Simple Minds: Alive And Kicking

Four decades in, Simple Minds still offer songs of faith and devotion

“Concentrating on new music gives us something to hold on to in a world that’s spinning out of control and often unrecognizable.”

That’s Jim Kerr talking as a co-founding member of Simple Minds on the occasion of latest album Walk Between Worlds (BMG). As Kerr and longtime musical partner Charlie Burchill have since their start in 1977, Simple Minds still speak of life’s mysteries and its dream realities, of faith and one’s own sense of spirituality, and of positioning its narrators as romantics and outcasts. With all that existentialism—rather than continuing its sonic reign (or rain) as earthen, atmospheric, anthem makers on par with big-selling songs like “Alive And Kicking” and “Glittering Prize”—Simple Minds added risk to its mix and brought in elements of the electronic post-punk punch of its earliest albums such as 1980’s Empires And Dance and 1981’s Sons And Fascination.

“We do see divisions—Charlie and I—in how our records have sounded (from album to album), but for us, it really is one journey, one book,” says the Simple Minds lyricist/singer. “There are changes in our lives that create natural demarcations, influenced as we are by different things. But I don’t believe that the essence of what we do or who we are changes.”

Listening to Kerr’s vocals on initial Simple Minds albums (1979’s Life In A Day and Real To Real Cacophony) now, it’s remarkable how much older than his years he sounded then. “I hope I’ve grown into that voice,” he says with a laugh. “Because if I haven’t done so by now, I better hurry up. I do believe I have different energies for different songs. As soon as I approach the microphone—that is me. There’s no warming up. You don’t need to be screaming for attention all the time.”

Considering those earliest LPs, Kerr teases that there are many elements that he digs “and many that I do not.” Yet, there is one thing that the singer believes a Simple Minds listener can appreciate in all the earliest recordings: imagination. “You can hear us thinking; young guys boiling over with enthusiasm; sometimes over-reaching, which, by the way, for me would not be a minus. You have to reach.” Kerr also goes on to say that Simple Minds was born out of a vacuum in Glasgow, as the group had no real local reference or scene to learn from or with whom to share stories. “It was all learning on the hoof and in public,” he says. “What we had was what it was: us pooling together our influences and rather desperately trying to grow something out of those similar or disparate inspirations.” With that, Simple Minds, at its early electronic post-punk sunburst epiphany, was a collection of its strengths and weaknesses. “Preferably with just a few more strengths,” says Kerr.

Recording new albums (a crucial part of Simple Minds’ existence so to never become a museum piece) such as 2005’s Black & White, 2009’s Graffiti Soul and 2014’s Big Music found Kerr and Burchill increasingly more fascinated by the sounds of its earliest efforts with electronic twitches as a driving force. “The same is true with this new album,” says Kerr.

The songs on Walk Between Worlds began as most Simple Minds songs do: with a Burchill sound that provokes Kerr to imagine. “I’m not a b-minor guy,” he says. “I’m the guy who sees the courtyard or sees the woman or man inside that courtyard and one of them is writing a letter. I just see that stuff.” Turning (or returning) to the Euro dance-rock electronic sound of its past allowed those pictures—lyrics of faith and devotion—to be writ loud. “There are sounds we swore we’d never use again that are very much part of the present that add to the dialogue,” says Kerr. “Fifteen years after we thought something was dated and old, lo and behold, that sound reannounces itself as fresh. There is a new validity. You re-engage.”

Of new songs such as “Utopia,” “Magic” and “Sense Of Discovery,” Kerr says he couldn’t have written of the faith and experience within each lyric: “You would have had to run around the block a few times to glean that experience and have that level of reflection.” The lyricist acknowledges that faith is a condition outside of Godliness or religion but that devotion and conviction, though a personal issue, drive some of his most stirring new stories. “Without sounding an arrogant little sod, faith is what drove me in the first place,” he says. “It makes our music mean something. You have to have a sense of heightened something else. And whatever name you wish to call that, so be it. The vibe, the flow, the muse. Some people call it God. It’s a calling to be written and a calling to be sung.”

—A.D. Amorosi