Simple Minds
Sparkle In The Rain

The context: At the outset of the punk era, the UK scene was fairly split between angry amateurs and art-school dabblers. Early in their career, Simple Minds took the arty path, recording albums informed by Brian Eno's experiments with drone and rhythm, albeit with less of Eno's compositional genius. Around 1980, the band became craftier, and started making a pop push with 1982's excellent "new romantic" album New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84). A year later, as acts like U2, The Waterboys, and Big Country defined an expansive rock sound that some dubbed "big music," Simple Minds hired that sound's signature producer, Steve Lillywhite, and recorded Sparkle In The Rain, an art-pop album with an epic wallop.

The greatness: Sparkle In The Rain gets off to a roaring start with "Up On The Catwalk," which replaces all New Gold Dream's delicacy with clattering drums and piano stings that pop like paparazzi flashbulbs. Throughout Sparkle In The Rain, Lillywhite subjects nearly every instrumental track to deep echo, yet while the record feels dense and bustling, on closer listen, the arrangements are less fussy than they initially appear. When Jim Kerr sings, the music often clears away, leaving him plenty of room to unfurl his billowy, romantic croon. The result is an album that surrounds listeners with pounding percussion and resonant chime, while Kerr sings about the intersection of surface glitz and raw human need.

Defining song: "Speed Your Love To Me" begins in a tumble, like it's in a hurry to get somewhere, and it ends with a fadeout, as though it hasn't yet gotten where it's heading. The song's propulsive synth-and-bass underpinning matches Kerr's lyrics about people running to meet each other, unable to focus on anything other than a reunion that keeps receding. While the guitars twinkle and Kerr yells, "You go to my head," it's hard to know whether the moment is ecstatic or desperately manic. That's Sparkle In The Rain's spirit in a nutshell.