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Thursday, 27 September 2018
Simple Minds - Life In A Day (1979)
Released April 1979
Simple Minds were a very odd entity. They began here, as a derivative, Magazine and early Roxy Music-influenced introspective post-punk group. A few years later they were a massive, somewhat pretentious stadium-rock band. Their progression was a bit like U2's from a few years later, although their descent was as rapid as their ascent, something U2 didn't experience. Rather like Roxy Music, Fleetwood Mac and Santana, Simple Minds were a group whose eventual hordes of arm-waving fans who crowded out huge US stadiums had literally no idea about their early albums or their initial incarnation. As I said, a strange band, and one I never really "got", I have to be completely honest.
Anyway, on to this album. The opener, "Someone" seems created with Roxy Music's "Virginia Plan" in mind, lots of frantic verses, madcap keyboard breaks and swirls. It is not a bad song, for its time, to be fair, although it has always sounded a bit tinny. Released in 1979, I remember at the time that nobody quite knew what to make of Simple Minds. Were they punk? No. Were they post punk in the Magazine/Public Image Ltd/Joy Division style? No. Were they "art rock"? Possibly, but a bit too late. The title track was a Ultravox-ish sonically overwhelming mish-mash. It had some Pete Shelley from The Buzzcocks yelping vocals from singer Jim Kerr and some Roxy keyboards with a kind of New York Dolls glam crash. As mentioned earlier, there were plenty of influences from Magazine's "Real Life" from the year before, in the keyboard sound, although Kerr's vocal is far less hauntingly dominant than Howard Devoto's.
"Sad Affair" is an upbeat, catchy strange sort of rocker with some madcap guitar and another high-pitched, weak-ish vocal that gets overwhelmed by the backing. "All For You" is a thumping, mid-pace riffy number with some impressive bass in the middle. It seemed most groups had to put out one extended track on each album, even the punks. Here it is the Velvet Underground meets string orchestration pompous, overblown and pretty pointless "Pleasantly Disturbed". "No Cure" and its frenetic keyboard sound and weird high pitched vocal suddenly make me realise what this whole album reminds me of - Sparks, their overall, unique sound and Russell Mael's vocal. Got it.
I remember seeing the band perform the proto-anthemic "Chelsea Girl" on one of the music shows at the time and being a bit under-convince by it. It has its moments, it has to be said - a grandiose sound, some thumping drums and melodramatic guitar riffs. It is actually quite unusual, and pretty much impossible to categorise. It has a sublime bass and vocal bit a the end, credit where its due. "Wasteland" is a punky rock-ish number that has something to it, vague hints of early U2 but somehow not quite getting there. "Destiny" had that upbeat, tinny keyboard and mannered yelpy vocal that was so typical of The Boomtown Rats' first couple of albums. This album is supposedly remastered (2002), but some of the material is quite trebly/keyboard-y, I am not sure much more can be done.
The best track is probably the last one, "Murder Story" a mysterious, inventive, extended but always captivating song. It had enough potential to suggest there was something more to come from the group. Indeed some of "side two" had done so too, "Chelsea Girl" and "Wasteland".
The fact I have included so many other artists' names in this review give an idea as to how derivative it is, struggling to find its own identity. Jim Kerr said of this album, however, that after recording it he got in the car and played a tape someone had given him. It was Joy Division's "Unknown Pleasures". He said "we've totally blown it". Maybe he was right.
- September 27, 2018