised land," Moses didn't miss much.
"Wonderful in Young Life" is the only mildly redeemable track, in that it resembles a more tortured version of the band's one hit, best known as the theme song from The Breakfast Club. The Simple Minds' spacey sound is a misguided guess of what music of the future would sound like from the perspective of someone in 1981. This music is not even redeemed by its embarrassing nostalgia. It's not bad in the endearing way that many other specimens of '80s pop culture are "bad" enough to be good. It's simply awful.
New Gold Dream (1982)
In a time when sky-high hair and spandex were all the rage, Simple Minds ruled the airwaves. Today, their legacy culminates in New Gold Dream. Alongside rock legends Duran Duran and The Cure, Simple Minds employ the organic, post-punk rhythms that were a signature of the '80s. Now that many contemporary bands (such as Interpol and The Rapture) are using the '80s as a source of inspiration, Simple Minds could not have picked a better time to remaster their albums.
New Gold Dream distinguishes itself from Simple Minds' well-known single "Don't You (Forget About Me)." Rather than sticking to a catchy chorus formula, New Gold Dream exhibits a deeper, more fluid style. Even dance-able tracks ("Promised You a Miracle") foster fairly intricate and diverse sounds. This album is significant as more than just '80s nostalgia. For fans of the New Wave revival, New Gold Dream stands as a founding father of that entire genre.
Sparkle in the Rain (1984)
Sparkle in the Rain, the band's seventh record, is a 45-minute overture containing all that was right about New Wave: music that is bright, shiny, heavy-on-the-synth and deceptively layered. The reissue contains top hits such as "Up on the Catwalk" and "Waterfront," which peaked at #13 on the U.K. Pop charts. The album closes with "Shake off the Ghosts," an instrumental that enables the band to pack on its tight, precise sound. It's the sound without the fury, an album with a place alongside the sincerity of Tammy Faye Baker and the beauty of acid-washed mini skirts.
The Simple Minds were at their commercial and artistic peak in the mid-1980s, the same time that U2 was taking over the world. Somewhere along the line, Jim Kerr and his pack of New Wavers must have accepted their second-place status and decided if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. They did just that on 1998's N‚apolis, where the Scottish vets created an album very similar to work U2 had recently released. OK, so they lose points for originality.
They also lose points for making a bad album. While the Euro-flavored beats are at times catchy, they never really amount to anything memorable. The lyrics don't fill this void, with choruses that are repeated too often and lack inspiration, as in the singles "Glitterball" and "If I Had Wings." Sure enough, the best song on the album, "Androgyny," doesn't even have lyrics. Digital remastering does not make this album any better.