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reviews | nme (september 5th, 1981)

Sons And Fascination album

Sister Feelings Call album

Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call

After three LPs and a label switch, Simple Minds really should know better than to be persisting with an "innocents abroad" strategy. While they might argue that Sons And Fascination/ Sister Feelings Call are excursions into virgin territory they've got no excuse for forgetting all that they'd learnt with their last Arista record, the excellent Empires And Dance.

On that one they'd worked out an exciting way of dealing with the confusion of being strangers in strange lands, a subject Jim Kerr talks so compellingly about. By transplanting their traveller's impressions into rich disco epics they were able to relate their awe of being there and a finely tuned sense of place to their coming to terms with alien ideas and different cultures. Going by this two LP set, though, they've exhausted their capacity for new experiences in Europe, as these disjointed travelogues suggest they were too overwhelmed by the old/new world of America to do anything other than report what they saw, folded in with what they'd heard about Americans elsewhere. Naive amazement would be enough if they were willing ot settle for expressing just that, but they rather pointlessly present the knowledge they gained as some enigmatic voyage of discovery without letting on the location of the departure point. The packaging doesn't help: one LP - Sister Feelings Call - could be a pleasantly abstract exposition of other's baffling riddles. (Or, more likely, just another ill-conceived marketing manoeuvre.) Venturing inside, the track listing reads like a set of particularly obtuse crossword anagrams - 70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall, Careful In Career - and little more is revealed by Kerr's impossible cryptic lines which are held together in place of Empire's narrative threads by the slightest of associations.

Only if seen as a reflection of the group's fragmented state of mind following their American trips do the songs begin to make sense - not that sense itself is necessarily important if Kerr's jumpcut imagery formed a potent montage of information and colour instead. Sadly they rarely work in either the concrete or the abstract.

In Trance As Mission (of Sons And Fascination) almost reaches a workable compromise between the two extremes, it being an effectively wrought acknowledgement of Simple Minds' sudden loss of perspective. Gliding on a slowly uncoiling keyboards melody, Kerr's ever dark, eternaly grand voice outlines the dreamlike state they've been reduced to by the perpetual motion of an American trip.

Though no masterpiece, it is only bettered on Sons And Fascination by the set's one trascendent moment, This Earth That You Walk Upon. The tune's inexorable movemnet recalls the epic sweep of Empires while, in the song's concern with establishing an identity, to avoid being lost in the whirl of the world, Kerr achieves a rare moment of lucidity: What's you name? What's your nation? Sense of order, sense of speed, Earth that you walk upon.

Elsewhere Simple Minds are accomplished enough to suggest what they're not prepared to state clearly. The music is at times claustrophobically close, at others sharply descriptive of great yawning landscapes and the imminent excitement of approaching cities. The instrumental Theme For Great Cities, from the looser, more palatable Sister Feelings Call is quite simply the most deliciously wanting electronic melody that Gary Numan never recorded, one of the most beautiful since Kraftwerk's Neon Lights.

Unfortunately in their pursuit of perfection they've lost the lurching disco movemnet that made them Europe's most modern exponents of travel music and what they've gained in poise and sophistication only emphasises the uncertainty of the songs. Add to that the increased outrageousness of Kerr's incredible vocal conceits and a large gap beings to form between the weight shape of Simple Minds' music and its actual content. This sort of gap, between lofty ambition and banal realisation, was the breeding ground for the pomp of the early '70s.

Such an accusation doesn't really apply to the simpler companion LP Sister Feelings Call, but only the rigorous execution of Sons And Fascination, plus its (imagined) preoccupations with the real world (the title track might be about American hears and minds strategies) prevent it from being so arraigned. That their detractors have plenty of evidence to make out a case against them is Simple Minds' own fault. They probably envisage the collection as some labyrinthine test for the listener. I think most will only find its mustery excessively and inexcusably laboured.

Chris Bohn
NME, September 5th 1981