After languishing for ten years in the rock wilderness, the Scottish stadium-shakers are back with Black And White 050505, which has been trumpeted by manyas a mighty return to form. And yes, Jim Kerr's vocals are still tremulously emotive, Charlie Burchill is as stirring as ever on his jangling, soaring guitar and the songwriting errs, as always, on the side of supersize anthem. But this spanking new effort, while powerful, boasts a distinctly ethereal quality, softening the stomping stridency of the Simple Minds we knew in the 1980s. Opening track "Home" flirts with an intriguing new sound, haunting yet uplifting with Kerr at his dramatic best, while "Sparkle In The Rain" shimmers with chiming glory. Packed with potential crowd-pleasers, Simple Minds may have stuck wisely with their winning New Gold Dream formula, but they've brought it rocketing up to date. Fans will be gleefully punching the air within minutes. Dissenters, well, they might just be converted.
That the opening bars to Cry finds Jim Kerr opining "It's difficult to love you when you do the things you do time and time again" almost implies that the hideously unfashionable Simple Minds are once again anticipating getting stabbed in the buttocks by poison pens and have decided to save their critics the bother by writing the reviews for them. Well, if that's the case, they've done themselves a little bit of an injustice. The good news–and from this world, not the next–is that Jim Kerr has not reneged on his commitment to making an indecently modest pop record, one where any delusional notions of stadium rock empires are held in check and where melody is a stronger currency than reverb and hot air. Although the cleaner-than-a-kitchen-showroom production is out of step with the contemporary, scuffed-up sounds of "now"–Simple Minds remain hamstrung by their own outmoded brand of professionalism–Cry has more than enough decent tunes to entice persons beyond the well-creased folds of their fan base.
Neon Lights is Simple Minds' covers album. Frankly, these projects often serve little purpose beyond announcing that the artists concerned have run out of original ideas. With the Simple Minds' new album of freshly composed material, Our Secrets Are the Same, now shelved due to legal complications, the Minds have opted to doff their caps in the direction of the heroes of their youth, such as David Bowie, Lou Reed, and the Doors. This is the material the band performed when they were scrawny Glaswegian punks called Johnny & the Self-Abusers. The arrangements here are slightly dated techno-rock efforts, albeit without the expansive pomp and bluster of their stadium-straddling 1980s heyday. Even so, Neon Lights is probably too respectful. Many of these numbers–Echo & the Bunnymen's "Bring on the Dancing Horses," Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World"–are identikit presentations, while electro-rock assaults on Them's "Gloria" and the Doors "Hello I Love You" are monotonous and misguided. A very interesting revision of Pete Shelley's "Homosapien" and a faithful, powerful reading of the Velvet Underground's "All Tomorrow's Parties" are much better.