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''Street Fighting Years'' is the eighth studio album by Scottish rock band Simple Minds, released in May 1989 by record label Virgin Records worldwide apart from the US, where it was released by A&M. Produced by Trevor Horn and Stephen Lipson, the album reached the top of the UK Albums Chart.


Recording


''Street Fighting Years'' was recorded during yet another period of personnel change for Simple Minds, and was notably the last of the band's albums to feature keyboard player/composer/founder member Mick MacNeil. MacNeil has subsequently mentioned that "Jim (Kerr) had already started talking about making changes" and the credits for the album suggested that Simple Minds had officially become a trio of the only three remaining founder members — Jim Kerr, Charlie Burchill and Mick MacNeil (all previous albums had credited the band as a full quintet). The lack of equality and unity within the band's ranks soon became evident. Drummer Mel Gaynor was sidelined during the album sessions (apparently after disagreements with Trevor Horn) and was eventually demoted to session player status, with much of the drumming in the studio being performed by Manu Katché (from Peter Gabriel's band) and Stewart Copeland (ex-Police). Bass player John Giblin — who'd joined the band in 1985 for ''Once Upon a Time'' and played on the subsequent tours and the ''Live In The City Of Light'' album — left the band during or immediately after the sessions, despite having made significant contributions to the album (including writing the ballad "Let It All Come Down"). The circumstances surrounding Giblin’s departure are undisclosed (although the band's previous bass player Derek Forbes has hinted that ultimately Giblin simply "didn’t fit in" with the band). Some of the bass guitar parts on the album were played by producer Stephen Lipson.


Content


Produced by Trevor Horn and Stephen Lipson, it was a major stylistic departure from the previous album, 1985's ''Once Upon a Time''. While still maintaining the epic arena rock sense of scale and drama which the band had developed since the mid-1980s, ''Street Fighting Years'' also moved away from the American soul and gospel influences of its predecessor in favour of soundtrack atmospherics and a new incorporation of acoustic and Celtic/folk music-related ingredients including fretless bass, slide guitar and accordion. The lyrics built on the more political themes which the band had introduced with "Ghost Dancing", moving away from the impressionistic or spiritual concerns of earlier 1980s Simple Minds songs and covering topics including the Poll Tax, the Soweto townships, the Berlin Wall and the stationing of nuclear submarines on the Scottish coast.


Release


Released in May 1989, the album became the band's fourth number one in the UK on the back of the chart-topping single "Belfast Child", which had been released three months earlier. "This Is Your Land" was chosen as the lead single for the US, but even with guest vocals from the band's idol Lou Reed, the single failed to make a mark on the pop charts. The album performed relatively poorly in the United States and produced no hit singles. For the supporting tour, the band would re-hire Mel Gaynor as drummer and recruit Malcolm Foster (The Pretenders) as the new bass guitarist. MacNeil remained with the band during the tour, but quit abruptly at the end of it. Simple Minds released on 6 March 2020 a 4-CD Super Deluxe box set edition of ''Street Fighting Years'' on UMC / Virgin Domestic, including the original album remastered at Abbey Road Studios, a CD of B-sides, edits and 12″ remixes, a 2-CD unissued Verona live show from 1989 plus brand new book including a new interview with Trevor Horn. Also available as 2-LP, 2-CD or remastered single CD.

Critical reception

''Street Fighting Years'' received sharply divided reviews, with initial critical opinion being mostly favourable in the UK but less so in the US, where the album was much less of a commercial success. In his written commentary for the sleeve notes in the band's compilation album ''Glittering Prize 81/92'', Brian Hogg described ''Street Fighting Years'' as arguably "the group's most controversial release."Hogg (1992) Jim Kerr remembered the album thus: "Every song seemed to be about conflict, and it describes this age of chaos, the battle to try and remain intact with all this hurricane around us." In Britain, the album received glowing praise, including a rare five-star rating, from ''Q'' magazine; David Sinclair wrote that they had finally produced a record to justify their reputation, and praising the album's mostly quiet dynamic: "Even when the music takes off into the vast dramatic sweeps that will roll like huge breakers to the back of the stadiums of Europe this summer, there is little that could fairly be described as bluster. Simple Minds have done more than make a landmark album. They have assumed the mantle of authority." Ian Gittins, writing for ''Melody Maker'', also commented on the grandiose nature of the album, comparing it to U2's ''Rattle and Hum'' but more artistically successful: "Unlike their true soulmates, U2, the Minds haven't produced a turkey of the first degree...Simple Minds are once again approaching the art of making music, ''breaking a silence'', with wonder." Although he went on to criticize the tracks "Soul Crying Out", "Take a Step Back", "Kick It In", and "Biko" as "flatulent bluster", Gittins nonetheless concluded that the album's "expansive, flushed music" was "huge, but it's rarely ''hollow''." Mike Soutar, meanwhile, wrote in ''Smash Hits'' that the album was "packed with the kind of crowd-rousing flag hoisting anthems that everyone expects from the Minds", but thought the song's individual lengths meant that they would "probably sound epic played live, they'll probably drive you quite mad in the comfort of your own bedroom." Less positive reviews, however, came from U.S. publications such as ''Rolling Stone'' whose writer Mark Coleman criticised the band for what the reviewer considered to be political vacuity: "''Street Fighting Years'' stands as an unfortunate example of politicized rock at its most simple-minded." He also opined that the album's production was too clean, describing it as "so studio smooth that every song – whether it's a chugging, multi-layered call to arms ("Take a Step Back") or a floating, ambient meditation ("Let It All Come Down") – virtually slides out of the speakers." ''CMJ'' took a more positive view, admitting that ''Street Fighting Years'' "lacks the inspirational anthems of the ''Sparkle in the Rain'' era" but "focuses attention on the passion of the lyrics, which have a political awareness and social consciousness that keeps those spots where the music falls short up on a high level." The album's grandiose, stadium-oriented stylistic departure from previous albums has since proved controversial with critics. Martin C. Strong, writing in ''The Essential Rock Discography'', remarked that reviewers "didn't really stick the knife in until the release of the overblown "Belfast Child", a U.K. No. 1 despite its snoozeworthy meandering and vague political agenda. The accompanying album, ''Street Fighting Years'' (1989) brought more of the same, although it cemented Simple Minds' position among the coffee table elite." Meanwhile, in a retrospective review for AllMusic, Tom Demalon described ''Street Fighting Years'' as "an artistic and elegant album that might lack immediate choruses but draws in the listener" and containing "some truly lovely moments". A review of the ''Themes'' box-set released in June 2008 from ''Q'' magazine discussed, "if at times the preciousness of the later work sets the teeth on edge, the sheer musical skill and undoubted power of the band makes up for it", praising the "brilliant atmosphere Simple Minds made their own." Music critic David Stubbs, in a review of the compilation ''Glittering Prize 81/92'', mourned what he found to be the "dramatic artistic decline (and parallel commercial rise)" of the band: "As Jim Kerr sank further into mega-stardom, the music suffered further as he indulged in piously cumbersome ballads like "Belfast Child" and "Mandela Day". John Aizlewood of ''Q'' disagreed, saying, "there was much to commend on ''Street Fighting Years'' and its follow-up, ''Real Life''". In 1989 ''Q'' magazine selected ''Street Fighting Years'' as one of the top recordings of the year.

Track listing

Sources

Personnel

; Simple Minds * Jim Kerr – lead vocals * Charlie Burchill – acoustic and electric guitars * Mick MacNeil – piano, accordion, keyboards ; Additional musicians * John Giblin – fretted and fretless bass guitar, double bass (1) * Stephen Lipson – additional bass guitar, producer * Manu Katché – drums (1, 2, 9) * Mel Gaynor – drums (4, 8, 10) * Stewart CopelandLinnDrum programming (uncredited) (3, 6) * Leroy Williams – percussion (1, 2, 8, 9, 10) * Sidney Thiam – additional percussion * Abdul M'boup – additional percussion * Maureen Kerr – penny whistle, bodhran * Roger Sharp – bagpipes * Lisa Germano – violin (1, 4, 9) * William Lithgow – cello * Sheena McKenzie – cello * John Altman – orchestral arrangements * Lou Reed – additional lead vocals on "This Is Your Land" * Lorna Bannon – backing vocals ; Studio personnel * Dougie Cowan – technical master * Robin Hancock – engineer * Guido Harari – photography * Simon Heyworth – mastering * Trevor Horn – producer * Paul Kerr – logistics * Stephen Lewis – talking * Bob Ludwig – mastering * Heff Moraes – engineer * Martin Plant – assistant engineer * Steve Ralbovsky – talking * Willie P. Richardson – talking * Danton Supple – assistant engineer * Jane Ventom – coordination * Gary Wathen – talking * Ying Ho Au Yeung – catering

Charts

;Album Singles

Certifications




References




External links

* {{Authority control Category:Simple Minds albums Category:1989 albums Category:Albums produced by Trevor Horn Category:Albums produced by Stephen Lipson