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Hit The North: Simple Minds &
Sam and The Plants

Simple Minds - "Graffitti Soul"

Graffiti Soul album cover

Back when I was a precocious teenager, there were three early Simple Minds albums which fascinated me. 'Real to Real Cacophony', 'Empires & Dance' and 'Sons & Fascination' featured pulsating bass lines, banshee-like guitars, futuristic keyboards and oblique lyrics, half of which seemed to be about travel, which being the escapist kind of lad I was I liked.

And also, all three of the albums were a world away from the stadium rock band that Simple Minds would become in the mid-80s.

But so is their latest release.

This a propulsive, grower of a record which may have the polished production, but swaps the bombast for a surprisingly understated, textured album.

Opener “Moscow Underground” is the stand out track, harking back to the travelling theme of their early work, a dark and powerful song driven along by a powerful bassline; closely followed by “Blood Type O” complete with with Eno-like throbbing keyboards and echoes of the euro-trance found on "Empires & Dance".

The nods to arena rock haven't all gone away - the radio friendly single “Rockets” and “Stars will Lead the Way” for example, both have the big, sleek production and choruses signposted from a mile away, but neither slips into a Belfast Child bombast or the soundtrack to a Molly Ringwald film.

This is what real music journalists like to call “a return to form”. Except, in Simple Minds case that already happened in 2002 when they released “Cry.” With that album, follow-up 'Black & White' and now 'Graffiti Soul' , Simple Minds have another trilogy to rival the influence of their early work.

Sam and The Plants - "In the Scare Shed"

In The Scare Shed album cover

And so to something truly obscure. The first release on Hood Faire records is Sam and The Plants' “In the Scare Shed”.

It's limited to 41 copies. Yes. Forty One*. I've got number 32.

(* In fact, the CD has now sold out. You can however get an edited version of the album on 10” vinyl on Finders Keepers records and it's well worth searching out).

Lancastrian Sam McLoughlin has somehow managed to squeeze 24 tracks into this 44 minute long album, and it's a wonderfully erratic journey with many dizzying ideas along the way. Just when you think you might have a handle on what's going on with some almost conventional singer songwriter faire such as “Cold Night Car Park” or “Taxi”, Sam veers off into the acoustic guitar meanderings of “Round the House” and “Finger”, or even into the ambient drone territory of “Haji's House”. These detours even happen within songs, the pleasant strumming and fairground organ of “Lilo” breaks down into whirling electronic feedback at the end.

Some of the songs are completely off-kilter - “Ruke 2” sounds like a glockenspiel being flushed down a drain, and others a bit more self explanatory – “Bus Ride” is just that – a 20 second snippet recording of a bus journey. And no prizes for guessing what instrument features on “Recorders”. Meanwhile, “Old Haunted Town” and the shanty-like “Should” recall I Am Kloot's John Bramwell back when he was going under the name Johnny Dangerously, and “Void” has the whimsy of a Northern Syd Barrett.

As you might expect for an album that crams so many songs and ideas into such a short space of time, some of the tracks are very brief indeed, but such is the way that strange electronic noises, warbling accordion, dictaphone messages and tinkling keyboards wash in and out it soon becomes difficult to know where songs are beginning and ending, making this an album to be listened to in its entirety (no bad thing, you'll be picking different parts out of each track for weeks!)

Magnificent stuff. So, sorry that this has sold out and I have it and you don't.

No, actually, I'm not sorry at all. You suck.

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