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neapolis review | vox magazine (april 1998)

Neapolis album

If the young Jim Kerr, who fronted Johnny And The Self Abusers in the late '70s tailspin of punk, knew what fate had in store for him and his mates, would he had bothered? Of course he would. Driven to escape boredom on a grim Scottish council estate, the Simple Minds frontman always had dreams of being beamed worldwide on global telescreens. The problem is that his dreams have come true arguably at the expense of his muse. He fell in love with America and slowly transformed his group from an exquiste European mainstream experiment into an increasingly gargantuan rock machine. 1995's overdone Good News From The Next World would seem to have been the last straw - one collection of grand gestures and grander platitudes too many.

So what do Simple Minds do, three years on? They attempt a return to their roots. A return to credible early - '80s albums like Empires And Dance and Sister Feelings Call to find the spark that set 'em off in the first place. A retreat to a basic and creative way of working that seizes old technologies and updates them in a time of vast and sweeping changes.

But is it possible to return to the past after so many bridges have been torched, and so many fans have been inspiried by the corporate brand entity and giant spectacle Simple Minds have become? Yes and no. A compromise has been struck, and Neapolis knowingly combines the best of both worlds into something that retains the trademark group signature but is more forward-looking than anything they've done for years. This means the cinematic sweep of the words and music remain, but are enhanced by all manner of modern gimmickry' expensive noises that acknowledge current techno are splashed over riffs and grooves.

If there's a flaw in this approach, it's that the space in the music that Simple Minds exploited in the early '80s has been replaced by a need to make sure there's always something going on. Preferably something spectacular. Like a European art movie made with a multi-million dollar Hollywood budget, Neapolis sometimes tries to hard to have its cake and eat it.

Song For The Tribes is the opening statement, a meditation on fame and an outreach to the audience that blows up a simple semi-acoustic song into an anthem, and has Kerr admitting he can't really say everything he really wants to say. The catchy Glitterball would've been a disco-ey song in the old days, but settles for being a bittersweet celebration of hedonism, with visions of what Kerr calls "the great unloved" whiling away their weekends in escapist dancehalls, bellies full of wine.

Neapolis seems to be Simple Minds on the outside looking in - and Charlie Burchill's music astutely conveys this sense of dislocation - as if they sometimes feel trapped by their riches and position and want to actually join the struggling people on the street. Certainly War Babies could double as a love song and a strange snapshot of Sarajevo, while the uptempo Lightning actually articulates the feeling of wanting to be someone else.

The other hard-rockin' track on an album of mid-tempo numbers occasionally disfigured by noise comes as a surprise. Killing Andy Warhol is the world seen from the viewpoint of one of the late Manhattan-based artist's stable of stars, and might even allude to Valerie Solanas shooting the dyed-hair scenester in the late '60s. The closer, Androgyny, continues the theme of outsiders and strangeness, while being designed as a nagging, circular, electronic instrumental.

Simple Minds have once again tried, perhaps unsurprisingly, to cover all bases. But at least they've done so with a discernible measure od success this time.


Dele Fadele
VOX Magazine
April 1998

Take Kerr Now: Jim Spills The Beans

There's some hype about Neapolis marking a return to Simple Minds' past...
I don't really buy into this idea of going back. I don't think you can go back. The technology's changed, we've changed, the world has changed. Why would you need to goback?

Which tribes populate Song For The Tribes?
It's an abstract idea; the first song we've ever written about Britain in a way. There was an image of Britain at specific times last year, whether it was the euphoria of the election or the whole Princess Diana thing. Stock images of Britain were trotted out when, in fact, Britain is so fragmented. Different people want to live in different ways. Some wanna live up trees, some wanna live in castles. Not only do I not but into this thing of Britain and Brits and all this Brit-talk, but I actually think it's a way of holding people back.

Why the fascination with Andy Warhol?
The usual things. Iconography. Art as a testament. I was in the museum of Modern Art in New York checking out a few paintings, no big deal. But in the coffee shop afterwards, these two guys sat next to me, and I noticed that one of them was an, er, Andy Warhol lookalike, and that was intriguing. I did a double-take. I couldn't help but hear what was going on, because they got quite animated. And it became apparent they were having a huge disagreement on what they'd just seen, and it also became apparent they were lovers, so there was more at stake. One of them said: "They're killing Andy Warhol, killing his name, killing the mythology." Very intense. I improvised around the idea.

Could War Babies be read as an anti-war statement?
It's not about war between nations. Probably more the fallout, that's like a war, between people, when communication breaks down. Emotional warfare.