SIMPLE MINDS New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) (Virgin)
It might seem like a strange claim these days, but once upon a time (pun unintended) Simple Minds were a mighty creative force, and "New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)" was the apotheosis of those days. It's a lush, velveteen treasure of an album, sounding like The Blue Nile ripped to the gills on Celtic mythology and gripped by a funk obsession. This is haunting, atmospheric, life-affirming music, but also budding with the seeds of its own destruction: the unprecedented success of the album caused Simple Minds' sound to swell to the stadium-sized proportions required by their sales, and it rapidly acquired a chrome-plated flashiness from which it would never recover. U2 suffered a similar fate following the release of their similarly complex and gorgeous "The Unforgettable Fire", although they managed to handle their popularity explosion with marginally more subtlety.
Still, "New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)" is staggeringly good for a Simple Minds album. If, at times, the album seems weighed down by an earnest seriousness ("Big Sleep"), there's usually something fleet-footed just around the corner to compensate ("Somebody Up There Likes You"). Equally, the early premonitions of arena-strangling excess within the reverberent drum thwack of "Glittering Prize" are, temporarily at least, undermined by "Hunter And The Hunted", one of the album's quiet masterstrokes. Through wistful, foggy music Jim Kerr emotes about "The side effects of living at the speed of life", and it sounds like the ultimate iteration of a new society built on the teachings of David Bowie's "Low", as far as this music could be inveigled into the mainstream. And so it would remain, until 18 years later Radiohead picked up the baton. And even they didn't have Herbie Hancock on call, who decorates this track with a keyboard solo so exquisitely understated you'd miss it if you weren't consciously listening for it. But this is a gorgeous, layered album, that begs to be consciously listened to, enjoyed and revelled in.