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reviews | nme (september 13th, 1980)

Empires And Dance album
Awe And Terror From The Inner Minds
(Empires And Dance)

I'm dancing as fast as I can! Empires And Dance, an LP of terror-songs, vigilance and vanity, starts with I Travel, one of the great voluted disco-rock songs, and nowhere else on the record are things so conventionally warming, so generously active. Nowhere else on the record is the sound so tangible.

The impudent accessibility of I Travel is no insulting gesture: Simple Minds have always been potentially an important group, and they move into play with something close to the plausible freak out to show that they now have the sense and essence of their music under control. Dancing into control.

Empires And Dance is a weird, agitating record, unsettlingly exisiting as if between the world of pure imagination and the world upon which it depends. It isn't, simply 'unconventional'; it succeeds on so many 'elusive' levels. It is not of the 'rock' routine, nor is it for the 'rock' fan. The music is inevitably incomplete and indefinite, and that says much more than any fake perfection or illusory cheerfulness.

The songs on the record are elegies, nervous studies, flippant reflections, mysteries, overall an arbitrary concatenation of images. Singer Jim Kerr interprets life as dull unease, a struggle against impossible odds, a shabby pathetic failure, a series of disconnected encounters, rumours and giggles. Myth, mess and mistake.

The music represents all this tragic (or perfect) illogic with trance-like force and an eerily remote, but not sterile, determination. The Minds' understanding of sound and structure, soul and atmosphere, rhythm and climax, goes directly against all rock conditioning, against the grain. The music melts and shifts and rumbles. It lurks it doesn't bounce and bore. Their music is no luxury. I'm laughing as loud as I can.

The Minds have been single-mindedly journeying into the depths ever since their fallible first LP, spiting the pressure of the record industry's commercialism which demanded that they churn out variations on the chiming Chelsea Girl theme (I Travel comprehensively mocks that whole bigoted attitude), refusing to conform and thus dishonestly console. It would have been easy all along the way for them to have withdrawn into winning pop ways. Instead they've been carefully searching for a less suspect, less negative process of documenting and communicating critical, ambiguous feelings.

In songs like Today I Died Again (a spectral song), Celebrate (a song of crisis and hypocrisy), Capital City (a song of unknown treasures), Constantinople Line (of faith, fear and futility), all majestic in their own way, there is nothing immediate or friendly to grab hold of, book in on. Not even Kerr's voice grants any favours. He affects an exaggerated detachment to convey his pagan rage, a disorientating mixture of impassiveness and impassion. Time crawls, but it's needed to get used to both sound and voice, to understand their points of view, recognise the signs and symptoms. The most accessible moments other than I Travel come with the suspense of Twist/Run/Repulsion and the extreme paranoia of Thirty Frames A Second.

Elsewhere the music restlessly craves to equal through sound the struggle and aspiration of Kerr, this felt best on the magnificent This Fear Of Gods.

An inspirational gothic and scenic piece, it's the Minds most impressive work to date, exemplifying the spiralling, demonic, constantly coalescing state of current Minds music, the ways each instrument's role is exaggerated (Derek Forbes' bass and Brian McGee's drums) or distorted ( Charlie Burchill's guitars and Michael McNeil's keyboards). This Fear Of Gods is the extremity of Kerr's detachment, his grudge against reality, and it becomes a kind of inspiration.

Other songs are not overshadowed by'Gods' (although that should be the one to finally convince the non_believers.) Some seem swallowed by darkness, others oscillate between high seriousness and furtive enjoyment, all are full of comfortless noises, decentralising percussion, dissolving effects.

Simple Minds have invented their own ways: melodramatic yet modernist. An authentic new torch music. I'm dancing as fast as 1 can.

Paul Morely
NME, September 13th 1980