Album: New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) – Simple Minds
Review: NME, 18 September 1982
Author: Paul Morley
THIS RECORD is something of a glow. Whatever your preference you will find it memorable and instructive. Find its qualities and fix your place. Be swept, be drained…This is really all I have to say, but I shall not stop on that account. Indeed, I shall begin again.
MY LOYALTY towards Simple Minds is known to be considerable, yet even I am jarred by the constant beauty of this music. Truly, all I need to say is that New Gold Dream robs me of my breath – but let’s continue. Be swept, be drained, believe me.
After their last (double) LP it could be said that despite their undoubted ability the group threatened to settle down into an overwhelming, agitating monotony devoid of nobility: a heat-switch has been turned on, the looming Simple Minds solid has melted, is melting into a bewitching, fresh sound. Suddenly the group sound acutely aware of space and emptiness, and their impact is a lot harder because of that. (When I say harder, I am just as likely to mean “softer” – it depends whether you’re stood on your head or not.)
Simple Minds took a certain way with rhythm and motion to its limits; they’ve now shook away what was becoming a kind of concussion, to be left with a very clear head. And, clearly, a heat. ‘Melting’ is a useful word to use in connection with this record. Not only are the known Minds clichés melting into new forms and shapes, but also more general clichés melt into new meanings. The familiar deliciously falls in on itself. This ‘melting’ results in an exotic re-orientation.
Indeed, and this is perhaps because the Minds’ aspirations sometimes seemed too great for the pop context to hold, the music contained here is as searching a representation of the meltings between what is ‘memory’ and what is ‘imagination’ as that which troubles me in the workings of Beckett and Baudelaire. New Gold Dream is the perfect attack upon those who think pop too small to think big.
The group, confounding banal limitations and their duff reputation as kids muddling in areas roughly outside their scope, have outgrown what was previously their defiant restlessness, a celebrated stoicism, and turned their song into an adventure: an adventure embedded in memory/imagination, patient and dark, as intoxicating as the adventure of Buckley, as personally aggressive as the adventure of Joy Division. It is responsible to no one and nothing, it is sensation for sensation’s sake, but it takes the working listener to wherever, it suggests to the working listener that…everything is possible.
Let’s face it, it’s a glorious achievement to produce something that works generously in the usual sweet way – tucked inside the trivialised pop context, yet that stretches far beyond those coloured walls to stand strong as an exhilarated, canny comment on the “state of the world’s flow”, on the position of hope and anxiety. There’s plenty of light and melody through the Dream to please you; but enough heat to chill you.
There’s a number of outstanding instrumental performances to turn to – Forbes‘ arrogantly commanding bass, Burchill’s shrewd and eager guitar, MacNeil‘s expressive and seemingly infallible keyboarding – but ‘Dreams’ music is something that succeeds smoothly yet provocatively as ‘a whole’. A rippling, humming, beating, rustling, driving, melting ‘whole’, with Kerr‘s voice, his glancing, broken words, as if tiny holes allowing glimpses into the world-view that enabled such noble music to appear. The ‘whole’ is an ardent, tender sound that sweeps and sways between the sly and the open with pleasured mastery; as for Kerr’s ‘holes’, there’s nothing wrong with his spelling, his spelling is binding, his images and touches spellbinding. If previously he could be irritating, now he and his words insist on response. And measure the words’ intrigue by the depth of that response. The working listener will be quietly, carefully, profoundly re-placed.
The absolutely gripping opening song ‘Someone Somewhere In Summertime‘ immediately announces that Simple Minds have shed old skin. What accounts for this shedding, the ‘melting’, the shaking away of concussion, is the group swallowing the pill of simplicity: rather than try to make a point or point towards mystery through a rush and rush of overcompensation – this is where many other groups, ie. Bauhaus, flip and flop into the muddle of futility – the group have moved out into the opening of understatement, tweaking will and snatching heart through implication.
It’s the kind of simplicity Joy Division smashed into accidentally and to devastating effect: a proof of articulacy and sensitivity through keen selectivity. The two ’82 singles ‘Promised You A Miracle‘ and ‘Glittering Prize‘ fit into this record not as blatant shows of concession for the charts but as bright, confident celebrations of this simplicity: the group scatter their assault rather than channel it.
Listening to the completely satisfying instrumental ‘Somebody Up There Likes You‘ it sounds as though Simple Minds believe they are creating magic: and in a way they are, conjuring up from nowhere such vital, cajoling systems as ‘Big Sleep’ and ‘King Is White And In The Crowd’, systems that will connect themselves to your experiences without wasting your time or minimising your energy. The title track confirms that Simple Minds’ diagnosis of what is up and down about the bits and pieces of the world is as shocking, shaming and indignant as any pop group’s.
And then when Herbie Hancock glides in to embellish the lovely ‘Hunter And The Hunted’, one doesn’t sense a clumsy, irrelevant intrusion by a name pianist with a huge erratic musical background, just an apt, almost hidden contribution by one musician to the effort of other musicians. It’s a fine moment, sealing the group’s (radiant) simplicity, and claiming that the group can exist on any terms – no longer must they be locked into a strained-art-pop closet.
So certainly this is Simple Minds’ most distinguished collection. It also continues, powerfully, a period of music that melts and scatters around ‘For Your Pleasure’, ‘Correct Use Of Soap’, ‘Closer’, ‘Sulk’, ‘Tin Drum‘, a music that went to follow through how Iggy somersaulted through good and bad possibilities, how Reed reached below the functional surfaces of city life, how Bowie travelled, how Hamill hoped, how Eno twisted and treated the pop song to the edge of ‘the marvellous’. A music swerving and unnerving through recollection and recognition and habit and faded sensations…searching for connections and new vantage points, using pop to mind more about memory than the order of guitar notes.
Simple Minds have produced something as inventive, as cleansing, as suggestive as anything by the musicians, The Heroes, who first inspired them to form around the days and nights in Glasgow. This will thrill them, for it is still in them to be thrilled. And what will thrill you is that it is possible to pluck something as special and triumphant as this out from amidst all the painful failures. Its uses are abstract, but its signifance is universal. And the feeling grows, as I listen, that they’re just beginning.
AND NOW you begin…
There’s a couple of Paul Morley reviews going to feature in this occasional series. For the most part, I’ve long enjoyed his musings and his writings, but there were plenty of times when I thought he was being a dick and a show-off.
Thankfully, I don’t recall ever reading this particular review; for all that he clearly loves the album and the band at this point in history, he has obviously woken up that day much more in love with himself and determined to get as much of that feeling across to the NME readers. And, while I don’t want my reviews to stoop to the banal level of Smash Hits or tabloid newspapers, I do want those who are writing the pieces to offer me something just a little less pretentious.
History shows that New Gold Dream, the fifth album by Simple Minds, was the one which put them onto the golden path as the long-standing critical support from the likes of Morley turned into commercial success, certainly in the UK and Europe.
The album was released in September 1982 and It made No. 3 in the UK Albums Chart. Having said that, the foundations had been laid a few months earlier with Promised You A Miracle, in April 82 and Glittering Prize, in August 82, both reaching the Top 20 in the singles charts, the first time the band had ever broken into the Top 50.
It’s one of those fairly rare occasions when the commercial success didn’t come at the cost of diluting the quality of the music that a group had been making for some years.