A rather scathing review of Sparkle In The Rain from back in the day. Still, the guys get the last laugh, as it becomes their first UK Number One album.
Transcript of article:
All that glitters…
‘Sparkle In The Rain’
“We will rock you little chil’ ”. No, it’s not a line from the wet dream-cum-“killer 45” of the HM variety (Slide it in? Shove off!), it’s a snippet of what Simple Minds are about these days.
I suppose we can’t say we weren’t warned. From a lengthy absence (I HAVE to interject here – lengthy absence? Is this guy kidding? Sparkle In The Rain was released January 1984 – New Gold Dream was released September 1982 – unless I’m miscalculating, that’s less than 18 months. WTF?!), Kerr and Co came crunching and caterwauling back late last year with “Waterfront”. Macho title (Brando ‘n’ all that), meaty rhythm, the Minds had gone through their ABC guide to musical regeneration and got to ‘r’ for rock. Not cock rock you understand, that’s sctrictly for bozos. No, this stuff had the raunch and the resonance.
Unlike Fry’s feisty reassertion of a long dormant and decidely dodgy ‘ethic’ (“I defy any guitarist to deny the get a thrill from playing through a stack of Marshalls” quoth ABC’s twanger Mark White at the time), Simple Minds have avoided the brazen turn-around in favour of a timely re-tune. New Gold Dream has served its four years (again, I must interject – this review seems of the period of Sparkle In The Rain’s release, which would have this article written around December 1983/Januray 1984 – New Gold Dream is *NOT* four years old! It can’t be! It’s just over a year old.), now it’s time to change the recipe without threatening the recognition.
So gone is Pete Walsh’s starry-eyed seduction production and in its place comes man of the moment, Steve Lillywhite, with his preposterously bouffant production style. Teatering on the edge of a gigantic cave-in, Lillywhite uses Mel Gaynor’s clattering drums and the newly-found engine room throb of Derek Forbes’ bass (interjection part 3: Derek Forbes throbbing bass was “newly-found”? He’d been an integral part of the Simple Minds sound from the outset – what is this guy on about?!) to shore up Kerr’s grand vocal structures.
And Charlie Burchill does his bit to keep the creaking to a minimum – there’s less of the pinging harmonies and more of the surging if less than scorching lead lines.
But it’s all so arch. From the crass count-in on the opening track, “Up On The Catwalk”, to the unearthly judder of a pounded bass at the commencement of “The Kick Inside Of Me” (featuring another count-in), “Sparkle In The Rain” reeks of calculation. Nobody’s denying popular music its right – and ability – to reinvent itself (things would have come to a halt long ago if a periodic upheaval – if not always upgrading – hadn’t been placed at the genre’s disposal) but this must mean more than merely striking poses.
It certainly means more than slipping in a cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Street Hassle’ to make the connection for rather than to the audience.
But it’s not entirely the fault of Simple Minds that ‘Sparkle’ telegraghs its angle. The way music has become a comodity for the masses and a career for the minority insists that its purveyors become creatively self-replenishing. At worst this gives rise to gimmicks, at best it achieves a salutory sense of deja vu.
More damaging is the way bands of whatever disposition are forced to account for their wares, this requires self-examination/justification that precludes genuine spontaneity.
Whilst busily writting myself out of a job, it might be worth considering the ageing McLuhan axiom that the medium is the message.
If it is then Kerr neatly avoids the issue by (yet again) burying his vocals betwixt warm wall (ol sound) op. But delve a little deeper and we discover times are hard – hence the brutish backbeat and lines like “Go down to Brixton/And look around you/You’ll see what’s missing” (“Up On The Catlwak”).
It’s good to have the Minds back – albeit in a stroppy rather than stirring mood (interjection part 4: how can you call songs like Waterfront and Speed Your Love To Me “stroppy” rather than “stirring” – blow it our your arse, mate!) – and ‘Sparkle In The Rain’ must surely put them back in the rock running (and Virgin even further into the black!). But genuine revitalization takes more than token gestures.