Few bands seem to cause such division as Simple Minds. There are fans of the early stuff, fans of the later stuff, fans of New Gold Dream…. I never had a horse in that race, since I never particularly cared to follow them. I liked what I heard on the radio of theirs well enough, it was certainly expertly crafted and, in retrospect, helped define its time. But recently I felt like mining a bit deeper and came upon their early records. I understand the early fans’ passions more now, since it’s made clear on Real to Real Cacophony and Empires and Dance that the band was chasing an ambition to recast pop music coming out of the 70s. That they caught up with it is apparently a deep disappointment for those who read sellout in the tracks of Once Upon a Time, but of course the one — a deeply enjoyable confection of well-honed hooks and musicianly smarts, no matter its commerciality — would not have been possible without the other, a proving ground that was hit and miss, but when it found its mark was incendiary.
“Premonition” has at its center a chunky classic rock riff driven by Charlie Burchill’s guitar, and isn’t too distant from what the Cars and Tubeway Army were doing at a time before the keyboards really took complete hold, combining the ethic of early Roxy Music with a post-punk focus on rhythm (Derek Forbes and Brian McGee brought genius to this band). Jim Kerr sings with a wide-eyed weirdness straight out of Marquee Moon, while Mick MacNeil’s carnivalesque keyboarding from this time must have influenced fellow Glaswegians Belle & Sebastian (thinking specifically of “Lazy Line Painter Jane”).
This live rendition — though honestly the sync seems odd enough to me and the recording good enough that there may be some yet-to-be-defined disconnect between picture and sound — catches Simple Minds in their early prime (and goes some way to explaining why they were offered a certain song to sing for a certain movie after Bryan Ferry turned it down). They were catching fire creatively, figuring it out and putting it out live. That their trajectory afterwards went on to follow that of Ferry et al. is perhaps the sign of one common path in a larger creative process tied to myriad motivations. Me? If I had to decide which Simple Minds I prefer…I’d take both.
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