Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call
May 24, 2021 11:24AM
I listened to this classic double album again over the last several days. It’s still my favorite Simple Minds record (although the subsequent New Gold Dream [81-82-83-84] comes close), and a definite 1981 Top-Tenner. Sons and Fascination and Sister Feelings Call were also available separately, but these discs are for me inextricably linked. It’s not only that both records contain "Sound in 70 Cities"—I prefer the instrumental rendition, though both versions are excellent—or that “Sons and Fascination”’s lyrics provide the title of the second disc. What’s remarkable about this release is that the tracks from either record could easily be rearranged to appear on the other one; indeed, sections of some compositions could easily be transferred to the sections of other tracks. When I first heard this superb album in 1981, I considered it the band’s London Calling, but now I believe it’s really their Sandinista! “Theme for Great Cities” is not only their greatest instrumental (which is really saying something), but it’s one of the most brilliant electronic rock tracks ever. The unlikely pairing of the Minds with the wonderful Steve Hillage still knocks me out every time I listen to the album. There are elements of Roxy, Krautrock, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and even Levene-era PIL swirling around inside it. The album sounds alive, like a Maschinenmensch made flesh and blood. It’s pure audio alchemy.
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Re: Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call
May 24, 2021 11:34AM
Probably my fave albums of theirs too, though I bought them separately and months apart, so they're less inextricably linked in my mind. The basslines are really amazing.
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Re: Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call
May 24, 2021 11:57AM
Middle C, now you've done it. You mentioned "Sons/Sister" by Simple Minds. It's not my favorite album by the band [that would be "Empires + Dance"] but it was possibly their overall best. Though a playback of "New Gold Dream" will always whisper in your ear "love me the best!"

By 1981 changes came fast and furious for Simple Minds. With the band threatening to break up to get out of their contract, Arista let them go and Virgin Records were more than eager to give them a new home in February of 1981 following Virgin A+R's Ross Stapleton's exposure to the track "Premonition" in a Berlin disco. When Stapleton investigated the band live, that clinched the deal.

Having made three albums with John Leckie, the band decided that it was time for a change and new producers were bandied about by the band and label. Todd Rundgren was mooted as his name is never far from the table when discussing how to “sell” seemingly unmarketable groups, but the costs of sending the band to his studio in the States, where he would only work, was prohibitive. As was the rate demanded by Steve Lilywhite, whose star turn on Peter Gabriel’s third must have turned the band’s heads. Since the band were Stranglers fans, Martin Rushent was mooted but was not available. Little did they know that he was then plotting the commercial metamorphosis of equally marginal label mates The Human League at this time.

Virgin Managing Director/co-founder Simon Draper sagely suggested in-house producer Steve Hillage, who had produced the Ken [Cowboys International] Lockie solo album that the band was impressed by. Score one for Draper. Hillage had several solo records in the can by this time and was no doubt looking to his future [as half of ambient techno pioneers System 7] and saw Simple Minds as a good stepping stone. As for the band, they had enough respect for 70s Prog Rock to consider the experiment worth trying. Stylistically, the album was a natural progression from “Empires + Dance” with the same reliance on hypnotic trance rhythms, albeit with an enhanced sense of melody and a new emphasis on hooks.

Their timing was ripe in that as 1980 turned into 1981, the band’s reputation was on the rise among the New Romantic set, who had been early champions of the group dating from Rusty Egan’s club play at Blitz. In 1981, the New Romantics ruled the airwaves as the flavor of the moment. The public was primed and ready for danceable, art and synthesizer-heavy music for clubs. Meanwhile, Virgin were riding the band and producer hard for results. Budgets were hashed and re-hashed as the producer didn’t want to curtail the band’s burgeoning creativity. Talk began to emerge of a double album; the hallmark of 70s Prog rockers!

When the dust had cleared, Simple Minds recorded everything and worked on it until the budget ran out, with almost enough material for two albums. Ultimately, they released it all. “Sons + Fascination was initially bundled together with the accompanying album “Sister Feelings Call.” The two distinct records were united only by shrinkwrap and after the initial release, they were available separately, with “Sister Feelings Call” being a budget release.

This album began with the admission that it was now all about the bass. “In Trance As Mission” was practically a précis of the band’s compositional methodology by this time. The naked bass line of Derek Forbes that this song [and indeed band] was anchored to was joined by the motorik drumming of Brian McGee that advanced the song forward in hops and skips while the bass kept circling close. McGee eschewed all but the scantest of drum fills and when Mike MacNeil’s synths arrived on the scene, they added wisps of melody that kept to the rondo motif of it all. When Jim Kerr’s vocals entered the song it all achieved a calm, almost paradoxical blend of motorik forward movement mated with a newfound placidity that seemed to take its cues from the last track of “Empires + Dance.”

Producer Steve Hillage was not convinced that this cut needed to start the album at nearly 6:30 with almost no melodic development, but he eventually saw it as the right thing, as the band had all along. Kerr’s vocals harkened back to Bryan Ferry somewhat, but the emotional thrust of the song was far from Ferry’s usual palette. This was a song of gently questing exploration and quite new to the Simple Minds toolbox. If anything, this showed that the band had duly absorbed both Krautrock and Eno’s transitional period, as heard on “Another Green World” or “Before And After Science.”

The vibe shifted dramatically on the next track, “Sweat In Bullet.” This was a dramatic return to the explorative trance funk that first surfaced so dramatically on “Premonition.” The hugely athletic bass line that Forbes pinned the song on was a wonder to hear. He was using fretless to give the deeply funky line a dramatic and breathless portamento. This was a sound far from the Jaco Pastorius/Mick Karn school of fretless bass playing, which by now was managing to become a genre unto itself. If anything, it recalled the space bass of Bootsy Collins, at least in temperament. But it did not sound like he was using a MuTron envelope like Collins did.

McGee kept the drums simple, which was his brief for the album, with funky cowbell adding to the dance floor appeal. Kerr dipped further into the Ferry waters vocally, but his lyrics were as tantalizingly oblique as they ever became here, with words like “airmobility” fairly leaping out of the composition. Combined with the tightly riffing synths of MacNeil and the heavily treated rhythm guitar of Charlie Burchill, it almost sounded like one for the dance floor, but this track remained as tantalizingly left-field as anything on the previous album. It used the trappings of pop music more readily, but was not quite ready to cross the finish line in the race from art to pop.

“70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall” began with dramatically reverberant synth leads [possibly sequenced] from MacNeil and featured either dramatically treated guitar or bass adding one of the most unique hooks I’d ever heard in a song. I really can’t tell which as it ends up making the instrument in question sound like a cow! I’d like to think it was Burchill’s guitar. Kerr’s call and response doubletracked vocals add melodic complexity to a track that never takes the easy way out. Various melodic threads counterpoint one another as in a hall of mirrors as the track wove a complex spell that on occasion had all the various lead lines synching to a dramatic stopping point. The result was less of a song than more of a tapestry of sound that enveloped the listener.

My favorite album track from “Sons + Fascination” was the insistent “Boys From Brazil.” The rhythm bed was not dependent on bass for a change and what a rhythm it was! I could listen to it all day long. Once I hear it, it only reluctantly leaves my receptive brain. The pounding, tribal drums were right up front here with a pattern that was impossible to resist. Kerr here invoked the Ira Levin potboiler [a film in 1978] to obliquely reference the far right National Front party which saw some of its members attracted to the Tories due to Margaret Thatcher’s anti-immigrant viewpoints in the 1979 election. Lovely.

When the needle hit side two, Simple Minds thought nothing of nestling the most commercial song on the album there in the typical lead single position, but “Love Song” was actually the second single taken from the album. It featured an instantly compelling synth riff intro that was simply a use of striking, random wave envelopes. The foreboding rhythms of “Citizen” re-emerged here in a dramatic, surging form. The song was best experienced in its fullest form on the album and 12″ single take, which were identical.

The cut up lyric shards that Kerr proffered may not have been anything that listeners could have parsed as romantic lyrics, but that hardly mattered. The song was the band’s first full-on anthem, featuring bold power chords for the first time since “Chelsea Girl.” Where that song looked back to the sixties, this one was looking forward; uniting fragmentary, impressionistic lyrics to a music bed informed by boundary-erasing Krautrock and given a bedrock by one of the finest rhythm sections of their time.

The rousing the chords that ended the song seemed capable of holding all of creation upon them. Kerr’s stentorian vocal succeeded in ways that left Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley very much in the shade. He retained a substantial modulated power through his restraint. This remains one of my very favorite Simple Minds songs to this day. “Love Song” was their first top ten hit; albeit in Australia, who warmed to the band slightly faster than England had. Intriguingly, it was the result when producer Steve Hillage asked the band why they had no love songs in their arsenal of tunes for the album.

After the burst of searing guitar that Charlie Burchill made central to “Love Song,” his contributions to the rest of side two were curiously spartan. “This Earth That You Walk Upon” belied its title to rely primarily on surgically applied guitar licks to accent the interlocking music bed of rhythm boxes, finger snaps, and most memorably, sighs used as rhythm throughout this trancelike number that eschews the motorik propulsion of the earlier tracks for more ambient climes. It offered a delicacy that was new to the band and was a far stretch from the neurotic claustrophobia of “Empires + Dance” that had preceded this album.

The title track pulled its head out of the clouds to descend [ironically] to the earth once more as a martial beat propelled the seemingly guitar-free song of only bass, drums, synths, and voice. The lurching rhythm bed suggested a mutant funk that was asexual; using its powers to motivate questing forward propulsion instead of torrid grinding.

“Seeing Out The Angel” remained a compelling exercise in a curiously loping rhythm bed mated with a melody of crystalline beauty. Kerr’s deep register vocal was another nod in Ferry’s direction while the rest of us got a whiff of what Roxy Music might have sounded like if Eno had remained and perhaps enlisted his pals in Cluster to lend a hand?

Due to the hectic pace of recording and budgetary give and take from Virgin, the songs were not “finished” and the band were left to mix the album themselves when Hillage entered the hospital with heart palpitations, [which he thought was a heart attack] and engineer Hugh Jones was nowhere to be found. Perhaps for this reason, Burchill was very thin on the ground on side two. After his extroverted wah wah solos on “Love Song” that were the furthest thing from funk, any injections of guitar into what was the rest of side two petered out quickly to nothing. There were spectral licks lurking within “This Earth That You Walk Upon” but none to speak of on the rest of the songs’ unless the effects were so heavy that what I mistook for synths were in fact, guitars.

It may be that the distinctive sound of these albums [both “Sons + Fascination” and “Sister Feelings Call”] came down to the band having more ambition and talent than time and money. Producer Hillage’s unwillingness [he was still getting production experience at this time; this was his third outside production] to impose structure and discipline on the band certainly had an effect. They were still in the midst of an unprecedented burst of creative energy that had begun two years earlier, and would not really abate for another three years.

The fact that in this period, Simple Minds rhythm section was dominant to the melodic elements of the band seemed like a brilliant move in retrospect that afforded the group a dynamic, if left-field, air of distinction. The mind boggles if it was not intentional but only the practical result of the group attempting to stretch beyond the boundaries that their new label had indicated and failing in the attempt! That such powerful and inventive music resulted should spur more bands into not finishing tracks with fully developed rhythm beds!

When Simple Minds mooted issuing two albums separately at once, it must have occurred to some that this might be the “chaff” from their productive sessions which would have been B-sides in another time. The reality was, however, that the grouping of “Sons + Fascination” resulted a tightly coherent sequence of eight songs that nestled together tightly. The seven tracks on “Sister Feelings” call were not inferior material, but instead were songs that pushed further at the boundaries of where their heads were at during the recording sessions.

It began with a huge instrumental, “Theme For Great Cities.” This was not the first Simple Minds instrumental, but it was the first Simple Minds instrumental classic! In a case of “less is more” Jim Kerr wisely refrained from putting his stamp on the cut; correctly sensing it had a timeless and powerful appeal all its own.

“One of the best moves I ever made was not to sing on ‘Theme For Great Cities’. I remember walking around with that in Glasgow on my new Sony Walkman thinking this is f***ing perfect.” – Jim Kerr

That it may have also been influenced by the fact that time and the budget had run out can also be considered, but in the end, Kerr’s judgement resulted in a song of inexorable power that continues to reverberate decades later, first resurfacing several years later during the Second Summer Of Love as a bonafide Ibiza classic. The band have revisited its well on many occasions since with new versions and even an ill-advised attempt at adding lyrics as the song "Let The Children Sing" on their 1991 album, "Real Life."

Mike MacNeil’s synths sounded like horns heralding a new era, and Derek Forbes’ by now compulsively funky bass line syncopated perfectly with the stuttering rhythms that drummer Brian McGee proffered. The end result was a rhythmic stiffness shot through with a fluidity that engages the mind and body in different ways at the same time. Perfect. The ascending chord sequence that propelled the song ever forward was yet another example of the same one the band first used in “Cacophony” two years earlier, now mated with an expansive motorik thrust that radiated vibrance where only dank shadows and illness had existed previously.

The fact that the first pre-release single from Sons/Sister was from the “budget” album “Sister Feelings Call” should give pause to any thoughts that one album was somehow less than the other. “The American” was an absolute stormer of a cut based on the stupidest, most elemental drum pattern imaginable. In that sense, it was an outlier to the appeal of a track like “Waterfront,” wherein the normally hyperdextrous Forbes delivered a bass line of Neanderthal simplicity and power.

“The American” was a song of exhilarating impact. Perhaps its relative lack of subtlety relates to the title? The song’s reductively simple chorus, heard once, is not an easy thing to forget, and when I saw Simple Minds [finally] performing this tune on their 2013 tour of The States in 2013, singing along at the top of my lungs was a perfect moment that I had been waiting half a lifetime for. The one shining moment of flourish and finesse that this song was gifted with came at its coda, courtesy of Charlie Burchill’s intricate guitar solo that added the filigree that transported this song from brutal simplicity across the threshold of breathtaking accomplishment.

The album side ended with the minor key introversion of “20th Century Promised Land,” with MacNeil’s synth patch sounding for all the world like a Farfisa organ, took two steps forward but one step back, almost touching on a Latin mambo rhythmic feel. After two ebullient openers, it was almost a throwback to the dense claustrophobia of “Empires + Dance” and “Real To Real Cacophony.” Kerr’s vocals fit the mood with his deep-sunk tones perhaps showing the Ian Curtis influence just below the surface. The kinetic rhythm guitar of Burchill remained the brightest shaft of light in this crepuscular track.

“Wonderful In Young Life” had never been a track that had any particular effect on me, but the benefit of decades of Simple Minds fandom hindsight, it’s become the track that towers over “Sister Feelings Call” for me now. The manic energy and beat of Roxy Music’s “Editions Of You” was given a precognitive dose of “New Gold Dream’s” lush, sensuality with this track. Kerr’s lyrics, which became completely positive here, for the first time in the band’s career, exploded outward in rhythmic repetitions of key phrases to fit the motorik impulse of the song. It is the key song here in linking the Simple Minds of 1980 with the one of 1982. While they would explore such buoyant emotions on “New Gold Dream,” their demeanor would be a far cry from the ebullient energy level here, featuring much slower tempos to more introspectively explore their newly defrosted emotions. In this way, it prefigures the also upbeat, but more energetic sound to come later, as in 1984’s “Sparkle In the Rain.”

The normally complex bass patterns that Derek Forbes usually played, became a motorik staccato here, interlocking with the equally simple, propulsive patterns that Brian McGee was playing on the drums. Charlie Burchill’s guitar trades licks with McGee’s economical drum fills on the song’s somewhat more dreamy chorus. How could I have overlooked this song’s brilliance for so many years?! With the scales now fallen from my ears, I am in awe of this song!

“League of Nations” was chosen as the B-Side of “The American;” making that single completely redundant to anyone who bought the album later. The brooding track brought forth one more burst of the foreboding African energy that drove “Veldt” two albums earlier. It also suggested that Simple Minds were also impressed by Byrne + Eno’s “By Life In The Bush Of Ghosts” which had been released earlier in the Spring of 1981. McGee relied here on rhythm boxes generating slo-mo rhumbas not unlike that at the coda of “Living Through Another Cuba” by XTC. The track gives validation to the talk that the album was rushed out with partially made songs given that Kerr’s vocals consisted entirely of the title and the word “repeat” used judiciously to create tension. The live recording from the Hammersmith Odeon performed on September 25th, 1981 revealed that Kerr had by then composed full lyrics for the track, leaving the original sounding like a demo in comparison.

The next track could have stood on the “Sons + Fascination” album with that material as it shared the tone of dark, introversion that typified that album. On “Careful In Career,” Kerr’s slowed, slurred vocals are one with the rest of the music bed. He was rarely mixed above the band on this album, but this track takes that trait to its fullest end. It also got Kerr off the hook from composing more lyrics! Instead, he slowed his performance to fit the vibe of the music bed. Burchill’s guitar attained a sound akin to harmonica on this track with a repetitive, cascading riff particularly coming close to the mouth harp sound.

McGee’s stuttering, lopsided beat suggested that forward movement was still possible even though the train was possibly damaged. This band was amazing in that bearing the influence of Krautrock, they studiously avoided simply using the same classic Klaus Dinger beat that others took repeatedly to the bank. The found ways to embellish the form with their own touches throughout the albums.

While six tracks make a long EP, they add up to a short album, so the decision was made to add an instrumental version of one of the double album’s tracks as a coda to side four. “The Sound In 70 Cities” was a magnificent choice for instrumental “filler” to round out the collection. It’s gratifying to hear the mooing cow hook without it having to fight Kerr for dominance. It makes me think that whole instrumental versions of the early Simple Minds albums would be fun for the whole family. The level of accomplishment that they brought to the songs instrumentally suggested that all of it would work without Kerr… if it had to.

The sounds on offer, like those of albums two through six, suggested that the tracks came together with the band together in a room, jamming. That they were gifted with as inventive a bass player as Derek Forbes, to build the foundations for all of these songs, was a luxury many other bands didn’t have. “Sons + Fascination/Sister Feelings Call” was a remarkable set showing the band having made several steps away from the intense, neurotic coldness of the preceding “Empires + Dance” yet not fully capitulating to conventional songwriting tactics. That would come later. For now, the “Sons/Sister” period showed a band on the cusp of their own movement. They encompassed a unique Kraurtoxy music style, heavy on trance-inducing rhythms and a compulsive repetition that gave the songs a fantastic cumulative power unattainable in the conventional toolbox of rock music. Excessive solos would have scuttled this ship forthwith.

I was dismayed that some people just didn’t get what they were engaging in. I recall the review of “Sons/Sister” in the pages of Trouser Press at the time of release where the reviewer took the band to task for having the temerity of having none of the songs under four minutes long! Their goals would not have been reached any other way. In fact, these albums might have been better in even longer edits. Imagine the power of these albums if each disc were 60 minutes long!

Former TP subscriber [81, 82, 83, 84]

For further rumination on the Fresh New Sound of Yesterday®

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/24/2021 11:59AM by Post-Punk Monk.
Re: Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call
May 24, 2021 12:24PM
A superb analysis as always, Mr. Monk! Your blog, as well as your comments here, are always a delight to read. The cow sound you hear in "70 Cities" always reminds me of a chainsaw.

New Gold Dream does indeed whisper seductively to me--in fact, the album contains my all-time favorite Simple Minds song, "Someone Somewhere in Summertime."
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Re: Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call
May 24, 2021 12:23PM
Top notch albums that sound like nothing before (except for perhaps their previous two albums) or since.
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Re: Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call
May 24, 2021 01:08PM
zoo Wrote:
> Top notch albums that sound like nothing before
> (except for perhaps their previous two albums) or
> since.

And we're all the poorer for it. If anyone knows of anything out there remotely close to this kind of work, please drop us a line!
Re: Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call
May 24, 2021 04:06PM
Well, this certainly makes me want to check out these albums. Honestly, I never bought any of their disks, as Kerr's "stentorian" vocals were a turn-off. Never a fan of the "bellowing" style (see also: Bono, Danzig, Cher.) But the descriptions of the rhythms and textures are pushing me to explore further.
Re: Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call
May 24, 2021 10:06PM
MrFab Wrote:
> Well, this certainly makes me want to check out
> these albums. Honestly, I never bought any of
> their disks, as Kerr's "stentorian" vocals were a
> turn-off. Never a fan of the "bellowing" style
> (see also: Bono, Danzig, Cher.) But the
> descriptions of the rhythms and textures are
> pushing me to explore further.

You MUST! Kerr's singing isn't great, but his lyrics were always interesting. And that original band was incredible!
Re: Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call
May 26, 2021 10:12AM
I’ve owned all the simple minds lp’s for years... if I saw one priced affordably in the used vinyl bins, I grabbed it. However, I wasn’t always good about listening to them closely.

This thread made me do just that the last couple days ( having a turntable at work is the cats meow).

They’re better than I expected. The biggest surprise was how minimalist and downright funky the rhythm section could be. Like Talking Heads / Gang of Four territory. Wasn’t expecting that.
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Re: Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call
May 27, 2021 07:46PM
I too prefer the instrumental 70 Cities. Put it one of my WFH playlists.
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