Picks and Pans Review: Street Figftting Years

updated 10/23/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/23/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Simple Minds

No one says that Simple Minds had to be content with obscurity in the early '80s as a Roxy Music-inspired techno band. But the Scottish trio's quick rise to fame with the 1985 hit from The Breakfast Club, "Don't You (Forget About Me)," may have been too much, too suddenly. Street Fighting Years has some of the dark tones of a U2 record with a bevy of politically minded songs that at their best are emotionally strong. When the songs fall short, fingers can be pointed at producers Trevor Horn and Stephen Lip-son, who wield such heavy hands at the mixing board. On the up side, "Wall of Love" slides along in a funky groove, with Edge-like riffs giving the song resonance. Guitarist Charles Burchill's slide work is consistently good all through the record. Jim Kerr's throaty vocals sound strong, but his range is so small that it constricts songs like "Take a Step Back," which could desperately use peppier melodies. The LP winds down with three political songs—"Mandela Day," "Belfast Child" and Peter Gabriel's "Biko"—that are chilling in parts, although "Biko" seems better off in the hands of a more versatile performer like Gabriel. Happy Street Fighting Years is not, but the trend among big acts toward serious-minded music is still strong, and Simple Minds wants to be a contender. But if you find yourself humming "Don't You Forget About Me" or "Alive and Kicking," don't be surprised. (A & M)

THE BRIDGE: A tribute to Neil Young Various artists

In the mainstream of the pop world, one finds Maureen McGovern singing an homage to George Gershwin or Jennifer Warnes devoting an entire album to performing Leonard Cohen's best work. But executive producer Terry Tolkin went to the outer reaches of alternative music to create this aptly off-center collection of 11 Neil Young standouts as interpreted by some very strange but creative musicians.

Most of the tracks are true in spirit and style to Young's original versions, with a couple of interesting exceptions. A band called Dinosaur Jr. does a blitzkrieg rendition of "Lotta Love" from Young's Comes a Time LP, taking the sweet melody line and dismantling it with the force of a speed-metal band. Oklahoma City's own, the Flaming Lips, stirs up "After the Goldrush" (from the album of the same title) with a helter-skelter intro and apocalyptic breaks in and out of the song. Echoing vocals give it a ghostly feeling.

Henry Kaiser, by day an oceanographic-photography professor at Berkeley, by night an experimental guitarist, teams up with David Lindley and his daughter Roseanne on a medley of "The Needle and the Damage Done/ Tonight's the Night." The latter song is given an urgent punch with a hypnotic jungle-drum beat, while Kaiser reels off a snarly lead that ol' Neil himself might have concocted. CD fans get a bonus: There's a group called Bongwater doing "Mr. Soul," and B.A.L.L. renders "Out of the Blue." Some of the proceeds from the record will go to the Bridge School in San Francisco, a special-ed center for children with long-term mental and physical disabilities, which was started by Young and his wife, Pegi, who have two sons with cerebral palsy. (Caroline Records, 114 West 26th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001)

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