With the band’s creative spark seeming to have dimmed many years ago, Simple Minds’ Big Music came virtually out of nowhere in 2014 as a welcome return to form of sorts. Befitting its name, the album combined the kind of grand musical gestures for which the band was known when it was filling stadiums some 20 years earlier with a revitalized sense of adventure.
Like that record, Walk Between Worlds (BMG) recalls Simple Minds’ heyday in the ’80s while at the same time not sounding like a retread or abandoning the lessons learned in the intervening years. However, it doesn’t exactly start off on the right foot. Lead track “Magic” is overcooked, with an extra dose of studio polish not able to cover an absence of musical ideas and lyrical insight. The rest of the album is also loaded with synth tones, but nevertheless comes off as more natural—or at least more inspired. It’s not like these Scots have shied away from synths in the past, and this record probably most closely recalls Sons & Fascination and Sister Feelings Call, released when the band hadn’t completely relinquished its Brian Eno fetish. “Utopia” juxtaposes big, reverberating drum beats with sparkling guitar notes, while “In Dreams” sounds like something Philip K. Dick might have written had he written pop songs instead of sci-fi. But the standout of the record and the one song to truly live up to the band’s legacy is “The Signal and the Noise.” Here, singer Jim Kerr separates meaningful existence from life’s ephemera atop a grandiose backing of synth squelches, motorik beats, and resonating guitar nodes. Like Simple Minds’ best work, it conveys a certain gravitas, which is never equaled elsewhere on the album. That said, the band takes enough risks on Walk Between Worlds to keep things interesting, and the combination of nods to the past and big strides forward make it feel like the right album for this particular place in time.