Direction of the Heart
BMG (CD, Deluxe CD with two extra tracks and a hardback book; vinyl or limited-edition silver- colored vinyl; cassette)
By Catherine Frumerman
In 1979 I was assigned to write about Simple Minds on their first U.S. visit. The band debuted their just-post-punk album Life in a Day featuring driving, nervous guitar and ardent, crying-out vocals. Then Simple Minds did a couple of smart things: they changed management and vocalist Jim Kerr took better care of his voice, thereby improving his singing and making his delivery more assured. In 1985 while not the most obvious choice of band to be offered the much-orphaned “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” they took it, rearranged it, and ran it right up the Billboard Hot 100 chart to No. 1. The song’s appealing anthemic sound opened many new ears to Simple Minds.
The band’s sound continues heartfully anthemic with a strong dance beat, none more so than on their 18th studio album, Direction of the Heart. There is also an ear teasing slipperiness to it: you hear a distant influence and try to identify it before it flies away. And that’s fun. There may fall on the listener’s ear a bit of Roxy Music or Ultravox or Magazine, or even a touch of Madonna. The musical melodrama their old fans appreciate is there. Nonetheless, the Simple Minds sound has at its heart something companionable and young even though Kerr and founding guitarist Charlie Burchill are closer to 70 than to 17.
Because of the U.K. quarantine rules during the depth of the pandemic, Kerr and Burchill remained domiciled on the Continent, writing most of the new album’s songs in Sicily and recording them in Hamburg separated from their other band members who, in turn, recorded their parts in London. The nine-track result, when zipped together by Kerr and Burchill, with further production input from Andy Wright and Gavin Goldberg, is seamless and consistent. The album features a few guests, notably Russell Mael who contributes vocals on “Human Traffic.”
Despite most of the album’s songs conceived under the world-wide burden of COVID, the music on Direction of the Heart is optimistic. As Kerr put it: “How to make a feelgood ‘electro-rock’ record, during the very worst of times? Direction of the Heart is the result of that challenge. Who would have thought we’d have so much fun creating it?”
The first two tracks from the album have already been released as singles: “First You Jump” and “Vision Thing.” Both are big, chugging-engine, danceable numbers, which, like the rest of Direction of the Heart, with icy synths and confident drumming, would do well as a science fiction movie soundtrack. In the first single, the protagonist contemplates “If the world stops spinning.” In the second, it’s Kerr himself paying tribute to his late father for his vision and belief.
However, “Solstice Kiss” co-written with bassist Ged Grimes, opening with a fluty sound that searches both Japanese and Celtic, may have been a more interesting single choice. However, all the songs fit together cohesively on the album; its overall spirit signaled by the cover art of a wartime gas mask festooned with delicate flowers. The album closes with a cover of “The Walls Came Down” originally recorded by The Call in 1983. It’s catchy, but an odd choice, given the album’s questing optimism and Kerr’s own description of “feelgood.” Whilst walls tumbling down is classically metaphoric for liberation, this song is performed in hoarse vocals, and ends with loss to “corporate criminals.” Perhaps it’s a signal that the story isn’t over, but is to be continued on album number 19.