At the turn of the century – just let those words sink in for a second – Simple Minds had run out of gas. Their twelfth album, 1999’s Our Secrets Are the Same, didn’t see a proper release for another five years, and even then it was as a bonus disc to a box set of live and unreleased tracks. Their 2001 covers album Neon Lights is the kind of thing that polite people do not talk about in mixed company. With their last US Top 40 hit a decade behind them (“See the Lights,” #40, 1991), and their last Hot 100 appearance over a half-decade ago (“She’s a River,” #52, 1995), Simple Minds was aimlessly adrift. This would explain why singer Jim Kerr decided to open a hotel in Sicily around the same time; even he suspected that he needed a side hustle in case the day job went south.
This is an interview I did for the super-awesome pop culture site Popdose. And let me tell you, scratching Jim Kerr off of my interview bucket list was one that I never thought would come to pass.
Don’t look now, but with their sixteenth and seventeenth albums, Simple Minds is on a tear. Their 2014 album Big Music earned the band some of their best reviews in decades, and their upcoming album Walk Between Worlds (which will be released February 2) finds the band still exploring new ideas, not content to do what is expected of them. Simple Minds lead singer Jim Kerr was in France, and yet still volunteered to give 30 minutes of his life to talk to Popdose about the new album, and playing matchmaker with one of the most beloved singers of the Popdose staff.
There is a great book that was recently released called “All Our Wrong Todays.” It is about a man who lives in a world that enjoys an unlimited supply of renewable energy thanks to an invention that harnesses the power of the earth’s rotation. The short version of the story is that the main character – due to the ensuing events, one may or may not want to consider him the protagonist – has access to time travel, and winds up stuck in our horribly messed-up world (his words, but also mine). It’s a very fun read, and author Elan Mastal gives us some perspective in the process; in his alternate, superior-in-nearly-every-way universe, one in which there is no war or starvation, punk and hip-hop never happened, because there was nothing for people to rebel against. Our world may be awful, but our music, as far as the protagonist is concerned, is much, much better.
Woe is the brainless action movie that takes itself too seriously. “The Condemned” had the potential to be a harmless mash-up of “Con Air” and the Japanese classic “Battle Royale,” but instead is an insufferably preachy indictment of reality television and the soulless drones that consume it. You’ll be hard pressed to find a movie that talks out of both sides of its mouth as much as this one.
The movie begins with a producer named Breck (Robert Mammone) watching video of a Russian prisoner laying a beatdown on two other inmates. The producer likes what he sees, and secures the man’s release for the purpose of appearing in an online broadcast where ten Death Row inmates from various parts of the world are brought together on a remote island and given 30 hours to kill the remaining nine inmates in exchange for their freedom. One of the reluctant participants is Jack Conrad (Steve Austin), who has spent the last year rotting in an El Salvador prison. Jack wants his freedom but isn’t too keen on killing, but is soon forced into playing the game when British Special Forces goon Ewan (Vinnie Jones) begins hunting him for sport.
Admit it: it sounds like it could be mindless fun in a “Surviving the Game” kind of way, right? If only they had embraced the sheer tastelessness of the premise. Instead, they spend well over half the movie focused not on the progress of the fight but on Breck and his production crew, making sure we all realize what horrible, horrible people they all are for perpetrating such a stunt for financial gain. And while that may be true, here’s the thing: the people buying tickets to “The Condemned” want to see the cons rip each other apart. So Lionsgate is in effect reeling people in with the promise of a bloody melee, and then giving them a movie that says, “Shame on you, you snuff film freaks. No refunds.”
Steve Austin will never be mistaken for an actor if he continues to do movies co-financed by his WWE Godfather Vince McMahon. He could probably be a decent action star if he wanted to be: his readings of the two good lines he gets here were surprisingly good, so there is no reason to think he couldn’t handle whatever The Rock turns down (assuming, of course, that The Rock turns down anything). But what he does here isn’t acting: it’s wrestling on film, film that’s shot in a technique that could be called Tennis Cam (back and forth, back and forth, everything in between a-blur). I’m assuming the decision to shoot it that way was for budgetary reasons, since it would require fewer takes in case someone missed their mark in a hand-to-hand combat sequence. That doesn’t make it less annoying. God love Vinnie Jones, then, for embracing the good-bad movie potential within this bad-bad movie and hamming it up for the sake of a joke, any joke. Ten bucks says he improvised half to three-fourths of his lines.
Walking into “The Condemned,” I knew I would be seeing a bad movie. The problem is that I thought I’d be seeing a different kind of bad movie, one that knew it was bad instead of one that only pretended to be bad in order to deliver an “important message” about the hollow nature of what we allow to pass for entertainment. The fact that they made a movie that is every bit as hollow and self-serving as the entertainment they attempt to decry appears to be lost on them.(1 / 5)
As if time wasn’t already at a serious premium, I have decided to launch a podcast. Since it’s much easier for me to talk about music than it is for me to write about it anymore, this seemed like the logical thing to do.
Simple Minds is one of the most confounding bands in music. They’ve always dreamed big, yet they were also just a little bit outside of the mainstream. Even the handful of hits they managed to score in the mid-‘80s – with their own material, anyway – didn’t jive with the songs they were rubbing elbows with on the charts. Where other bands were singing about going all the way, Jim Kerr was singing to God. Simple Minds are a pop band, and they are a cult band, and one could argue that it is their cult status that has lifted them during the lean years. They, like Tears for Fears, are one of the few bands of that era to enjoy commercial success without losing their cool factor.