Both vulnerable and convincing, these fiercely relevant songs for our age add up to a meaningful piece of work with absolutely no padding
An elegiac air runs through this new work from Simple Minds, yet their eighteenth album comes at a time where the band’s star has hardly been brighter in the minds of fans and critics alike.
The band’s history – now scarily close to half a century – is something of a rollercoaster. Jim Kerr, Charlie Burchill and co enjoyed a purple streak of creativity with their first five albums and the 1980s bred adulation, but this tailed off along with a relative loss of form in the 1990s, where they were no longer deemed cool or relevant.
Not so now, with their new critical affirmation an underestimation of the influential qualities the band’s early work have passed on. This is backed with a renewed surge of creativity and conviction yielding some fine songs in recent years. On this evidence not only are they aging gracefully, but they are making fiercely relevant songs for our age.
Direction Of The Heart is both vulnerable and convincing, a meaningful piece of work with absolutely no padding. It is, simply, nine tracks that speak frankly of personal struggles in the wake of the pandemic, putting troubles and anxieties on the line but also finding ways to overcome them.
“I call you – no matter what you put me through,” sings Kerr in First You Jump, his moody baritone laced with anxiety. The song’s vulnerabilities are trumped by the conviction that he – and us – can rise above them. Vision Thing is cut from similar cloth, a powerful song written with Burchill at the house of Kerr’s terminally ill father. In it the singer responds to found photos of his childhood, finding the sweet spot where grief and gratitude intersect.
Several of these songs have their roots in Simple Minds’ early years as a band. An Act Of Love dates from 1977, when it was included in the band’s first live slot. It may look back through rose-tinted spectacles, but an elegiac mood prevails, the backing vocals exquisitely placed.
Walls Came Down, meanwhile, dates from 1983. It was written by Michael Been, front man of The Call, who supported Simple Minds on their first US tour. The walls in question referred at the time to barriers laid by Reagan and Thatcher, but now they have direct relevance to real structures such as Trump’s attempt to keep Mexico at arm’s length from the USA. The song responds with life-affirming strength, powering towards the finish with a huge chorus that quashes everything in its path.
Inspired by JG Ballard, the punchy Human Traffic benefits from an unexpected guest slot in the form of Sparks vocalist Russell Mael, the protagonists uniting for a slightly pompous but highly enjoyable chorus. Solstice Kiss, meanwhile, explores the band’s Celtic heritage in a cliché-free fusion.
Direction Of The Heart proceeds with minimum fuss but a great deal of positive energy. The sound is big but not ponderous, thanks to urgent drum tracks, sweeping chord changes and Jim Kerr’s melodic vocals. The songs are subtly uplifting, power pop winning through in spite of the thick and occasionally doomy textures.
Simple Minds, then, are in extremely rude health. Where once their lyrics spoke of international politics and far-off destinations, now they deal with matters closer to home in a refreshingly direct manner. More power to their maturing elbows.