, May 31st, 2009 19:00
To say that Simple Minds had slipped off the radar would be an understatement; but to add that Jim Kerr has one of pop-rock’s best voices would not be hyperbole. There’s little doubt that the identity crisis that's plagued Simple Minds for the last ten years has more to do with intra-band implosion than plain old musical irrelevance — and one always suspected that Kerr’s voice and keen ear for melody could bring them back from an unplanned career hiatus.
That said, attempting to sound contemporary while revisiting a ‘classic’ sound requires trapeze-artist balance: the slightest slip results in indecently swift relegation to the bargain bin. Fortunately in this case Kerr and Co have got it right, thanks to a quietly understated collection of material that has just enough spikiness to appeal to a contemporary audience without completely sacrificing some of the facets that for a period made Simple Minds one of the biggest bands on the planet.
Recorded during 2008 at Rockfield Studios in Wales, Graffiti Soul does, not as one might expect, open with a rousing anthem a la ‘Alive and Kicking’. Instead we get the Krautrock rumble of 'Moscow Underground’ — by far their best material in years — and therein lies a definite statement of intent. Simple Minds have absolutely nothing to prove, and certainly don’t need to re-affirm their considerable worth to the music buying public; they’ve been there and done that.
What was required, though, was a creative reinvigoration, and by and large they're right on the mark. Lead-off single ‘Rockets’ is a case in point, its typically infectious guitar intro complemented brilliantly by Kerr’s smooth delivery, which sounds at times a bit like Robbie Williams, and in a good way. The title track is another example of the kind of understatement that makes this particular incarnation of the band so refreshing; they resist the temptation to launch the sonic equivalent of the kitchen sink into the ring when lesser plumbing components will suffice. More surprisingly, ‘Blood Type O’ demonstrates a bass-driven European feel, recalling a bizarre mix of Eno and very early Berlin.
In general there is less of the admittedly effective but increasingly bombastic arena-rock that characterised Simple Minds' commercial zenith. Instead, there's more of the textured and almost underground feel of the years that led up to that point, with a particular focus on subtle ambient sound. In the long run this provides for a far more rewarding listen. Graffiti Soul is the creation of a band that make no apology for their past but at the same time exhibit a concerted and obvious desire to be part of the future — a rather welcome and surprising outcome.