“The Signal and the Noise,” one of the key tracks on Walk Between Worlds, the 18th studio album from Scottish pop group Simple Minds finds singer Jim Kerr imploring listeners to remove their headphones and “let this world pour into you,” and, in the chorus, landing on this crucial lyrical turn: “There’s a feeling that takes over/and it has no fear/when you’re caught between the signal and the noise.”
Considering his band’s place in the modern music industry, Kerr may well be singing to himself on that tune. When you’ve been fronting a band for just over four decades and are still best known (here in the States, at least) for a few radio hits from the mid ‘80s, you have to have a will of iron to keep putting new material out into the world. Generally, any fresh LP from a legacy band is usually made to justify an upcoming tour.
This sense of fearlessness permeates this album. Simple Minds positions themselves perfectly on Worlds: not trying to relive past victories nor trying to match up with the sound of current chart hits. Kerr, his longtime bandmate Charlie Burchill and the current lineup of the group remain true to themselves, with a wonderful collection of dramatic, thoughtful songs that contains messages that can serve both personal and universal concerns.
That’s clear from the jump on opening track “Magic.” With sparkling synth chords floating around him, Kerr speaks to a child’s loss of innocence being replaced by something greater. He kindly leaves it all open to interpretation so that we can connect it to the ills that he has sung about on previous Simple Minds classics like “Mandela Day” and “Belfast Child.” And he lets us plug in whatever salve that heals, be it love or spiritual pursuits.
Elsewhere on the shimmering song “Utopia,” Kerr poignantly wonders about the rosy glow we can put on the past. Again, the recipient of this message is fluid. He may be reminding himself not to forget how tough things were for himself or the world around him. But it may also be a message to anyone listening to not dismiss a band like Simple Minds ca. 2018 out of hand. There is a good reason why “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” remains in ‘80s nostalgia playlists. Just try and remember that what the band is doing today may be just as vital and may reap the same emotional rewards for the listener.
The music aims to straddle both sides of this divide as well. Kerr and Burchill have spent their entire careers tangling with the technology of the times, whether that’s the modular synths that marked their early albums or the laptop beats that underpin many of the tracks on Worlds. It has never felt like a crutch, though; it’s just another color in their voluminous paintbox. Those electronic elements do distract at times, overwhelming the otherwise sturdy groove of “Summer.” Otherwise, like the string section that shines through “Walk Between Worlds,” the soft synths support Kerr’s emotional vocals perfectly.
If we’re being honest, Walk Between Worlds, in spite of its fine showing in the U.K charts, could quickly get lost in the never-ending hype/outrage cycle of our modern age. That’s the fate of many of the thousands of albums released every year. The best one can do is hope that longtime Simple Minds acolytes and new curiosity seekers will give this new record a chance. There’s every reason to believe then that they’ll fall quickly under the spell of these finely wrought tunes and Kerr’s clarity of lyrical vision.