(Life In A Day)
The real essence of Simple Minds musical 'modernism' is in fact comparatively old-fashioned and yet their debut album comes close to defining the new sound of '70s which gives so much hope for rock'n'roll in the '80s.
It's 'old-fashioned' because throughout Life In A Day there are obvious reference points to the late '60s with The Doors (although a Stranglers comparison may also apply), and the early '70s - Cockney Rebel, Roxy Music and Bowie. Also 'old-fashioned' because there are influences of the '70s technocrats interested in the flexibility and range of instrumental sound who're now considered dead or, at the very least, moribund.
Somehow during the upheaval of the last two years, the revolutionary hardcore activists attacked not just attitudes (the root of rock's problems) but the development of technology and (understandably at the time) rejected even its worthy aspects. And it's only now in the post-punk interlude of calm that 'sophistication' and 'professionalism' can once again play a part; even if bands like The Only Ones, XTC and Magazine gained some kind of grudging 'credibility' because of their initial inaccessibility and lack of commercial success.
Simple Minds are one of the few to draw on the strings of early to mid-'70s and construct an 'accessible' and 'commerical' formula.
This may appear to be a convincing argument for dismissing the Minds as shallow, derivative and irrelevant; but it's their ability to be selective when embracing these inspirations and to mould them with their own distinctive ideas and visions that creates something that's not essentially innovative but which is certainly rare.
And they offer a future style that doesn't creak and groan with the nuances and tricks of the first two decades of rock music.
Considering that we're now just eight months away from 1980, it's disturbing that so much modern music still echos with the sounds first discovered 25 years ago. Whereas lyriclly an important part of rock has reflected cultural change, musically its vision has often been a blinkered mythology that raw, minimal chording and strict straight fours are the fundamentals of energy and excitment. Like Magazine, Simple Minds highlight the transparency of that theory.
This album concerns progression. But it is not the alienating doodlings of experimental electronics, nor does it project a naive amateurism that has made so much recent music incomplete even if a delight. The songwriting and musicianship of this Glasgow band indicate a confidence the result of a composed competence rather than an erratic enthusiasm.
Through ten songs they develop structures and textures, emotions and images that are both stimulating and entertaining. The obvious influences are there, but paradoxically they have produced what is in certain respects an importantly timeless album in that it's not concerned with social statement or political dogma - the feeble critical requirements that have made rock unnecessarily transient because it's so quickly redundant as yesterday's history.
Instead, lyricist and vocalist, Jim Kerr, focuses on subjects with a more lasting relevance, mainly romance and relationships with Someone, Sad Affair, No Cure, Cheslea Girl and Wasteland.
Yet his writing has a depth of observation that transcends the simplicity and teen-romance of someone like Pete Shelley.
Kerr's lyrics create tension and an atmosphere not of warmth but a cold, cruel detachment that prohibits wishy sentimentality. They're snatches of real life: remorse, resentment, frustration and - surprisingly - and old fashioned morality: "Is it true you're running round now/Is it true they're calling you the Chelsea Girl", Kerr primly sneers.
Sharply pithy, his words also portray vivid scenarios. Pleasantly Disturbed is theatrical, an aural thriller that’s not so much stated as suggested in the second verse in particular. "Meanwhile Susan goes out all alone/So many reasons but they’re not all her own/Bend till you break, scream if you must/Someone’s in her room, someone she doesn’t trust."
And the final cut Murder Story, a highlight of the album, is an excellent projection of a person’s paranoia caused by rejection and alienation. "I feel so insecure I couldn’t take another day."
Yet in his quest for originality, Kerr occasionally fumbles with an impressionism that is as pretentious in its obscurity as some of Howard Devoto’s incomprehensible songs. Certainly the significance of the title track and All For You is effectively buried in the fragmentary word play.
But musically the set is stunningly imaginative; to the extent that every lyric could be indecipherable and still the songs would make sense.
Written by Kerr and guitarist-violinist Charlie Burchill they comprise brisk pop melodies (Someone, Sad Affair and No Cure); hard, concentrated rock (Chelsea Girl, Wasteland, Destiny and Murder Story); the measured quirkiness of Life In A Day and All For You; with Disturbed alone as a lengthy exploration of jagged instrumental shapes and sensurround ‘orchestral’ grandeur.
Dominated by Kerr's expressive vocals that reveal he’s a committed student of the Bowie-Harley-Ferry-Devoto school, Burchill’s rhythm playing and Mick McNeil’s thin and spiralling organ, all the songs possess indelible melodies. Few have changed greatly in structure or arrangement since they were in demo form, and producer John Leckie has only tidied up to give shaper impact and added ‘commercial’ devices such as handclaps and a certain amount of ceremonial pomp.
Although it is an exceptionally polished album some of the Mind’s vigour has been glossed over by producer John Leckie’s complete professionalism. Derek Forbes (bass) and Brian McGee (drums) lose their rhythmic bristle on Murder Story and occasionally Burchill’s lead lines prematurely drop from sight.
But more importantly, there is a distinctive Simple Minds style. While Kerr and Burchill form the creative fulcrum, McNeil is the third member of the sound-triumvirate as he swivels between the keyboards or synthesizer, organ and piano.
Strangely enough for a non-writer he has become indispensable to the band : responsible for the textures; an important component to the momentums of the rhythms; and the flexible axis between back and front-lines, contributing an astonishing range of brief but creative solo excursions.
Collectively Simple Minds have the talent, resources and uncluttered vision to be one of the most important post-punk bands. With their uncontrived commercialism they could also be one of the most successful and hopefully an inspiration to others.
For a debut album, Life In A Day reveals maturity even if the potential is far greater than their achievement. Secondhand music can still be a discovery with such an invigorating approach.
NME, 21st April 1979