Music Review: Simple Minds – ‘Sparkle in The Rain’ (4CD Deluxe Boxed Set)
Of all the bands once touted as being the “next U2” back in the early 1980s (anyone else remember Big Country?), Scottish art-rockers Simple Minds were the ones who probably came the closest to actually grabbing that big, brass ring.
But although their actual run at the top was one of those brief, blink-and-you-could’ve-missed-it moments so common to any number of bands lumped under the umbrella of “New Wave” back then, Simple Minds were far more than just another 1980s one-hit wonder. It should also be noted that of all those would-be successors to the throne of Bono and company, Simple Minds are just about the only ones still making records (their latest, Big Music, was released late last year).
That “one hit” was of course, “Don’t You Forget About Me,” which became a world-wide smash after being featured in the brat-pack movie The Breakfast Club. Interestingly, they didn’t even write that song. But it is still the one they are most often associated with today (along with, though to a slightly lesser degree, “Alive And Kicking” – a song which they actually did write).
But what Simple Minds real fans – and not the ones who sing those two aforementioned hits on karaoke night – remember most from that short-lived period, are the three great albums the band released between 1983-85: New Gold Dream, Sparkle In The Rain, and Once Upon A Time.
As the album that served as the bridge between Simple Minds artsy-fartsy beginnings that peaked on the dreamy, atmospheric New Gold Dream, and the big stadium anthems that became their eventual calling card with Once Upon A Time, it’s not surprising that 1984’s Sparkle In The Rain is really the meat in this particular sandwich.
Although there are a few missteps here (not the least of which is their well-intentioned, though ultimately droning, meandering cover of Lou Reed’s “Street Hassle”), fans who cite 1983-85 as Simple Minds golden period will almost unanimously tell you that Sparkle was a pivotal turning point.
This is the album where Simple Minds went big.
Everything about Sparkle – which gets the 30th anniversary treatment (albeit a year too late) with a deluxe boxed set coming out March 31 – suggests a band hungry to break away from its status as an artsy cult band at the time, only to make that big, bold grab.
While this album documents a band clearly still in transition, it also set the stage for them to do exactly that.
The first thing you notice about Sparkle In The Rain are the big, brash sounding drums. These come mainly courtesy of producer-of-the-moment Steve Lillywhite, whose credits at the time included XTC and of course his biggest clients U2. Lillywhite productions were instantly recognizable for the big drum sound he favored (a trademark he shared with fellow 1980s producer Phil Collins).
Big drums were big Steve’s thing, and the drums on Sparkle are absolutely, ridiculously enormous. Listening to these songs some thirty years later, you also start to see that besides sounding somewhat dated now, the sound of the big boom – impressive as it may have seemed at the time – often tends to overwhelm the songs themselves.
Even so, in terms of great songs Sparkle In The Rain has more than its share of real keepers. The long-lost extended versions of largely forgotten gems like “Waterfront,” “Up On The Catwalk” and especially “Speed Your Love To Me” (originally released as 12″ vinyl singles – remember those?), are particularly welcome additions to this boxed set.
There is also a full 1984 concert from Glasgow (that also includes songs from New Gold Dream) and parts of a BBC radio broadcast included here. An import version of this boxed set also includes a surround mix for Blu-ray from the ever prolific Steven Wilson.
*Article first published at Blogcritics Magazine.