Empires And Dance Appreciation – Constantinople Line

I originally wrote the following in January, 2016 as a “Why I Love…” piece for the blog. Little has changed in my feeling for this song. It’s bloody fab! I share the demo version of the song because it is the one stuck in my head today more than the album version. Enjoy!

***** It’s the rhythm of it to begin with. Very reminiscent of David Bowie’s Station To Station. It reminds me of it, but is far enough removed not to sound a pastiche.
A great bassline once again from “Big Dan”. And Charlie uses the guitar effects for a nice screeching sound. Maybe it’s just reverb. I can’t claim to understand what I hear, but I know I like it!

Absolutely one of the best set of lyrics Jim has ever written. They are very image laced. I see the pictures in my head when he sings them “I see a land, as we crawl by night /I see a face on the window in front” – I love those lines so much! And possibly my favourite lines from ANY SM song…ever “these stations are useful / these stations we love them” when it wasn’t very “de rigueur” to claim to “love” things like that. I’m assuming because of such, Jim is very much saying it tongue-in-cheek, which I love. (No pun intended!)

The demo version has different lyrics. He sounds like he’s ad libbing a bit. The song’s musical structure is there…and some of the final lyrics are there (including the “these stations” ones) but there are some lines that don’t gel. He did a wonderful job refining and trimming. The demos can make you appreciate the final cut so much more…
And, of course, the song ends with the sound of a train.

It just does a great job of letting you feel that train journey experience. Foreign lands…people behaving shifty…cloak and dagger…it’s like Strangers On A Train. Simple Minds do Hitchcock and borrow a *tiny* bit from Bowie and do a stellar job.
This song…I love it! 😜😊 *****

P.S. The artwork is a really early days one. An oldie but a goodie. Jim liked it. Halcyon days 😌

Empires And Dance Appreciation – KANT KINO

It is my favourite Simple Minds instrumental.

My favourite David Bowie track of them all is A New Career In A New Town – that “town” being Berlin. I heard an instant parallel between ANCIANT and Kant Kino. Both have an incredible emotional pull on me – both brought me to tears the first time I heard them.

Although most of my SM art is about Jim’s lyrics, I have done the odd piece on an instrumental track. I made one for Kant Kino. (Dave Kelly then egged me on to do one for Somebody Up There Likes You, which Jim subsequently seemed to like so much, he actually requested a copy from me. Something that amazes me still to this day. It always will.)

We have our own “bucket list” things that we want and wish for. Mine for a VERY long time now has been to visit Berlin. I will finally get to tick it off the list in December. On the list of things to see is – to take a stroll down the Potsdamer Platz, to visit Checkpoint Charlie and Hansa Studios. One or two other things too, hopefully. A David Bowie (and Iggy Pop) pilgrimage.

The other thing on the list will be to stand outside of Kant Kino…well…I might just go in and see a film…who knows? It’s still open as a cinema complex.

Say Who You Are!

The album that did it for me. The one that, during my exploration of the Simple Minds back catalogue, “sealed the deal”. Empires And Dance put me into a state of…I dunno…suspended animation. I quite literally could not believe what I was hearing…that the band responsible for Don’t You (Forget About Me ) – subsequently I learned how much involvement there was in that, obv. – Alive And Kicking, Sanctify Yourself, etc, had also made stuff LIKE THIS?! It just blew my tiny frigging mind. I’m not holding up the songs mentioned to belittle them or say they’re inferior in ANY WAY….it is just a fact that Simple Minds within a 5 year period became a very different band musically and that I had NO KNOWLEDGE of how they sounded in 1980.

So, again for me personally, in 2014 listening to Empires And Dance for the first time was like discovering an entirely new band. And with the anniversary of its release this week, I just wanted to talk about it a bit, share some of my art inspired from the tracks and just give it and its content some praise.

I wouldn’t be the mega diehard (but has she earned her stripes yet?) SM fan I am now without this album existing, I don’t think.

Today I share what is at this point possibly my very favourite live version of Thirty Frames A Second. Jim stalking around that stage like a freshly uncaged animal. Leaping about like a jack rabbit…never faulting vocally…but being raw and emotive and just….GGRRRRRRRR!!! I love it!

Why I Love…New Warm Skin

I cannot reiterate how great a lot of Simple Minds B sides are. Most of them became an “also ran” at the expense of a song that makes it onto an album. I would easily swap Special View for Sad Affair, for example. Others would swap Veldt for Kaleidoscope (as although the song wasn’t released until the I Travel single – as a special flexi disc bonus – it had been formed during the Life In A day tour, so could have easily been recorded during the Real To Real Cacophony sessions).

But when it comes to NWS, it’s difficult to shelf something from Empires And Dance to make way for it. This time, they did make the right choice leaving it for the B side to I Travel.

The drummer girl here loves that intro. It hasn’t got the usual synth sound we get from Mick. And there really isn’t much of Charlie’s guitar over it. Just brief little riffs and licks.

It is a different beast to what else is on Empires And Dance. Musically the tone is much lighter. And there is…for its time, a very traditional “verse/chorus/verse/chorus” structure to Jim’s songwriting on this. Most unusual compared to most everything else of the period.

There is a demo version. Recorded during early EAD sessions. I’m sure after the R2RC fiasco, Arista INSISTED upon demos. I bet they still didn’t know what to do with them. I mean…seriously!? How can you have acts like Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Patti Smith on your label, yet Simple Minds leave you dumbfounded? HOW?! It makes no sense!

Lines from the demo alter to the studio version. Instead the skin being “expensive to touch” for being “novocaine skin” – it’s “expensive to touch” for being “American skin”. And what was once “ugly as sin” is now “transparent and thin”. The third verse in the demo is pretty much a repetition of the first, whereas in the studio version it has been refined and expanded. “…Contorted dreams of the beauticians that pray / crawling out of this heat and drifting this way…”.

I have always been most intrigued by those lines that end each verse, “Is this a war? Is this a god?” A war on what exactly? The natural beauty of the human face? A god? A new god…one that has refined and “perfected” how the human face should be?

Of course, many years later, Lostboy! AKA Jim Kerr revisits those lines and reuses them in the track Nail Through My Heart, with a musicality to the track not a million miles away from New Warm Skin. Defeated in “war” by the superficial, perhaps? “You put a nail through my heart / nail through my heart / then you discarded me. Corrupt from the start / you pushed it too far / then you discarded me. You put a mark on my skin / let yourself in / no escape for me.”

Musically, NWS has more of a “new wave” tone to it than what else is on Empires And Dance. The album is a Euro-centric dance, trance, travelogue…definitely still rooted in post punk and not quite yet new wave – well not as I differentiate new wave to be.

I mean those three/four albums from 1979 to 1981 – Real To Real Cacophony/Empires And Dance/Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call – progress yet bridge together so amazingly well. Each a stepping stone to the next and the next. Then…the big leap! The huge curve ball. The stand-alone. The “nothing before it or after”. The freak. The beast that is New Gold Dream.

I hear similarities in the synths of New Warn Skin to what’s on Are Friend’s Electric? and Cars. Simple Minds were very much getting away from wearing their influences on their sleeve by that point, so NWS is a slight hark back in that respect. But I am sure that by this point in the game any similarities in sound were purely subliminal or coincidental.

How deeply we should dissect the track I am unsure. I mean, what is it after all? A parable on the the pursuit for human “perfection”? Superficiality – the ultimate cost of vanity? Is that such a heavy subject? I suppose even still in 1980, plastic surgery was in its infancy – in terms of it deemed as a “standard” procedure. Nobody bats an eyelid over facelifts now – mostly because nobody CAN…if you get my gist?

In musical tone there’s a cool and a heat to it. I like the pace of the chorus…the layers of the backing vocals.

There’s more electronica to come with the sound of Simple Minds. New Warm Skin leads on to Love Song, This Earth That You Walk Upon, Seeing Out The Angel and Theme For Great Cities…and most other tracks on the Sons and Sister albums.

I’d hazard a guess we weren’t meant to take New Warm Skin TOO seriously. I’m pretty sure the younger Jim would not have relished his lyrics being dissected like this. I’m not much sure the older Jim sees much point in it, either.

But it’s what I like to do. It deepens meaning, emphasis, musical enjoyment. I just like to exercise a curious mind. See if I can derive a meaning from the songs, musically and lyrically. “What did Jim mean by that? Does it mean anything? Is my interpretation of things what others’ hear too? Am I the only one that hears this, this and this?”, and so forth. It keeps me happy and occupied (“Not bloody occupied ENOUGH!” shouts Mr Kerr from his Glasgow panic room. Lol).

It’s just a little electronic gem with catchy lyrics.

And that is why I love New Warm Skin. (Demo and studio versions follow.)

Why I Love … Today I Died Again

It’s that … cold war Europe sensibility and style it has. Actually, it’s more post-war (The Great War), 1930’s, really. It’s Christopher Isherwood Berlin. Not flappers and sharp-suited men…later…early 1930s….now more the time of “austerity” (and how relevant does it make this song now?!), mass unemployment – post Wall Street Crash and the Hoover Dam project and, In America, Roosevelt’s New Deal.

There’s an “austerity” to the song. The musicality of it. It starts slow and sparse. A very slow dum beat – echoey, long bending bass notes. And a very dreary, dour synth. There’s a bleakness to it. Lyrically, Jim sets up the scene, “the human drum beats a rhythm of life / the clothes he wears date back to the war”. Which war? In my mind, the Great War (WWI) – but most likely he means WWII – they are some mighty old clothes to be had for 1980, either way!

Moving on from those opening lines…the lyrics printed in the album’s sleeve have the next line as being “he talks a lot / often to himself” but it isn’t what Jim sings on the album. The line alters slightly…and brings you in more as a listener “you talk a lot / often to yourself”. Talking to oneself always deemed a sign of mental illness. “What’s the first sign of madness? You talk to yourself. What’s the second sign? You answer back!” So…who’s mad? The protagonist in the song? Or you, the listener?

With the imagery I get from early Simple Minds songs, in particular, it’s very prescient that Jim should use the line “paint me a picture” because it is exactly what his lyrics do for me. They paint me a picture. They create a whole scene, in fact. A whole little play. It varies from still images as a slideshow, an actual painting on its own, or a short movie.

He goes on “America can fall”. The love of Capitalism its fall? The Wall Street Crash? Was he prophesying the second crash that is to come in 1987?

The title itself…and the lines expressing it are the most curious. There’s really a strong expression of nihilism and even oppression in it…with little recourse of showing a way out – as the most optimistic of Simple Minds songs will convey. And as much as I draw strength from the upbeat and optimistic SM tracks…I can draw, if not out and out positivity from the more “dour” of SM tracks, I can gain a strength and a resolve from them all the same.

There’s a nostalgic look back to “better days” within the lyrics too. “Back to a year / back to a youth. Of men in church and drug cabarets” hence my feeling of the setting of the song, time wise, as being the 1930s. Namecheck for the album “is this the age of empires and dance? Oh, what a world…”

There is so much of this album that is “film noir”. I don’t think I will ever fall out of love with it.

The last 90 seconds of the song is just the culmination of all of its components. Jim’s title of the song hauntingly just bending and weaving and echoing. The instruments building on a crescendo…and that final 30 seconds in which Brian increases the pace of the beat with added lovely cymbal splashes. Just … mwah! Perfection.

And then we fade away and on into Celebrate (which I have previously tried to put into words as to why I love without using just the single word “PHWOAR!” to suffice. Lol)

If Today I Died Again was represented by a painting, it would be this (for me)…
It is titled “Self-Portrait with Model” (1916) painted by Erich Heckel. The very same artist whose work inspired cover art for the albums “Heroes” by David Bowie and The Idiot by Iggy Pop.

And that is why I love Today I Died Again.

New Warm Skin – GMack Remix

It’s taken me a few days to get around to listen to this. I like it. It’s very expertly done. But…I kept waiting for my fix of the chorus to arrive. At least just one time! And…the best part of Mick’s synths are taken away as a consequence, because they lay behind Jim’s vocal in the chorus.

As much as I liked it, they took away the best part of the tune for me.

I mean, duh…I love the verses too (Kerr lyricist uber fangirl that I am) – but for me – the hit…the melodic FIX comes from the chorus, and the fade out repetition of “Is this a war? Is the is a god?”

Maybe one day I’ll have a go at one of these remix things myself. Lol. As if I’d be any good!

Might have been fun to have mixed the demo version to the full recorded studio version. Mix up some of Jim’s rewritten lyrics. Just a thought…