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Back in 1985, a movie entitled The Breakfast Club hit the screens and saw Scottish band Simple Minds break America with their big hit from the movie's soundtrack, '(Don't You) Forget About Me'. Although the band had been around since 1979 in the UK, this 1985 hit was another hit to add to their success here in the UK as they were filling stadiums with their unique sound and big anthems.
I had first became aware of Simple Minds when a friend bought what was actually their fourth studio album 'Sons And Fascination' back in 1981 and brought it to my house to listen to. I was just 13 years old, but already a big music fan and after listening to the album, I quickly became a big fan of Simple Minds. Between us, my friend and I bought the previous three albums and also the ones which followed.
In 1982 I got to see the band perform live at Newcastle City Hall and also again on a further two occasions over the next couple of years. The band were growing and so was their fan base with 1982's New Gold Dream album setting them firmly on the way for the stadium filling gigs which followed.
Fast forward to the present day and 30 years on since I first discovered the band and Simple Minds are still going strong. They have continued to release albums over the years and even when the stadium gigs began to peter out after 1989's 'Street Fighting Years,' Simple Minds retained a large fan base around the world.
Although my love of the band in the 90's and 2000's was not as strong as my love for them in the 80's, I still maintained my interest, although I tended to dip in and out of their later albums and never went to see them perform live again until last year in Inverness, where they were performing alongside another of my favourite bands Big Country. Having not seen them since 1984, I was curious and excited about the gig and found they sounded as good as I remembered and a particular highlight was the inclusion of a few of the early tracks from back in those days of the early 80's.
With my enthusiasm for the band renewed after Inverness, when I read they were going to be releasing a boxed set of their first five albums early this year, I knew I would have to have it. Although I already own these albums, they are on vinyl and I have no means of playing them anymore. A CD box set was the opportunity to listen to the early years all over again.
Ask any amount of Simple Minds fans and they will tell you that early Minds is best and therefore it is no surprise that X5 has received great acclaim from the fans and the ensuing X5 tour which recently began and which I will be attending in July, is receiving much praise.
X5 gathers together the band's first five albums, but there are actually six albums included here if you count Sons And Fascination and Sister Feelings Call as separate albums. Sister Feelings Call was actually a bonus album included with Sons and Fascination but such was its popularity it went on to be released in its own right.
X5 does have some bonus material, comprising some b-sides and extended versions which are a hark back to the halcyon days of the 12-inch single. The main point of X5 however, is to be able to revisit the albums themselves once again and enjoy those early years from their humble beginnings to the start of the band's deserved success.
The first album in the set is the band's 1979 debut album 'Life In A Day' where you can strongly hear the influence of Roxy Music with guitar, synthesizer and the odd dash of sax. Looking back I can see why Simple Minds appealed to me from the start as I have always been a fan of Roxy Music. Although I didn't make the connection back then, years later when listening to it now, the influence of Roxy Music and maybe Bowie is the first thing that springs to mind.
Catchy single 'Chelsea Girl' has always been the first track I think of from this debut album but add to this the title track or 'Sad Affair' for example and you realise those catchy melodies featured on more than just that first track I always think of. The album isn't all early pop rock with a touch of glam however, the early sound of what went on to become their unique atmospheric and often spine-tingling sound is born here. 'Pleasantly Disturbed' is a gem and 'Murder Story''s pulsing bassline are worth mentioning too. Indeed the latter was echoed later by Joy Division with 'Transmission.'
Follow-up album 'Real To Real Cacophony' was also released the same year and saw the band developing further and moving slightly away from the pop sounds evident on much of the debut album. This album has a different feel to the debut, 'Factory', 'Changeling' and 'Premonition' remain my favourites to this day as the album's deeper tracks in my opinion, but overall this album tended to have a more Kraftwerk influenced theme running through it and the synthesizer featured more, with 'Carnival' being a good example featuring 'demented carousel keyboards' as I saw it once described and thought it amusing but very apt.
The next album, 'Empires and Dance' released a year later in 1980, showed that Simple Minds had a lot of ideas, hence the quick succession of these early albums and again this album marked another change. This is the album which whenever I listen to it now, I think it gives a glimpse of the success which was undoubtedly to come, especially on the amazing 'I Travel' which is an explosion of noise with its catchy hook, guitar riffs and thudding drum and bass. Whilst 'Celebrate' although quieter, features the same pulsing bass which is something Simple Minds have perfected over the years. 'Thirty Frames A Second' and another fan favourite from these early days: 'Room' are also standouts here.
1981 saw the release of 'Sons and Fascination' with its bonus album 'Sister Feelings Call' and this is where my love of the band began and so of course I have special memories of these, but these are the albums which saw the band teetering on the edge of the success which was to follow a year later. 'Love Song' is the single from Sons and Fascination which many will recall hearing back then, even if not sure of who the band were. It was catchy and saw the band beginning to perfect the sound which was to shape their future, particularly when you take into consideration the haunting quality of the deeply hypnotic and melancholic 'Seeing Out The Angels' which is a revelation, as is 'This Earth You Walk Upon.' Maybe the 'New Romantic' explosion gave Simple Minds a helping hand too, but to be fair they were always worthy of much more than simply being tagged as another New Romantic band.
'In Trance As Mission' and '70 Cities As love Brings The Fall' are also worthy of mention and I recall after listening to this album back in 1981, feeling excited by what was to follow.
The bonus album, 'Sister Feelings Call' I always remember I didn't expect very much of it at the time, but it was another revelation, thowing up two massive tracks in particular: the instrumental 'Theme For Great Cities' and 'The American' with its memorable rousing chorus.
And so finally we get to 1982 release 'New Gold Dream'. Considered by many to be 'the' Simple Minds album and with which I have to agree. Sons and Fascination had brought them to the verge of success and then along came this album which got to number three in the album chart and spawned further chart success with single releases 'Promised You A Miracle', 'Glittering Prize' and 'Someone, Somewhere In Summertime', the latter being one of my all time favourite Minds' tracks, although I must mention that three of my other favourite Minds' tracks all feature on this album too. Indeed I still get goosebumps everytime I listen to the beautiful and extremely atmospheric tracks 'Hunter And The Hunted' or 'Big Sleep' and never fail to be uplifted by the anthemic title track New Gold Dream. This album has it all, it is evocative, haunting and uplifting from start to finish. The earlier albums saw the band experimenting with their sound and by New Gold Dream, they perfected it.
X5 is a real trip down memory lane for me and I can't wait to see some of these songs played on the X5 tour when I attend in July. For fans like myself this set is a great collection and a look back to just how the band shaped their future from that first release. Whatever people's opinions on the years which followed after these initial albums, these first few years were astounding and whilst I must admit I loved some of the following releases too, the albums here bring back some special memories and I can experience once again in just a few hours, a journey which spanned four years of one of my favourite bands.
Just as the bonus track 'Soundtrack For Every Heaven' features on the New Gold Dream album here, this entire set makes up a soundtrack for my heaven and gets five stars from me.
X5 can be purchased from Amazon priced at £12.99.