#10: Simple Minds – Street Fighting Years (1989)

There is a case to be made for Simple Mind’s highbrow credibility found on their most arty LP Street Fighting Years. Big melodramatic anthems, impassioned Gothic vocals both stirring and bombastic, sit alongside subtle moving ballads and icy melodrama. While never reaching the highs of their seminal New Gold Dream 81,82,83,84 (1982), it is the band’s grand achievement in late-80s pop. It also requires a suspension of (dis)belief, setting aside any negative stances or misconceptions of the group (they are much more than that Breakfast Club  US #1 hit) or their association with their contemporaries (U2, Magazine, Big Country).

Formed in Glasgow in 1978, approaching Simple Minds’ early materiel is dependent on your appetite for the open-ended aesthetics of the post-punk era. After their 1979 debut, Life in a Day, they signed to Virgin and released three more wonderfully strange and oft-neglected albums (Real to Real Cacophony, Empires and Dance, and the sprawling double Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call featuring the excellent Love Song). Combining a stark and powerful stageshow, they exhibited the influence of artists such as Bowie, Roxy Music, Wire and Neu! Commercial success was inevitable and it came in the form of their breakthrough New Gold Dream 81,82,83,84 and the bombastic Sparkle in the Rain (1984) hit albums, marking the closure of a chapter in the band’s career and the opening of another. Gone were the experimental angularity of old, in favour of lush, multilayered melodies and spiky-motorik brilliance (hit singles Glittering Prize, Promised You a Miracle being two excellent examples), heralding an expansive sound and period of innovation. Stateside success was to follow with Once Upon a Time (1985) and aforementioned single Don’t You Forget About Me, establishing them as a truly international force, employing big rock hooks and reverb-soaked anthemic choruses to good effect.

It was on the expansive Street Fighting Years, released three years later, where Simple Minds consolidated their developing political consciousnesses and grandiose symbolism. Produced by Trevor Horn, it is the album where Jim Kerr’s vocals would attain their full Bono-esque bombast, maintaining an epic arena-rock sound on decidedly non-commercial subject matter eg: cheery topics like poll tax, and the Berlin Wall. Unfortunately the lengthy gap between albums failed to consolidate their strong US foothold and the album was ignored, now something of a faceless misstep in their discography. It does have its moments. The triumvirate of major tracks: the moving Belfast Child, Mandela Day and a cover of the haunting Peter Gabriel classic Biko, displayed brilliant atmospherics and a Celtic influence being incorporated into their sound, while still maintaining their crowd-rousing anthems such as the fine opening title cut. Simple Minds also still hadn’t completely reined in their experimental tendencies, and the album is soaked in introspection and subtlety best displayed on the elegant This is Your Land.

1. Street Fighting Years   ∗∗∗∗
2. Soul Crying Out   ∗∗∗
3. Wall of Love   ∗∗∗
4. This is Your Land   ∗∗∗∗∗
5. Take a Step Back  ∗∗
6. Kick In   ∗∗∗
7. Let it All Come Down   ∗∗∗∗
8. Mandela Day   ∗∗∗∗
9. Belfast Child   ∗∗∗∗∗
10. Biko   ∗∗∗∗∗

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