Simple Minds: "Acoustic"

Simple Minds: “Acoustic”

Where did it all go wrong for Simple Minds? Those in the know will happily tell you that “their early stuff was quite good,” and indeed some of the more unconventional material on their first few albums drew favourable comparisons to PiL, Joy Division and even Kraftwerk. It’s safe to conclude, then, that it all went wrong in 1985 when Don’t You (Forget About Me) became an enormous worldwide hit, positioning them as stadium rock behemoths in waiting and causing them to spend the rest of the decade engaged in a futile attempt to become the Scottish U2.

It would never happen, of course, because U2 were always two steps ahead. By 1989, when Bono & Co were beginning to expand their horizons to encompass such strange beasts as dance music and irony, Simple Minds had only just achieved peak pompousness, the bombast of Belfast Child giving them their sole UK number one single. As U2 experimented through the ’90s, Simple Minds plodded along in the face of diminishing returns. At the turn of the century, when U2 dialled back the brashness on All That You Can’t Leave Behind to a level that would see them through the next decade, Jim Kerr’s bunch were adding unwelcome techno beats to other people’s songs on a desperate covers album Neon Lights which received a critical mauling to eclipse even Duran Duran’s Thank You six years earlier.

And yet somewhere in the last few years the tide began to turn. Bono’s continued political posturing has devalued U2’s stock to a level where the idea of sneaking their latest album onto everyone’s iPhone without asking seemed like a positive way forward, while Simple Minds’ 2014 album Big Music was better received than any of their offerings in living memory. Strangely then, rather than capitalise on this upswing with more new material, the Minds have taken another step backwards with an album of reworkings of old material.

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The big question here is, why? For the most part the arrangements on this album are faithful to the originals, the band’s response to having their guitars and keyboards unplugged seemingly being just to play louder. There are occasional moments of inspiration, such as the transposition of New Gold Dream‘s restless sequencer parts to acoustic guitar, but hits like Waterfront, Alive and Kicking and especially Don’t You (Forget About Me) gain nothing from this treatment. The only notable deviation from a song’s original arrangement is a jangly version of Promised You a Miracle, in which guest KT Tunstall merely spray-paints the song’s top line onto one of her own off the shelf backing tracks.

The closing track, a lumpen cover of Richard Hawley’s Long Black Train encapsulates just what’s wrong with this album: Simple Minds lack the subtlety for a project such as this. The acoustic setting entirely fails to coax any previously untapped nuances out of their back catalogue, it just sounds like they’ve had their electricity cut off. A pointless exercise.

4/10