By James Iles 23/04 Updated: 24/04 14:42
SIMPLE Minds remain one of the most successful and influential bands to grace the popular music scene and in ‘X5’, their six CD boxset out this week, we can chart their progress from finding their voice on 1979’s Life In A Day, through the Eurotrance and art rock experimentation of Empires and Dance (1980) to their ascent to pop success in 1982’s New Gold Dream.
Yes, it was only after these original five studio albums (1979’s Real to Real Cacophony and 1981’s Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call double LP complete the quintet) that the Glaswegian rockers went on to fill stadiums with their atmospheric dance-tinged brand of synthesizer rock thanks to global hits like Don’t You Forget About Me and Alive and Kicking.
But X5 is worth your time if only to fully appreciate their huge influence from the new wave and later dance scenes of the 80s and 90s to the Manic Street Preachers.
If you listen carefully you will be playing ‘guess the dance remix sample’ but more tellingly witness their influential parity with contemporaries like Joy Division, Peter Gabriel, PiL or Echo and the Bunnymen.
The foundation laying begins with 1979 debut album Life In A Day where the Roxy Music/Bowie glam rock love is clear, especially on Someone and No Cure.
The benchmark track that illustrates Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill’s early songwriting potential is Chelsea Girl which exemplifies why Moby can ‘barely go a week without listening to one of the first 4 or 5 Simple Minds albums.’ The Celtic rock guitar and glam of Murder Story also highlights John Leckie’s timeless production.
Six months later Real to Real Cacophony followed but there’s already progress with the addition of much more electronica creating a superb New Wave sound starting with the blips and squeaks on opener Real to Real.
Leckie produces again and experimentation abounds on Naked Eye plus instrumentals Cacophony and Veldt. Premonition with its ‘Doors meets disco groove’ feel and the Kraftwerk efficiency of Factory mark the sign of things to come.
Empires and Dance (1980) develops the Krautrock/Eurotrance period of the band on the Autobahn-esque of Capital City and the Moroder disco of I Travel see more sequencing and programming evident. Celebrate’s glam rock electro stomp would suit Depeche Mode even now while you can hear Front 242 taking notes from the industrialised This Fear of Gods.
The double helping that is 1981’s Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call sees the Minds move to Virgin and Steve Hillage in charge of the decks. It’s here that their European disco influence truly comes to the fore, especially on the superb single Love Song.
Sister Feelings Call is launched by Theme For Great Cities (later sampled for Raven Maize’s The Real Life 90s dance anthem) which is a movie soundtrack in its own right with trademark meandering bass melodies from Derek Forbes.
X5 is perfectly packaged in a white box with individual LP style CD sleeves, the discs themselves honouring the original vinyl centre labels.
The collection ends with New Gold Dream 81-82-82-84 which hails the band’s crossover to the big time and its panoramic ambience is credited as an influence on U2’s Unforgettable Fire by producer Daniel Lanois.
The UK #3 album contains undisguised pop gems Promised You A Miracle, Glittering Prize and Someone, Somewhere (In Summertime) - three hit tracks that find the formula for success in the singles charts and pave the way for the stadium stardom that would inevitably follow.
Retailing at around £12.99 this set is great value for fans and newcomers alike.
Simple Minds are playing five tracks off each of the five albums on their 5 X 5 Live tour which goes to Birmingham’s O2 Academy tomorrow (Friday). Visit o2academybirmingham.co.uk for details.
Review by James Iles
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