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Music Review: Simple Minds – Graffiti Soul

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Many years ago I was at Maine Road, Manchester, the now demolished home of Manchester City Football Club. Onstage that day were Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark and one of my favorite bands, The Stranglers. Topping the bill though were Glasgow rockers Simple Minds.

This must have been in the very early nineties as it coincided with the release of the Real Life album. Even if I can’t remember the date, I can vividly recall the hugely charismatic stage presence of their front-man Jim Kerr and the audience reaction to anthems such as “Alive And Kicking,” “This Is Your Land,” and “Belfast Child.”

At the time Simple Minds were simply huge but the subsequent passage of time has seem them only fleetingly return to the glories of that period. However, 2005’s Black & White 050505 rekindled some of that style and swagger. Also last years sell out 30 Years Live tour underlined their continued reputation with trademark impressive performances.

The audience reaction to the tour seems to have re-energized the band and on Graffiti Soul, which is incredibly their 15th studio album, this re-kindled energy simply sparkles through. The album heralds a recharged return to a form that is alive with the kind of tangible freshness that has, in the past, helped to separate this band from the pack.

“We’ve had to overhaul the band in recent years,” says Jim Kerr on the publicity notes released for Graffiti Soul, before adding, “this new record finally sees the full fruit of that.” He is clearly inspired by those around him when he says enthusiastically, “we’ve got a great team now, people that are able to fill the boots of those who brought great things to Simple Minds in the past”.

Those great things include their 1984 number one album Sparkle In The Rain, which included the hit “Waterfront.” It was a release that represented something of a breakthrough for the band and a departure from most of what had gone before. However, it took the movie The Breakfast Club and their track “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” for Simple Minds to really break into the US.

Further success followed with the album Once Upon A Time, which included “Alive & Kicking” and “Sanctify Yourself.” Their shift to more politically inspired material saw the release of Street Fighting Years and Real Life which signified a band at the very height of its powers. That power saw them sell over 35 million albums worldwide.

After some uncharacteristically grey years Graffiti Soul successfully builds upon the positive aspects of their last record Black & White 050505. It radiates fresh waves of positive energy, enthusiasm and redefined belief. Charlie Burchill’s chiming guitar and Jim Kerr’s instantly recognizable vocals have never been better. Together they pull out every trick in the book to help make the album a highly engaging and enjoyable thirty five minutes by anyone’s standards.

Written around Europe at places such as Antwerp, Rome, Sicily, and, of course, Glasgow, this is a band who, whilst paying homage to their own huge legacy, clearly still have a lot to say. Most significantly, however, they somehow maintain the energy to say it. This is a Simple Minds album for 2009. It is powerful, strident, and arrives brimming full of a resurgent swaggering confidence.

“We wanted to make a full-blooded record of ballsy pop songs; something that belied the fact that we have been together for three decades,” reveals Jim Kerr. As soon as the album kicks into “Moscow Underground” it is strikingly apparent that they have achieved just that. It’s a solid, vibrant, bright, and energetic track delivered with a “we’re back” panache.

An equally impressive “Rockets” underlines the ability of the team that Kerr and Charlie Burchill have built around them. It is a track that somehow represents the global legacy of the band’s past. “Stars Will Lead The Way” is, quite simply, huge. It contains all the elements you hope for in a Simple Minds track. Chiming guitars and those rich vocals sit amid a trademark anthem of a chorus.

“Light Travels” maintains the quality as you realize that the album, despite the slower tempo of this song, is flying past at a rapid rate. “Kiss And Fly” sees Kerr returning to that stage dominating presence that I experienced all those years ago with vocals that somehow defy time. The title track follows and quickly underlines the chemistry at work within this, the current line-up of the band.

“Blood Type O” takes an engaging unexpected direction of its own before the urgent “This Is It” wraps the album in true Real Life era style. Suddenly, true to its name “This Is It,” it’s over. It as though there has been so much energy on hand that the album has flown past like speeding scenery from a train carriage.

This is a band whose previous success could easily diminish the drive to place themselves back out in the front again. Instead they have drawn from the energy of the audience reaction that celebrated their thirty year career and delivered an album that will sit well in their impressive catalogue.

Graffiti Soul is a must have for all you Simple Minds out there. You can catch up with the band on their official website.

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About Jeff Perkins