It's easy to forget that during the era of Brat Pack movies and Live Aid, Glaswegian outfit Simple Minds was U2's biggest challenger for the globe-straddling stadium rock crown. But while Bono and co. went on to take over the world, the status of Jim Kerr and his ever-changing lineup has since been relegated to the kind of VH1 Remember the '80s nostalgia territory. They may have slipped under the radar since their last genuine hit, 1995's Good News from the Next World, but contrary to belief, the band hasn't just been sitting on the royalties from its iconic '80s anthems, but have continued to carve out a rather prolific, if largely unnoticed, recording career. Following 2005's return to form, Black & White -- their 15th studio album -- and their fifth 2000s effort, Graffiti Soul, they continue to rehabilitate their reputation, which was slightly sullied by their sometimes overwrought and pompous '90s efforts. Produced by longtime collaborator Jez Coad, and featuring original members Charlie Burchill and Mel Gaynor, alongside bassist Eddy Duffy, several of its ten tracks were written on the same kitchen table in Glasgow where Kerr penned most of their early material, giving the album a reassuring back-to-basics feel which echoes the glossy art rock of their early-'80s prime. Full of their trademark crashing guitars, spacy synths, and Kerr's broodingly impassioned vocals, rousing lead single "Rockets," fist-pumping anthem "This Is It," and the slow-burning "Kiss and Fly" could all have appeared on the likes of Sparkle in the Rain and Once Upon a Time. But elsewhere, there's a slight Krautrock feel to the likes of opening track "Moscow Underground," a moody and low-key slice of throbbing, Eno-esque underground disco, the rumbling basslines and inspired use of dulcimers on "Blood Type O," and the mystical shimmering of the Bowie-influenced "Light Travels," all of which make it surprising that Berlin wasn't a stop-off point in the trans-European recording process. A faithful cover version of Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World" rounds up the proceedings, while a bonus edition featuring reworkings of songs by Massive Attack, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Joan Armatrading provides an extra treat for their loyal fan base. But Graffiti Soul stands up on its own merits. Simple Minds may have been left in the dust by U2 a long time ago, but released just weeks apart from the aforementioned's disappointing No Line on the Horizon, it's Simple Minds who surprisingly emerge victorious from this battle.
Graffiti Soul Review
by Jon O'Brien