I recently started using This Is My Jam and today I have put up ‘In Trance As Mission‘, the opening track to the ‘Sons and Fascination’ album and one of my favourite songs by Simple Minds. Despite their enormous commercial popularity, they have, since the mid-eighties, been used as a shorthand for a band that it’s naff to like.
However, between 1979 and 1982 they released a string of albums – ‘Real to Real Cacophony‘, ‘Empires and Dance‘, ‘Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call‘, ‘New Gold Dream (81~82~83~84)‘ – that were inventive, original, melodic, unorthodox and, in places, quite beautiful.
To go with today’s post on This Is My Jam, I wanted to reproduce this review of Sons and Fascination that I wrote for Amazon on June 4th, 2002.
“It’s a rash music lover who doesn’t pay heed to the musings of John Peel and during the playback of a session that Simple Minds recorded for his show to promote these albums, he speculated that they were “a band at the very height of their powers”.
Certainly the band – unceremoniously and unfairly dumped by Arista after the record company misread the demand for Empires and Dance – were brimming with confidence and riding the flood of their creative juices. Placed by new label, Virgin, into the studio with ex-Gong guitarist Steve Hillage in the production seat, the band recorded a wealth of material, which resulted in a second album, Sister Feelings Call, being released free (initially) with its sibling, Sons and Fascination.
Ironically, years later Jim Kerr would blame Hillage for not imposing more discipline on the band and went on to suggest the songs could have been better arranged. Sometimes, he said, it sounded like there was more than one song going on in the same track. It’s an exaggeration, I know, but it’s like Monet saying that he wishes someone had made him paint more precisely; an artist decrying the elements of his work that made it so compelling.
At the time, though, the then evidently more artistically switched on Kerr did a fantastic job of turning the band’s complex musical creations into songs. Certainly it’s difficult to think of many vocalists who, confronted by the music, would fashion something so catchy as 70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall or, indeed, would have the good taste to resist the urge to take part in the invigorating Theme For Great Cities.
In an unfortunate twist of musical history, this was to be Brian McGee’s last album with the band, just as the powerful drummer appeared to reach his creative apogee. From the perspective of today’s homogenised beats and drum sounds, the performances are even more astounding: his casual, easy management of In Trance As Mission’s 6/8 signature through to the pounding, imaginative loop of Boys From Brazil. In retrospect, it is possible to see his departure as the beginning of Simple Minds’ creative decline, although this wouldn’t become evident for some time.
Overall, the albums are far more colourful than their predecessor; rich in melody and far subtler in their methods. The dark dramas are replaced by more evocative feelings of nostalgia on tracks like Seeing Out the Angel and Sons and Fascination, which contrast with the excellent upbeat singles: The American; Love Song; and Sweat in Bullet. However, the videos for these last two singles also revealed that the band’s daunting creative vision did not extend to that medium.
Contrary to what you will read on the fan sites of those who adore the post Live Aid Simple Minds, I’d suggest that this is their finest hour, the essence of what made the band great. Released on CD simply as Sons and Fascination, with no liner notes, this release omits both Sound in 70 Cities and League of Nations, although they would have fitted onto the single compact disc. However, both can be found on the Themes releases of the band’s 12″ singles.”