29 Sep, 2005 Black & White 050505 Review
If any cure has been found for reviewer’s block, surely this latest Simple Minds album is comparable to it. Seldom does a writer feel bombarded with an overwhelming degree of angles in which to review an album. The most obvious pre-review consideration is the release of Black & White 050505 at the height of the new-wave/post-punk resurgence. Are founders Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill continuing on their musical path or merely attempting to show the new-wave newbies how to rock out with guitar effects and synthesizers? Does Black & White 050505 compare (self-consciously or not) to Simple Minds’ heyday of new-wave albums? Is it fair to compare this album to their early 80s recordings?
The band’s parallels to U2 inevitably surface. Bands of similar sounds and aesthetics in the early 80s, Simple Minds peaked in popularity earlier than U2, but U2 have soldiered on with consistent popularity for 20 years. Does Black and White have a chance to challenge the legitimacy of U2’s overproduced alternative arena rock? On the topic of popularity, would a successful Simple Minds comeback erase the band’s place in one-hit wonderdom due to the popularity of Don’t You Forget about Me?
Nevertheless, Simple Minds’ legitimacy as post-punk/new wave progenitors/practitioners is evident by their early recordings. Their accomplishments from 1979’s Real to Real Cacophony to Sparkle In The Rain and (yes, even) 1985’s hit Once Upon A Time deserve credit for mixing experimentation with well-constructed and intriguing songwriting. The slick production of Black & White 050505 only deserves fair comparison to Simple Minds records starting with Sparkle In The Rain (which employed contemporary production values) and current new-wave inspired bands.
Charlie Burchill’s guitar shimmers and shrieks while Jim Kerr’s vocals switch from a complacent to a commanding croon, but the band often feels out of place in the production. While the songwriting is comparable in quality to any decent band that has existed for more than a quarter-century, the overuse of digitally enhanced effects and filters create a cold atmosphere far removed from the analog bombasts many neo-wave bands are currently trying to emulate. The booming, arena-sized drums and layered synths only help to draw parallels between Simple Minds and U2’s recent output. Diehard Simple Minds fans will find tracks like Stay Visible as memorable as diehard (and passive) U2 fans find many of the tracks of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, although Simple Minds never attempt anything as cringeworthy as Vertigo.
Despite any way to deconstruct Black & White 050505, the album is most appropriately judged as an attempt to recreate Kerr’s and Burchill’s powerful new-wave anthems in a contemporary context. The formula works as much as it fails, which is enough to give the band a small voice in the crowd of the reemerging new-wave old guard.
Mike Swidrak Indieworks.