Yesterday marked the anniversary of the release of 1984’s excellent Sparkle In The Rain album, and I had every intention of doing a write up thereon, however, my beloved New England Patriots won Super Bowl LI, their fifth championship victory, and I may have spent most of yesterday recovering from celebration (including taking Uber back to the bar where I’d wisely left my truck). Maybe I’ll get to do Sparkle In The Rain next year.
However, Simple Minds is still one of my favorite bands, so let’s talk about Good News From The Next World which was released on this day, 1995. I’ll start out by saying, sure, this is no Sparkle In The Rain, but I was amazed, reading historical reviews, how egregiously critics slammed this record upon its release. Little of that informs my opinion and I know it wasn’t a commercial success, but some of it was just plain mean-hearted: “Both the musicians and their sound have gotten much fatter since their heyday,” to paraphrase one music critic. Yikes!
Is it a lush album, expansive in both production and running time? Sure. Only one of the songs on the record comes in under five minutes. Is it derivative at times? Of course. You can’t make records for fifteen years and remain startlingly original all the time. Would it have been improved by more stripped down production? Maybe. Can’t say. Because I sort of love it the way it is.
This album was released a decade after their commercial powerhouse, United States-conquering Once Upon A Time in 1985. Like most American teens in the ’80s, I’d been introduced to Jim Kerr & Co. via the ubiquitous single, “Don’t You Forget About Me” a year prior and when Once Upon A Time followed close on its heels, I was enraptured. “Alive And Kicking,” “Sanctify Yourself,” “All The Things She Said,” and deeper album cuts like the title track and “Come A Long Way.” I wore out that album on cassette, after which the band took a four year hiatus from the studio and since then I’d been hoping for the return of the Simple Minds with which I’d first fallen in love.
They don’t achieve that on Good News From The Next World, but there are hints of it. Moreover, in the twenty-plus years since it was released, they way I hear it has changed. I’m not listening to it hoping for “Waterfront” or “Ghost Dancing.” But I am eagerly anticipating Edge-like guitar and Larry Mullen Jr-like drumming to open the album with lead single “She’s A River,” a song that sounds so much like a certain Irish band that the missus actually asked if I was listening to U2 earlier today. And that’s not a bad thing. I like both bands and if they influence one another from time to time, that’s just fine with me.
They change up the styles a bit on this record. “Hypnotized” starts off with a little funk groove; then the wail of Charlie Burchill‘s guitar soars before the song settles into a steady disco backbeat behind Jim Kerr’s vocals. There’s an echo of that funky guitar shuffle again to open “7 Deadly Sins” until it veers into rock territory, the vocals alternating between a bluesy croon and a growl (in fact, I’ve thought for some time that this would be great rerecorded as a straight up electric blues number).
For this album, the “band” reverted to the original duo of vocalist Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill. The two of them wrote all nine songs on the album before bringing in a slew of musicians to flesh out the sound in the studio (the credits list three different drummers and four different bassists). On top of this, they enlisted producer Keith Forsey with whom they had last worked on their breakthrough “Don’t You Forget About Me.” Maybe they were trying to recapture that sound and success, but if so it only resulted in proving that you can’t look back when you’re moving forward.
I said earlier that I’ve come to love this album just the way it is – and I do – but there is a part of me that would love to hear it as a more stripped-down arrangement, more live/less studio. Perhaps due to its lack of commercial viability, none of the tracks from Good News… were selected for inclusion in their collection of rerecorded songs on last year’s Acoustic. More’s the pity.
Simple Minds continues to put out new records every few years and they continue to tour. I continue to buy their albums and I finally got to see them in Boston a few years back. I was amazed by how much energy they managed to exude on stage and how fresh every single song sounded no matter how many times I’d heard it. For me, they’re one of those bands that were in the right place at the right time to strike gold and capture the ears of every radio listener in the world… and then that time and place were gone, but the band stayed. People forget about bands like that pretty quickly and then they’re surprised to hear (if they ever do) that the band is still out there, still making records, still touring.
I have a place in my heart – we all do – for nostalgia acts. It’s so much fun to go see the bands of our youth now that we’re older and they’re older and for ninety minutes we get transported back to our youth. Simple Minds isn’t that band. They weren’t that band twenty years ago when they released Good News… and they’re not that band now. They continue to write and record new music that moves in new directions and while they might have plateaued thirty years ago, they’ve maintained the same high quality of output since.