REVIEW: Simple Minds – Direction of the Heart

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A while back, I stumbled upon a Twitter tweet going, “Ok, so let me get this straight. The #1 movie in the country is Top Gun, the #1 song is Kate Bush‘s “Running Up That Hill,” and America is in a proxy war with Russia? So, we’re just like, “Fuck it, let’s give 1986 another go then?” While I’m sure the tweet was merely an attempt to zoom the lens, rather sarcastically, on how utterly screwed-up the world once again is, it popped into my mind upon seeing the announcement, a while back, that one of the most iconic Scottish post-punk outfits, SIMPLE MINDS, were set out to release their eighteenth studio album “Direction of the Heart” on October 21 st, 2022, via BMG. I have to admit that the news caught me totally off-guard. I didn’t know the band was still around. If truth be said, I had not heard from them since their 1989 single, “Belfast Child.” It turns out that this new endeavor is not a comeback album: these Scotts have been spreading their post-punk gospel throughout the decades, honing their craft into perfection, lurking in the dark (well, for me, at least). On this new outing, SIMPLE MINDS are revisiting their past, however, and they do it by rolling out their finest trademarks in nothing short of a timeless manner. So, are we giving the ’80s another go? Why the hell not?

The album is bookended with two tributes; first, to family and, last, to a friend. The album opens with the lead single, “Vision Thing,” which pays tribute to vocalist Jim Kerr‘s father, who passed away in 2019. The song is immediately recognizable as SIMPLE MINDS, most likely because Kerr‘s voice sounds every bit as iconic as it did almost 40 years ago. In a way, the song sets the overarching tone for the whole album, one that is poignantly uplifting, emphasizing the positive sentiment, as the band along with the whole world are coming out of turbulent times. The overall sentiment remains positive throughout the album, despite the occasionally darker and more political pitch. The album closer, in turn, is a beautiful arena-pop tribute to Michael Breen of THE CALL, who passed away in 2010, and whose songs SIMPLE MINDS have had a habit of making cover renditions of. There’s one on this album too.

The theme of rising above our anxieties gears up on an even more haunting vibe on the second track, “First You Jump.” The song rolls out all the band’s heart-wrenching and transcendent arena-pop fortes as if it was 1985 again. That’s when they recorded one of their biggest hits, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” for the soundtrack of the John Hughes film, Breakfast Club. I must have been 11 years old at the time, really not having the slightest clue about what the song’s lyrics were talking about, but anyhow, the song stuck with me and has traveled with me all through these years. Maybe it has something to do with the anthemic and lush sound that has become the band’s trademark. Throw in a good pinch of melancholic guitar fizz in the spirit of David Bowie‘s Berlin years and there you have it: “First You Jump” is easily the most bittersweet and heart-wrenching track on the selection – and still, you simply cannot resist putting it on repeat.

Speaking of indulging in a highly enjoyable recollection of the band’s past, “Planet Zero” originated already in 2011, during the band’s Greatest Hits tour. The song’s electronic throb has a nice IAN BROWN vibe to it and guest vocalist Sarah Brown‘s soulful contribution sure does elevate the music to a sphere of its own. Then, “Act of Love” harkens even further back in time. The song is a sort of reimagining of one of the group’s earliest songs, written all the way back in 1978. Maybe that explains the nice disco-indie vibe in the song. Last, “The Walls Came Down” is a cover of a THE CALL song from 1983. This SIMPLE MINDS rendition sure does pack a punch and serves as a reminder that pop songs used to be a good deal more political than they are today. The song was originally written as a critique of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. However, it still bears an uncanny relevance – as recent history has proven time and time again, the world has not changed that much in 40 years.

Direction of the Heart” is the band’s first release since the 2018’s UK Top-5 outing “Walk Between Worlds,” of which I have been blissfully unaware all this time. I’m seriously going to have to check it out if the new album is anything to go by. There are two things coming out from Scotland that seem to age particularly well and SIMPLE MINDS is the one that doesn’t give you a headache the next morning – quite the opposite; “Direction of the Heart” is a haunting show of strength from a band going in its forties and, as only befits the band, their new album is a testament to resilience, endurance, and determination in the face of adversity. Who would have thought that this vintage post-punk squad could still serve as the articulate standard-bearers for anthemic arena-pop in 2022?!

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Vision Thing
  2. First You Jump
  3. Human Traffic
  4. Who Killed Truth?
  5. Solstice Kiss
  6. Act of Love
  7. Natural
  8. Planet Zero
  9. The Walls Came Down
  10. Direction of the Heart (Taormina 2022)
  11. Wondertimes

Lineup

Jim Kerr – vocals

Charlie Burchill – guitars

Ged Grimes – bass

Cherisse Osei – drums

Sarah Brown – backing vocals

Label

BMG

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