SIMPLE MINDS Themes--Volume 1: March 79-April 82 Themes--Volume 2: August 82-April 85 (Virgin) Melody Maker, September 1990
By Simon Reynolds
It's a trick of history. Just as it's difficult to listen to U2's genuine peaks without looking for the seeds of the fatuous flatulence of Rattle N' Hum, so too is it nigh on impossible to remember that Simple Minds could often be inspirational, now that Jim Kerr is lost in the realm of platitudinous populism.
The first two volumes of Themes, a rather unnecessarily deluxe collection of their 12-inch singles (each colume contains five silver discs, where two would have sufficed), both invites and confounds speculation as to exactly whenabouts Simple Minds went astray. When did heroic vagueness degenerate into vague heroics?
The standard interpretation is that all went awry when Simple Minds exchanged fascination with Europe for the challenge of America's wide-open spaces (and markets). "I Travel" was doubtless inspired by the confusion of being on the road on the Continent, but nonetheless manages to render this tawdry experience as a form of spiritual nomadism: perpetual motion as an eternal exile from everyday life. Musically, the track sounds a bit dated: it's basically Eurodisco, a Moroder pulse-matrix and a chorus that sounds uncannily like Sparks's "Beat the Clock". The calvacade of "Celebrate" sounds far more alien and unsettled. It's not as schizo as side two of Empires and Dance, but it's still a celebration of travel as not so much a means of broadening the mind but of breaching it: the story of an "I" scattered and saturated by stimuli.
Simple Minds didn't exactly deflect all the prog rock accusations by choosing Steve Hillage to produce "The American", and despite the slap-bass and sequencers, there was no disguising the rockism of this dirge. But "Love Song" has real funk propulsion beneath its swirling vistas. It's a love song to geography ("America is my boyfriend"), a kind of reversal of Lyotard's idea of the lover's face as a landscape in which you lose yourself. "Sweat In Bullet" is another surge of panoramic, only slightly stiff-joined funk-rock: the line "rolling and tumbling/mission in motion" is valorously unspecific, there's a vague desire for some kind of crusade or Holy Grail, but Live Aid and Mandela Day are still a long way off. Thank God.
The glistening "Promised You A Miracle" was Simple Minds' breakthrough (into the charts and out of the fug of progressive rock production). Its brimming anticipation ("golden daybreak wondering/everything is possible") perfectly captured the feel of the moment, as the charts were engulfed by the accessible-but-weird New Pop of The Associates, Human League, Japan, et al. "Glittering Prize" is possibly even more ardent and awake. These two singles and the shimmering New Gold Dream album were Simple Minds' moment of perfect equipoise. For a moment, they hovered in mid-air: between grandeur and grandiosity, nobility and pomp, abstraction and woffle. And then came the plunge…
Well, not quite. Sparkle in the Rain is supposed to be when the rot set in: a regressive step back from pop to stadium rock. But the ambient bombast of "Waterfront" is actually pretty magnificent in a Jim Morrison sort of way. And "Up On the Catwalk" is probably Simple Minds' s most underrated single, their last bout of topsy-turviness and abstract euphoria, before the descent into facile transcendentalism and blunt, unwarranted affirmation ("Alive and Kicking", etc). But "Speed Your Love To Me" is as bad and boring as "Don't You Forget About Me".
Thereafter, Kerr and Co exchanged their glory daze for Springsteenesque glory days; the quest became concrete and coercive; finally, they abandoned wonderlust/wanderlust for roots, responsibility and homecoming to the heartwarming hearth. From outlandish alienation to "a big country" and "the little people". Pah!
BEDOUIN ASCENT Melody Maker, 1996 by Simon Reynolds
Listen to Bedouin Ascent's recent LP
"Music For Particles", and you quickly realise that, for
its 27 year old creator Kingsuk Biswas, percussion is the thing. The Bedouin sound --a shimmying mist of drum
machine polyrhythms and
synth tics, interwoven with ribbons of ultra-minimal
melody--is steeped in the influence of African and North Indian Classical music
(the latter thanks to Bis' Bengali background).
"Western music emphasises harmony and
melody over rhythmic complexity," Bis explains.
"The most empty music, I thought, was the most melodious music, and it's easy to
indulge in that with an electronic keyboard. But with West African percussion
ensembles, melody is the product of 40 drummers jamming together; the
melody, rhythm and harmony is blurred.
That discovery was the holy grail for
me!," he gushes, adding that he aims to achieve the same effect with drum
machines and computers. "As for Indian classical ragas, that music contains some of
the funkiest rhythms on the planet!".
Dub is another crucial influence; as a
ten year old he'd listen, amazed, to Dave Rodigan's
late '70s show on Capital. "It was mad, mental music, beats stopping and
weird noises, lots of toasting." Later, after a spell as a punk-rocker, he got
into the Adrian Sherwood/On U skool of dub-terrorism and early '80s avant-funk
(A Certain Ratio, 23 Skidoo). Then came electro and street soul.
Being Asian, Bis says, gives him the
"privilege" of being marginal. "It's made me more
objective, cos I'm less involved. I can look at the cultural institutions that
surround me and just laugh at them. Because of this, my music background is
very broad, I'm willing to penetrate anything I encounter and find
positive in it."
After a period of guitar-noise
experimentation, Bis got into electronic music circa
1988's acieeed explosion. "At the time, I was listening to minimalist composers like
Steve Reich, and it was thrilling to see music based on the same ideas become
mainstream. To go to a club and hear things that were far out was really
exciting. That hasn't really
changed--the barriers between avant-garde
music are still totally irrelevant".
Enthused by the idea of 'aciiied as
avant-gardism for the masses', and inspired by performance art, Bis actually busked
his early electronic experiments: "I'd take my drum machine out into shopping
centres in the middle of Cardiff, and people would gawp!".
"Music For Particles" stems from
these early days. (As with most art-tekno boffins, Bis has
a huge backlog of material; hence the timelag). "Particles" chimes in with
the lofty titles of his earlier releases--1994's "Science, Art and Ritual",
EP's like "Pavilions of the New Spirit" and "Further
that it's informed by Bis' interest in the 'new mysticism in science'. This is
the convergence of the latest theories in physics (quantum
theory) with the ancient mystical intuitions of the East (Zen, Tao, etc). Bis is
not eager to spell out any of this stuff, though.
"I've never been a preacher, I'm very
much an amoralist and a spiritual anarchist. But
there's stuff in the music for those open to it. And if not, fine! We don't all have
to be mystics and eso-terrorists!".
Bedouin Ascent's rhythm-as-melody
aesthetic has much in common with jungle,which Bis loves
("I can't wait for the weekends, it's pirates all the way"). Thankfully, he's
savvy enough to be wary of 'intelligent jungle', preferring instead
"jungle that isn't trying to sound like jazz, but is being itself."
but after all, this is the bloke who uttered the pearl-of-wisdom: "'intelligent
techno' was the most unmusical phenonemon ever".
"Intelligence, as far as I'm
concerned, is not a musical virtue. A lot of the stuff put out
as intelligent techno was beautiful, but calling it 'intelligent'
misses the point: it was about human enquiry and the abstract, and those are to do
with intuition, not intellect. Primitive
impulses. Just the
fact that there
are thousands of people in their bedrooms each making thousands of hours of this
music--for no money whatsoever, believe me!--indicates there's a compulsion to do
it. Intelligence is just one facet of
music. Personally, I like to leave
things as open as possible, 'cos it's in possibility that exists