The Best Post-Punk Album That 'Never' Existed: Simple Minds' Sister Feelings Call!

Simple Minds circa 1981

My first trip to Chicago as a teenager came as part of a field trip to the Art Institute for my college art appreciation class. We collegiate appreciators of art were expected to spend the entire day scouring every nook and cranny of the Art Institute and, in doing so, soak up as much art as our brains could handle.

I, however, had much different plans for soaking up as much art as I could carry.

After weeks of careful planning, I departed the bus as if shot from a cannon, did the quickest lap of the Art Institute's main galleries ever recorded, then hit the gift shop for the cheapest and most portable proof that I'd been there (keychain? perfect!). I burst past the concrete lions, hailed a cab, and was off to parts unknown in search of vinyl.

Wax Trax Records on Lincoln Avenue
Wax Trax retail location on Lincoln Avenue
Needless to say, Wax Trax! Records would be my first stop.

The legendary record store wasn't just a planet in my proverbial solar system of vinyl destinations, it was the sun around which all other planets revolved. Getting there from downtown could not have been more picturesque, speeding up Lakeshore Drive with Lake Michigan on my right and the towering skyline literally blocking out the sun to my left. Beautiful women jogging, men on bikes with their infant offspring, more beautiful women jogging.



In mere minutes, the enormity of downtown gradually gave way to quaint neighborhoods and storefronts that scream ma-and-pa. I don't know what I was expecting Wax Trax! to look like, but finally seeing it for the first time, it looked like someone's house where the music was rocking and the door was open. It was funky, punky and junky all in one.

Albums I had only read about in the pages of worn out copies of Trouser Press, NY Rocker, Creem, and others suddenly came to life in front of me. I could have blown my entire budget in the A-Misc. section if not for an incredible amount of super-human restraint.



Perhaps it was a by-product of the adrenaline rush, but every sense I had was actively engaged in taking in as much of my surroundings as possible. After all, this was the first store I'd ever been in where the employees were dressed weirder than the clientele.

"Wow, every day really is Halloween!" I joked to myself.

After much careful scrutiny, I finally narrowed down my purchases. Sure, I was blowing my entire budget for the trip on my first stop, but so what? Then I saw the big neon arrow pointing upward and realized that there was a second floor that I hadn't even noticed. The rickety stairs seemed to narrow the higher I got.

The entire upstairs was awash in all the most de rigueur punk clothing - t-shirts, spiked everything, bondage pants, Dr. Martens. I picked up my obligatory 'Sid Vicious Dead' and Ministry t-shirts and walked back downstairs to conclude my voluminous vinyl purchase.

I made sure to grab the last import copies of the new Chameleons and Lords of the New Church albums (which hadn't been released Stateside), some early Killing Joke, Ultravox and Bauhaus, a ton of 45's from the likes of Soft Cell, the Alarm, the Clash, Public Image ltd., etc. I literally had $5 left, which wasn't enough to buy any of the other albums I really wanted, but, there in the racks, priced at a friendly $3.99, was Simple Minds' Sister Feelings Call.

"Sold!"

The band's iconic hit "Don't You (Forget About Me)" had only been out a few weeks, as I recall. Curious to know what they really sounded like, I added this mysterious blue disc to my haul and made my hasty return downtown to catch my bus home.

The next few weeks were spent glued to my stereo as I soaked up every visual morsel of the artwork from each album as the music filled the room. The album I had the least amount of expectations for - Sister Feelings Call - was the last one I would get around to listening to, but it would be an album that would claim its rightful place alongside the many now-legendary albums that comprised the first of many life-altering Wax Trax! migrations.

The best post-punk album that 'never' existed': Simple Minds Sister Feelings Call:

Because of the complete lack of internet back then, it would be years before I would come to discover that Sister Feelings Call had actually been a bonus album given away with copies of the band's Sons And Fascination album.

Even so, it remains one of the best, yet most underrated, post-punk albums ever made, every bit the equal to Joy Division's Closer, which had come out the year before. Both albums share an uncanny ability to capture the metallic clang and choke of industry yet where Closer is claustrophobic and always on the verge of nervous collapse, Sister Feelings Call is an expansive, sprawling effort that moves with unshakable confidence and precision.

Traces of Roxy Music, Kraut rock, and UK-era Sparks flitter past: Jim Kerr's vocal similarities to Russell Mael are obvious while foregoing the falsetto tomfoolery. The interplay between guitarist Charlie Burchill and keyboardist Mick MacNeil creates what sounds on the surface like a Scottish Wall of Sound, but, dive deeper, and you'll hear its nuances unfold with repeat listens.

Throughout the proceedings, Kerr's vocals occupy the center of the sonic palette, but only briefly rise above the rest, with lyrics chosen more for their rhythmic or melodic elements than for any deep message that might need to be conveyed.

After absorbing the album over a period of weeks, my first thought was that this was mood music from the future, ladies and gentlemen, and 35 years has done little to change that.

Not even the band's gradual, okay, rapid decline into 'marginal stadium band' territory has proven capable of diminishing the menace and the majesty of what was, to the band, nothing more than a "freebie" given away with the first 10,000 copies of Sons And Fascination, which, just between you and me, isn't as good. Oh, it's a righteous slab of plastic, alright, but the songs gathered there seem incrementally more buoyant, hopeful, eager to please.

Sister, by comparison, seems the work of a band driven by an unstoppable force to make music, not caring whether anyone is there to witness it. If this was some sort of conscious attempt to make an accompanying album for everyone they thought they may have been letting down with Sons, what a stroke of genius!

Sadly, very few folks here in the States ever got to hear it. This was in large part due to the band's label, Virgin Records, having no presence in the U.S. at the time. Hoping to reconcile this matter, the band licensed the Theme For Great Cities compilation (which features two songs from Sister Feelings Call) to Stiff Records' U.S. office, which buried it in the same hole they chucked the Plasmatics' Hope For The Wretched, but I digress.

Even after their involvement in the 1985 John Hughes film "The Breakfast Club" made them a household name. Had the band chosen not to take part, something tells me things would have turned out much differently and that I would have probably never been moved to grab Sister Feelings Call on that fateful day with my last five bucks.

Therefore, its safe to say I wouldn't have published this review, nor would you be reading it now. If that doesn't make you feel a part of a much larger picture, well, nothing will!

Its worth noting that the songs that comprise Sister Feelings Call are now, for all intents and purposes, part of the Sons And Fascination album and CD.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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