It's always an exciting moment when an assumption that you have held for such a long time is irrevocably shattered in the light of a new discovery. I was always dismissive of Simple Minds based on the fact that when I was conscious enough to listen to and remember music their output was pretty much the overblown stadium rock God posturing of the mid to late 80s which I cannot help feel numb towards (stadium rock in general that is). There's nothing wrong with ambition yet achieving the pinnacles of success (almost) inevitably mean a slide downwards and the 80s are littered with countless bands who reached the stars only to be burnt and cringe into a congealed mass of MOR. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, however based on my admittedly scanty knowledge, Simple Minds appear to fit into this arbitrary category quite nicely. Reading the reviews for their 1980 album Empires and Dance it seemed to suggest it was something of a masterpiece and having listened it is hard not to think it is far more sophisticated than their later rock efforts. Not that it was even popular at the time, like many of the bands I have discovered in recent months abandoned by their record companies and the public, it does not seem much of a coincidence that much of it is dark (read miserable), experimental (read all over the place) and oblique (read incomprehensible lyrics). I have no idea what Jim Kerr is singing half the time but something about his pronunciation makes it seem important. Opener ITravel bursts brightly into being quite aware of its brilliance, a sparkling intensity of spacey synths, squalling guitar and decadent disco that could slip into the charts today and you would swear it was by Ladyhawke or White Rose Movement or Neon Neon it is so NOW (but of then) except for Kerr's unmistakable vocal style of course (him not being a woman either which is all the rage in electro in the noughties). It all ends too soon. Today I died again is heavy with echo and subdued in comparison, concerned with a life lost - 'The clothes he wears, date back to the war.' Celebration is starker still, a glam-stomp only someone forgot to put the glam in, disappearing with it into the void instead. This Fear of Gods is almost-trance drip dripping into consciousness (like a fast train travelling through snow-bound mountains) until it turns on a chord and disrupts itself crashing into brighter sparks. So many echoes here... Capitol City reminds me of dirge-pop, not in a good way particularly. 'Hey Waiter' things are getting a bit peculiar around here, firstly Constantinople Line comes over like a Gothic Japan, and now some woman is talking in French (a la Visage), until a nursery rhyme mash-up and hideous wounded saxophone keep cutting her off (aha must be twist/run/repulsion then). Its back to business with Thirty Frames of Second channelling the same nervy sense of paranoia that would define post-punk pioneers like Magazine, and the shiny synths here reminiscent of those great 80s school TV programmes we watched like Dark Towers and one I cannot remember the name of but it concerned an spooky boy alien who landed in a gravel pit. Kant-Kino has a great title and lovely squelchy synth attack which comes and goes again before it is even introduces itself properly. You have to love how some bands can just throw away a great idea like that. Oh for the experimentation of youth! Which leaves the final Room 'I only live here, a fragile man' emerging from the slow burning mire, only to peter out again... Empires and dance indeed, the hedonism before the crash (as we may/may not be experiencing again), the sound of a band struggling to contain a thousand ideas (so lets put them all in).
A performance of the brilliant 'I Travel' from 1980 (with thanks to YouTube)
In 1985 Scotland's The Wake made the kind of music where you are afraid to sneeze in case you disrupt the delicate melodies; even breathing seems a harsh activity in the company of the ethereal Here comes everybody a relatively hidden gem in the history of Factory records. Although at first condemned for producing sub-Joy Division standard post-punk dirges on their debut (as must every band signed to Factory at the time) by the mid-80s The Wake were coating their tales of love lorn and love lost in woozy blankets of loveliness, sugaring the misery so to speak. Elements of pop and dub-tinged bass provide the bedrock bubbling away beneath which prevents songs from floating into the ether or the sensitive listener either drowning in sorrow or in syrup, whilst the vocals are gentle without sounding too twee or cloying. Indeed singer Caesar sounds so doleful, even on the more upbeat songs like Talk about the past, you might have, like me, the strong desire to want to force feed him with fairy cakes and tea until he gives in and raises a smile. Nevertheless it is the fragile beauty of the triumvirate of Torn Calendar, All I Asked You To Do and Here Comes Everybody which all deal to some extent with the disappointment caused by love (a good topic for the day after Valentine's) which are the most endearing. Here Comes Everybody overlies cavernous drums with tender melodies and crushing heartache - 'I lost you in a lonely crowd, you wanted to be free / you wanted to be someone else, I'll always disagree" whilst All I Asked You To Do wears its pop sensibilities on its sleeve and, like The Cure at their best, is infectiously catchy, the simple melody underlain with mists of synth to create a dream-like atmosphere. Torn Calendar is the wispiest little thing, best consumed in the quiet rather than the bustle of everyday life. Together with The Names (sort of their label mates) The Wake create soundtracks to lose yourself in the waves of soothing melody.