|Simple Minds - Once Upon a Time|
|Music Disc Reviews DVD-Audio|
|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Tuesday, 13 September 2005|
Hailing from Scotland, Simple Minds emerged in the late 1970s as something of an art rock band that had a knack for big things, a trait that, along with Jim Kerr’s lead vocals, had many a fan and critic comparing them favorably to U2. Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill had been in a punk group in Glasgow before they brought on the members of what came to be Simple Minds. With the change in personnel came a change in the music, and while their early albums varied in style, their fifth, 1982’s New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84), became their first chart album in the U.S. It included such hits as “Promised You a Miracle” and “Glittering Prize,” along with a few other notable tracks such as “Someone Somewhere in Summertime.” Each one of these, especially “Promised You a Miracle,” are good for what they were, but unless you really like ‘80s pop music, their appeal seems to have faded a bit. I like ‘80s music, but even so, a lot of it does not stand up as much more than nostalgia. It is easy to understand the impact New Gold Dream had on the charts, but one wonders how much of the subsequent single success of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” was due to Simple Minds’ musical ability, increasing popularity, or the huge success of the Brat Pack-laden “The Breakfast Club.” Had the song existed without the movie, would it have been such a success? We can only wonder.
What we do know is that “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” was the group’s only chart topper in the United States, but Kerr never really felt attached to the song and it did not find its way onto the next album, 1985’s Once Upon a Time, a record that went gold and reached the U.S. Top Ten before the group swiftly and decisively petered out. “Alive and Kicking” is probably the second most famous Simple Minds song and it is at the heart of the album. It features a great melody and the distinctive keyboard tinkling, muted guitars and playful backing vocals that marked many an ‘80s hit, including the aforementioned smash from that John Hughes movie. Since “Once Upon a Time” was the only other notable entry from the album, much of the disc’s success was due to the popularity of “Forget About Me.” As the 1980s progressed and guitars became more prevalent again, Simple Minds could not keep their momentum. Their reliance on keyboards, at least in their most popular work, sort of pigeonholed them. Kerr’s distinctively strong and sometimes throaty vocals were always the backbone of the group, but for whatever reason, their fan base soon departed. Several albums, albeit with a changing cast of characters, came after, the most recent release coming as late as 2003’s Our Secrets Are the Same.
At the end of the day, Simple Minds holds a place in musical history, and though they continued to produce music nearly to this day, these two albums hold the sound that they were most known for. It cannot be said that it stands up very well; suffice it to say, it sounds very ‘80s.
I was not able to compare these DTS editions to the original CD versions, but I did stand this Once Upon a Time up to its original vinyl version, which one of my sisters owned and which still holds its honored place next to the vinyl “The Breakfast Club” soundtrack in the rather extensive record collection that sits in my parents’ home in Oregon.
Unfortunately, the more you improve the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain. While there is no question that the sheer dynamism of this DTS reproduction is incredible, it also serves to call attention to some of the limitations that existed during the original recording. The recordings for both these albums were originally done on analog, and while in stereo those limitations are hardly noticed, the fidelity and noise thresholds of analog are revealed in a DTS-enhanced mix, especially if you expect to listen to the recordings at any noticeable volume. Ronald Prent, who mixed and produced this reissue, has done a mostly fine job of pulling the original 24-track analog elements and not only remixing them into a 5.1 channel mix, but also putting the whole enterprise under the DTS banner, which has increased the punctuation of each instrument and channel while increasing the dynamic range, yet it has also drawn attention to some pops, squeaks and other rough edges that feel as if they bleed out of the corners of the speakers. Overall, for albums that are 23 and 20 years old, the sound quality is astounding; just don’t expect to be able to pump up the volume without hearing those good old analog artifacts. Here, though the sound is simply more dynamic and crisp, there is just no comparison to the good old vinyl.