Simple Minds – the Street Fighting Years album from 1989 gets the deluxe treatment on a 4CD set from Universal. Let me see those hands…
Release Date: 6th March 2020
Formats: 4 CD deluxe box set
The latest in the Simple Minds re-issues from the Eighties comes boxed with re-mixes, b-sides and a full live show.
Let’s get the context set. Four years had passed since the global successes of Sparkle In The Rain and in particular Once Upon A Time. The latter with its huge international acclaim saw the world and its arenas and stadia conquered. Simple Minds had become a household name. The masses were primed perfectly for the double live album that followed.
Cut to 1989. “I was thirty years old,” says Jim Kerr. “I wanted to write about Belfast and I wanted to write about apartheid and I wanted to write about the policies of Margaret Thatcher.” And so he did. Wherever there was mention of human rights, Sun City, at the right hand of Peter Gabriel were often Simple Minds
The album itself was produced by flavour of the month Trevor Horn and Stephen Lipson. Buoyed by their success, the Minds were able to shift from the more commercial direction of Once Upon A Time. The result – singles that struggled to have the same impact chart-wise. In fact, there are no obvious singles. That’s bar the sublime Belfast Child of course, that closes the album with Mandela Day and Gabriel’s Biko in a three-pronged final assault that made up the Ballad Of The Streets EP.
The eleven tracks contain an eclectic programme. Less of those anthemic moments that the Minds are known for, despite the subtle majesty of the title track. A more mature rather than bombastic approach was the order of the day; Let It All Come Down and This Is Your Land relying on atmospherics and intensity rather than fist punching celebration. There are moments when the walls come down. Kick It In and Take A Step Back refer back to some of the brash trademarks, but Street Fighting Years is the sound of a grown-up band aware of the bigger picture.
Belfast Child is, of course, a rival to Waterfront as ‘the ‘ Simple Minds song and any attempt to do an edit of any description (check the version on CD2) should be consigned to Room 101 immediately.
The band were also working their way down to the core of Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill. Mick MacNeil was hanging in there. Drums were shared as Mel Gaynor stepped back and passed some of the responsibility to Gabriel drummer Manu Katche. Recent bass recruit, John Giblin was also finding life a challenge. The instability may have impacted the strength of the album.
The full live show from Verona that was filmed for video release also gets a double CD release in the set. A period when the live personnel was also in flux and a time when the guys were also into pressing the flesh with the people by busking during the tour.
For those who love the excitement of the starting moments of a gig, the Theme For Great Cities intro music leading into the grand pipes of When Spirits Rise. Jim’s greeting is hairs on the back of the neck time. Even though the title track is a most subtle and understated opening song it’s perhaps not until half a dozen songs in after cracking off a clutch of new songs that inevitably Waterfront, the first of the back catalogue, gets the juices flowing.
There may be some questions over the Verona crowd attempting to sing the first verse of Don’t You Forget About Me although Jim does give it a bit of the club singer style himself.
The collection of period B-sides and remixes includes the Amsterdam EP that includes an excellent and overlooked Sign O’ The Times (including edit and remix forms) and Jerusalem. Along with Biko, a selection of covers that Jim calls “Sacred cows”. There’s also an ’89 remix of the omnipresent Waterfront that throws in the odd curveball to the familiar pulse. No show without Punch eh?
The set is all packaged with a poster and nice little hardback book with interview quotes from the band and Trevor Horn. Interesting hearing the latter express how well he thought band performed the album live.
Perhaps not the most essential Minds album, considering the magnitude of what had gone before, but an essential period in their development. Their street fighting years, their coming of age years.
Listen to Belfast Child here:
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Really great review Mike. Love the band but there is just something about this album and I guess the themes of the times in which it was released go hand in hand. As you said, context is key. A lot of reviews actually seem to miss that point for some reason and I always feel it gets unfairly dismissed.