After the American radio friendly excesses of Simple Minds’ Once Upon a Time album, 1989's Street Fighting Years arrived less like a breath of fresh air, and more like an aural hurricane, with "Mandela Day" just one example of the album's phenomenal sound. With the crisp production showcasing the band's rich styling and complex arrangements, the song’s theme echoes much of the set's interest in current concerns. Yet, though it celebrates Nelson Mandela's long-awaited release from prison, the song contains none of the easy exuberance one would expect. Rather, Simple Minds, while elated by the ANC leader's freedom, are still somewhat stifled by the terrible injustice of his imprisonment, a mood that ensures the entire piece is washed in an almost bitter-sweet quality. The sound, however, is magnificent, weaving together the complex rhythm and thick layers of instrumentation into a vibrantly textured, evocative atmosphere.
Most bands would (and did) plump for a simple fist in the air anthem to celebrate the accomplishment of such a long-held ambition as this. Simple Minds, however, offer a much more nuanced piece, one that shimmers with joy, while never allowing the horrors of the past to be forgotten.
Fittingly, "Mandela Day" would feature on the flipside of the band's equally evocative "Belfast Child" single, a British #1.