Simple Minds’ fourth live album from a 38-year career seals an astonishing rebirth for a band that had disappeared down a deep dark decade of demise. Touring to promote its latest album, the critically acclaimed Big Music, the Scottish band shows it has ascended a second peak.
The double album features 29 songs, ranging from radio classics to the best of the new album to some stunning surprises plucked from a back catalogue that spans 17 studio albums.
New tracks such as concert opener Let the Day Begin, plus Blindfolded, Honest Town, Midnight Walking and Big Music sit alongside earlier rock anthems Waterfront and Don’t You (Forget About Me), the last two ending the first set and energising the Edinburgh audience. New Grey Tickles, Black Pressure John Grant Bella Union
When John Grant sang, in his lusciously arranged angry gay love song GMF on 2013’s second solo album, Pale Green Ghosts, “I am the greatest motherf..ker you’re ever going to meet”, there was a collective intake of breath. This was not because of the obscenity — who cares about that? — but because in the swoop of that single chorus, the Colorado-via-Icelandand-all-places-in-between native had turned pop inside out and left it shivering by the side of the road.
Pale Green Ghosts won critical acclaim as it staggered from ballad to dirty pulsing funk, from crooning seduction to the horror that had been Grant’s discovery, in the years since making the Midlake-produced first album Queen of Denmark in 2010, of his HIV-positive status.
Grant has said he replaced a decade of drug and alcohol abuse with years of sex addiction after getting clean from his substances, because at least the sex seemed more natural. Getting HIV was one result of that.
Now, on his third solo album Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, he jumps straight back into trademark wicked confessional mode.
After a considered intro featuring a reading of 1 Corinthians 13 (“love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth” — so you get a rough idea where we’ll be going here) the title track focuses on the devastation of his health diagnosis, and yet immediately reminds him he’d better get over it. “And there are children who have cancer / so all bets are off / ’Cause I can’t compete with that / so all bets are off,” he shrugs. And later: “I can’t believe I missed / New York during the 70s/ I could have gotten a head start / In the world of disease / I’m sure I would have contracted / Every single solitary thing.”
The title, incidentally, is taken from the English translations of an Icelandic term for midlife crisis and a Turkish one for nightmares.
If you’ve not encountered the bearded wonder kid — although kid’s stretching it, as he’s pushing 50 — you might take a little while to settle into the mix of show tune, synth-pop and industrial drive, but give it a chance. It’s hooky.
There are a couple of great guest spots, too. Amanda Palmer is plenty of fun on You and Him and the silken-voiced Tracey Thorn, of Everything but the Girl, is an ironic duettist on Disappointing, complete with shooby-doo-bopbop backing singers, the kookiest of lyrics (“the genitive case in German, it’s true / is something that I’m quite partial to”) and an outstanding film clip set in a gay sauna.
Grant tours Australia in March, including a performance at the Golden Plains festival in Meredith, Victoria, alongside solo shows in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney. Gold Dream and Someone Somewhere in Summertime showcase what many still consider the Minds’ best and quintessential album, New Gold Dream. An acoustic, stripped-back version of The American makes it fresh again.
The ballad Let It All Come Down soars to levels not found on the studio album; an atmospheric melody of scarcely known tracks Rivers of Ice and Dolphins is spine-tingling; and Book of Brilliant Things, with backing vocalist Sarah Brown taking the lead microphone, melds two distinct versions from the song’s history and creates a memorable new incarnation.
There’s also a blistering version of the Doors’ Riders on the Storm, sounding like you’ve never heard it before.
The Minds have never been cool in the same way as U2 and Coldplay. Singer Jim Kerr and perennially underrated guitarist Charlie Burchill, the band’s constants, now in their late 50s, have always been musicians and not stars.
But, who cares if they’re not cool? Their music is once again an electrifying, distinctive blend of rock that stands today as it did 30 years ago.