Happy 35th Anniversary to Simple Minds’ sixth studio album Sparkle In The Rain, originally released February 6, 1984.
Whilst there is a certain amount of music cred to be gained in being a fan of a band from their debut album, there’s also something to be said for discovering a band well into their career and being able to instantly enjoy a rich back catalogue.
That’s how I became a fan of Simple Minds, discovering them through their breakthrough album Once Upon A Time released in 1985. What greeted me as a newfound convert were six precursor albums to explore and digest, including two landmark ventures in New Gold Dream (81/82/83/84) (1982) and Sparkle in the Rain (1984).
Discovering the latter album after the band’s transition from more alternative art pop pioneers to stadium filling rockers, it’s easy to view Sparkle in the Rain as the turning point in their career, both commercially and artistically. Whereas previous albums cast Simple Minds as a band looking for a voice, Sparkle In The Rain had them finding it.
Kicking off with the pounding rhythms of “Up On The Catwalk,” the album almost feels akin to a greatest hits retrospective, pulling from the styles and flavors of their previous outings. “Catwalk” in particular retains that avant-garde Europop aesthetic the band had been admired for and twitches with frontman Jim Kerr’s abstract observations of celebrity, desire and falls from grace.
There’s bombast and a wider scope to their sound not truly realized on previous offerings. It’s as though they are creating the stadiums in which they will perform with every crashing piano chord that resonates and every hard smack of the snare drum. With the (official) addition of drummer Mel Gaynor, Simple Minds’ sound was now bigger and bolder. Gaynor wastes no time stamping his unique style on this and other songs on the album, as does pianist Mick MacNeil who is given more space to present his beautiful melodies and transcendent chord structures.
While continuing to grow as a band musically and in their aspirations, Sparkle benefits from the deft production touch of Steve Lillywhite who pushed the band to refine their performance through take after take. Lillywhite gives their sound a bigger spectrum to play in, without sacrificing any of the intimacy that had connected the band with listeners up to that point.
This is evidenced in tracks like the bright, brash “Book of Brilliant Things” and the slow swell of “East at Easter,” songs that have a panoramic feel to them and capture the energy of a live show.
This new focused energy is exemplified by the thunderous ode to maddening, desperate love, “Speed Your Love To Me.” Punching out of the speakers in a galloping beat accentuated by dense hits, “Speed Your Love To Me” is the perfect encapsulation of Kerr’s poetic lyrics melding seamlessly with the musical bed laid down by Charlie Burchill’s bubbling guitar lines and MacNeil’s dramatic key strikes. All set against that momentous rhythm track of Gaynor and bassist Derek Forbes.
With its repetitive single note bass intro, “Waterfront” led the charge as the first single released from the album with obvious reason. Its grandiose arrangement and juggernaut rhythms hit with bluster as Kerr reflects on the changing landscape of his hometown, Glasgow. The song pulses in a way that seems to expand with every passing note. It’s epic. It’s larger than life. It’s the kind of thing that has the sweaty hoards thriving when played live.
Side A tracks from “Catwalk” to “East at Easter” presenting the focused, refined and ambitious side of Simple Minds. By contrast, Side B proves to be a reflection on the band’s more experimental side, building a collage of the sounds they had fashioned and explored across previous albums.
Side B kicks off with a glorious, albeit truncated, retelling of Lou Reed’s 11-minute opus “Street Hassle.” Refining the track to its main narrative, Simple Minds transform the song into a focused rocker and do so in half the time. With glimpses of a Spector-esque wall of sound, “Street Hassle” packs energy and urgency into every bar.
“White Hot Day” blurs the line between ethereal and prog-rock resulting in a compelling piece of music that reveals itself in layers of swirling guitars, cascading drums, floating synths all built around an expanding and sliding bass line.
The primal art pop of “’C’ Moon Cry Like A Baby” and its counterpart, the punk-fueled “The Kick Inside Of Me,” shows the breadth of Simple Minds as both influencers and the influenced. And while not the highlights of the album, both do bring their own sense of energy to the project that fleshes out the band’s ambitions.
Album closer “Shake Off The Ghosts” is a hypnotizing mix of drum loops and floating-down-stream melodies. It places the listener in a state of transcendence as it swirls and floats out of the speakers. Reworked and represented as B-Side “A Brass Band In African Chimes,” both songs show that Simple Minds still had a sense of musical exploration beating in their heart at the time.
Definitely one of their strongest releases, Sparkle In The Rain found Simple Minds managing to look both forward and back. The ensuing years would build on the foundation made by this release (and its predecessor) and take the band to the heights their music so clearly yearned for. Sparkle In The Rain remains a beautifully produced sonic ride into the heart and soul of Simple Minds.