Simple Minds - Empires and Dance

Simple Minds
Empires and Dance

Released 1980 on Virgin (Hansa previously)
Reviewed by Jasonaparkes, 04/05/2006ce

1. I Travel
2. Today I Died Again
3. Celebrate
4. This Fear of Gods
5. Capital City
6. Constantinople Line
7. Twist/Run/Repulsion
8. Thirty Frames a Second
9. Kant-Kino
10. Room

Simple Minds were once a great band - which is something hard to square when taking in that song they did for that Bratpack film, the bombastic political posturing of ka-ka like “Belfast Child”, or the dull, diluted U2-isms that followed. But Simple Minds WERE once a great band, after being a quite good, or at least interesting one- their second album Real to Real Cacophony (1979) saw them spew up a Kid A-type album at the start of their career. By the time they reached this album the following year, the original line-up of the band with producer John Leckie (The Fall, Dukes of Stratopshear, The Stone Roses, Radiohead), they finally delivered on the promise of their earlier work.

Opening single “I Travel” is like Trans Europe Express on speed, the backdrop of the era (Cambodia, Rhodesia, Iran, Boat People, New height in the Cold War etc) all feeding in: "Evacuees and refugees, presidents and monarchies...Travel round/I Travel round/Decadence and pleasure towns/Tragedies, luxuries, statues, parks, and galleries..." - I Travel is a pulsing pop song that delivers on the influences of Kraftwerk and Moroder. Empires and Dance is their most European album- Bowie/Eno, Can, Kraftwerk, Neu!, Nite Flights, Fear of Music all appear to be influences. Perhaps measured against the many Krautrock reissues – Faust IV, the latest wave of Can-reissues, Amon Duul’s Yeti – this sounds like Kraut-lite – but that’s something that could be applied to Bowie/Eno’s Berlin-trilogy, Ultravox’s Systems of Romance, the early work of Throbbing Gristle (…very Tangerine Dream), or material on the panic attack inducing Flowers of Romance (Simon Reynolds suggests in Rip It Up & Start Again that PIL’s third album proper didn’t do anything Faust hadn’t in the previous decade). Perhaps this album’s an example of the Bowie/Krautrock influences on the post-punk/new wave and it predates more recent Kraut-inflections apparent on records by Death in Vegas, Primal Scream, Secret Machines, and Wilco. This sits well alongside material Virgin put out in the late 70s/early 80s, e.g. Ashra, Can, Czukay-Liebzeit-Wobble, Faust, Gong, Japan, Magazine, PIL, Scott Walker’s Climate of Hunter, XTC etc (it’s surprising how much decent stuff Virgin put out at one time…).

“Today I Died Again” has more in common with Magazine than U2- the lyrics in the same avenue as Ian Curtis ruminating on fascism (“Walked in Line”, “Dead Souls”) "The clothes he wears date back to some war...She can't remember before this heat/He can't remember his wife's Christian name...Back to a year, back to a youth/Of men in church and drug cabarets..."- can't help but think of films like Cabaret, The Damned, The Night Porter & Salon Kitty. Maybe The Tin Drum also? “Celebrate” sounds like Chic producing Gary Numan, robo-funk at its finest; while This Fear of Gods pre-empts 23 Skidoo's “Coup”- (the influence/sample for Chemical Brothers’ “Block Rockin Beats”) & the keyboards are very Trans Europe Express also. Epic stuff, though like a lot of great records, I haven’t' got a clue what is being sung about: "Violence and vivisection? Fear is fast I'm turning white now???" Empires & Dance is very much Derek Forbes album- his bass-playing appears to be the centre of most of the songs here...
“Capital City” and “Constantinople Line” continue the Europa themes, alienation and paranoia rule then- & this leads into “Twist/Run/Repulsion” - a series of oblique mantras ("Contort!") over a female voice sample creating a track not far from those found on Eno/Byrne's sampledelic-classic My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Even better is “Thirty Frames a Second”, which recalls the time reversal themes of books like Counter-Clock World (Philip K Dick) & Time's Arrow (Martin Amis) and musically is their most Krautrock inflected moment. Brief instrumental interlude “Kant-Kino” is very side 2 of Low, and seaugues into final track “Room” - the most melody driven track here. Shimmering guitars, pulsing percussion & almost funky bass- pity it's so brief though! This is the kind of song that would make music critics wet themselves if Primal Scream or Radiohead produced it now...observant souls will note the artwork which recurred on Manic Street Preacher’s self unfulfilling slice of goth, The Holy Bible.

Like many bands (Roxy Music, Television, Can, Associates, Talking Heads, Scritti Politti, Echo& The Bunnymen, Pere Ubu, Gang of Four etc) Simple Minds produced great material in their early career- prior to drifting to incomprehension or MOR (it was the latter affliction). 1981's double set Sister Feelings Call/Sons & Fascination (produced by Gong's Steve Hillage) & 1982's New Gold Dream (81, 82, 83, 84) ended this creative peak. It's hard not to hold Kerr et al's crimes against their whole career (Sanctify Yourself????? Really...) - but these early releases highlight the fact that Simple Minds were one of the great bands of the new wave/post-punk era...

Reviews Index