The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Stephen Fitz­patrick David Tan­ner

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.

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