In the late 80’s Simple Minds was everywhere. They were huge (YUGE!) around the world having provided the seminal Don’t You Forget About Me for the film The Breakfast Club in 1985 and had gone from strength to strength, filling stadia like they were Scotland’s answer to U2 and I… well, I pretty much ignored them for all of those same reasons.
Yeah, I wasn’t a big fan of Mr Chrissie Hynde et al back in the day so I took this opportunity to listen to their 1989 album Street Fighting Years to see what I might have missed.
Starting with the title track, the start of Street Fighting Years kind of reminds me of Deacon Blue’s Dignity and feels like it should build to something quite anthemic but never seems to get further than the build up.
Soul Crying Out lets Kerr sound more Springsteen than anything else and, with its Alphaville style 80s pop backing, is one of my favourite tracks on the album.
Wall of Love is much more upbeat compared to the first two songs on the album and may actually give you a chance to dance to something. It’s also got very “Big Country” sounding guitars rather than the expected Glasgow jangle that west coast bands had around the mid to late 80s.
This Is Your Land isn’t, as I suspected for a start, a cover of the Woodie Guthrie song but I do remember it from back in the day, which surprised me. Maybe it’s the weird speaky bit in the middle. Or maybe it’s Lou Reed.
Take a Step Back is another floor filler with a message but the thing for me is, when I’m dancing, unless there’s a real hook to the lyrics, I tend not to listen to them, so any message is lost.
Kick It In is Simple Minds does The Doors, with a sung melody almost in a monotone over full on prog Hammond organ and wailing guitars. It actually manages to sound both ahead of and behind the times, in a good way, it’s 60s hippy meets 90s grunge, but would never have said it was a Simple Minds track, or even a Scottish band, if you asked me who did it. This is the other favourite for me, purely because of the Doors sound.
Let It All Come Down is back to the Simple Minds sound I recognise – and it’s another ballad with pensive piano, soaring strings and a good guitar. To be honest it sounds like the kind of thing the Wets went on to do.
Mandela Day is exactly what you’d expect it to be – a song written for Mandela’s 70th birthday concert. I’m sure the lyrics are deep and meaningful but, to be honest, I’d gotten a bit bored by this point.
Belfast Child is the big hit off this album, taking the wonderful traditional Irish folk song, She Moved Through the Fair, and adding guitars and drums to the second half. It’s an odd combination and I’m not sure I like what they did with it but I can appreciate the sentiment.
The album rounds out with a cover of the anti-apartheid song by Peter Gabriel, Biko. As you do.
So no, I don’t think I missed much. It does sound a bit different to the Simple Minds tracks I remember from earlier in the 80s, which were full on stadium pop, and, on doing a bit of research post-listen, this seems to have been a deliberate move towards politicised music that came with a change in line-up, moving from a five piece to a trio.
There are a couple of songs I would listen to again on this album but I still don’t get what all the fuss was about the band. To me, Simple Minds probably WERE Scotland’s answer to U2 but it was the post-Joshua-Tree U2 that had begun to believe their own hype. Both bands started to produce self-indulgent, bombastic music that was all mouth and no trousers, but Simple Minds, for me, simply lacked the bravado to carry it off.
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