After trying to give Robin
an overview of early Simple Minds here
, I went back and listened to their Empires And Dance
album. I was struck again by how the first track "I Travel" so explicitly attempts to combine post-punk with disco. Most attempts to mix rock and dance music during the nineties have been about creating the most hedonistic music possible, or creating elaborate ironic gestures, but Simple Minds were always incredibly serious about the process - Empires And Dance
seems to be an extended meditation on Europe, capitalism, politics and cultural imprisonment, and what better way to represent that than with icy Kraftwerk-inspired keyboard arrangements and a regimented Moroder beat?
Their early work perhaps represents both a peak and an endpoint of a modernist urge within pop music, and in the light of subsequent evolutions within pop and rock and the band's own inexplicable deterioration, it now sounds both intriguing and self-consciously portentous. What I'm wondering is whether, if similar music with a similar message was being made today, I'd like it as much or even take it seriously. The obvious contemporary comparisons are Radiohead and Primal Scream, I guess. Draw what conclusions you will, but both examples are only contemporary incarnations of established bands who have earned enough credibility with the press to release whatever they like to overwhelming praise.
What I am certain of is that I underrated this album in my exposition for Robin; its an incredibly detailed, ambitious and accomplished left-of-center take on the synth-pop/post-punk axis (see, for example, the bizarre, woozy funk groove of "Constantinople Line") with some awesome basslines and great, impressionistic guitar work nestled among the electronic flourishes. After making the Radiohead comparison, I suddenly notice how the seven minute bleep-fest "This Fear Of Gods", with its droning bass and incorporation of experimental jazzy horns, is a huge precursor for "The National Anthem" - further heightening my opinion that Kid A is a great album not because of any innovation but because of its synthesis of an array of exellent influences.
The answer to why bands like this don't exist anymore may come down to the fact that ever since post-modernism reared its ugly head, it's been almost impossible to take such earnestness seriously (If I weren't a Simple Minds fan I'd say that in the light of "(Don't You) Forget About Me" it's almost impossible to take Simple Minds seriously, but that's another issue). Today there's such an awareness of how a band or performer's identity is constructed that it's taken for granted that it is necessarily a construction. Notably, intelligent techno is very light on "image", and therefore there's a far greater acceptance of intellectual rhetoric from its practitioners, though that might be obvious from the genre's label. But while in the early eighties Simple Minds were riding the crest of post-punk's social dissection and Cold War paranoia, today they'd likely be dismissed as pretentious, self-indulgent and merely pseudo-intellectual.
Even I find the second half of this album, with its thoroughly fractured musical settings and Jim Kerr's increasingly, er, idiosyncratic vocals, to be a tad unconvincing. The point however is that the musical environment of the time, while not perhaps entirely welcoming of this sort of experimentation and intellectual rhetoric, was at least accepting enough to allow a miniature movement to form around it (see particularly Magazine). If similar bands sprung up today, would they be given a chance?