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Don't You Forget About Me by Simon London + The Spirits
Review by Katia
For those who’ve already long been riding the Simon London & the Spirits train, the arrival of this fresh new album is akin to a hearty back-slapped welcome after a long wait between stations. For those who’ve yet to climb on board – this latest album is an excellent place to start.
With its November release sneaking in at the tail end of 2022, Don’t You Forget About Me is set to be one of the premier albums grown out of the Deep South of WA of recent times. Not only is it the first release since 2008’s Horses – it’s the debut album of a same-named, but regrouped & freshly evolved new iteration of The Spirits. And whilst Simon London continues to write, front & sing better than ever, it’s the combination of Caleb Drages’ & Mark Grettons’ “more than the sum of its parts” driving sass & snap bedrock, that breathes life into the kind of rhythm section a songwriter would give their left arm for. Diners on the hearty fare that is the music scene of W.A’s Great Southern, would likely know Drage from his side outfit Flood The Moon – (which currently generates legit buzz in its own right) & Mark Gretton has a band list of musical alter egos that makes you wonder if the man has time to eat between the constant lugging in/out. So whilst Simon & the original Spirits created a weighty body of work to proud of, there’s legitimate reasons for the long break in between, & why it’s time for this new version of the Spirits to come to prominence with the release of Don’t You Forget About Me. And there’s a lotta clues in that title.
It’s an album that impressively juggles new chapters, fresh faces & the melding of a new line up, whilst still paying homage to the people, places & events that came before. Structuring the album with a Side A / Side B format, cleverly sets a scene to invite you for the ride & has you enjoying the sounds & scenery, before beckoning you to come along for the “real” journey, as London unfolds an internal landscape where you & he are processing & honouring history, and examining what it’s like to lay something / someone to rest.
Headlights kicks off the album with a broody, chugging pulse that immediately puts you in the passenger seat with the first line “driving home, headlights pass in sweeping arcs”, alongside a man driving “fuzzy eyed with the idea of home”. Drage’s hypnotic bassline propels you immediately into Skylines, as London tells us of the land beating within his heart as he finds “comfort in these folding hills & valleys”. The sense of place & perspective within land / boodja / country shines through Side A thematically, as does the concept of home & acceptance amongst those around us we love - & those who might be further away. Track 3 Still explores this even further. It begins with soft, reflective keys (another feather to Gretton’s muti-instrumentalist bow) & though London’s addition of reverb laden guitar is beautifully sparse, by 3 minutes in, you’re convinced it’s being delivered in a church hall – such is the effect combined with such evocative heart breaking vocals.
London, who is a generous performer when he plays live in terms of providing some subtext to the origin of these songs, (albeit low key & self-effacing) has said that as father of 4 sons, ever finding a moment amidst the madness can be evasive, yet one day, there he sat at his piano surrounded by the joyous mayhem of family life - & wrote Still - & it’s a highlight of the album.
And right on time, just before too much sweetness could possibly be enough, comes the final few tracks of Side A. Tough though it is to rank a singer with the vocal chops of Simon London, Mist on the Bay might well be his most devastating vocal delivery over the album. Lyrically too, it takes all that satisfaction with contentment & maturity one might be lucky enough to occasionally acknowledge and cleverly reveals the questions & swirling doubt that simultaneously lurches beneath. “I drove the beaches to start my day / Islands coming through the shroud of mist on the bay / My joy & my emptiness / Laid out beside me on the way”.
Clonazepam is a grittier affair altogether & informs us London ain’t afraid to show some scars & tell some hard truths; “Sometimes I want my old friend back / Clonazepam’s some nasty shit / No-one can quite reach you”.
By the time Side B rolls around, the gears have been shifted up and its open highway time. Snare is an absolute fuzz bass &, (of course), snare beast, replete with serious sultry swagger, & perhaps best showcases the might of the Spirits’ rhythm section. (Its up there with Oz Rocks’ 3 piece finest, akin to You Am I & Big Heavy Stuff, and watching Drage destroy this one live, one is reminded of the angular bass stylings of Carlos D re New York’s Interpol.)
Follow this with Don’t You Forget About Me, & you understand why it’s the title track for the album. Starting with a saucy lead lick from London, & with a groove to defib your hips into swinging, by the time the chorus kicks in with the sublime backing female singers, its reminiscent of the joy you felt when you first heard the masterstroke that was the Black Sorrows – combining Joe Camilleris’ white-boy soulful insouciance with the powerhouse lightning of the Bull sisters. One of those singers is Tammy London, a jaw-dropping vocalist in her own right & Simon’s partner in life & music & if you’ve not been lucky enough yet to check out their work as a duo, or other outfit The Redtails – seriously – go looking. In around 3.5 minutes, this song snazzily takes you to more places than many of us will experience in a lifetime. Describing The Pier in Port Hedland, gigs from Lake Tahoe to Kelmscott, setting up drums in the Western desert - & I defy anyone to write a more succinct evocation of wild-eyed misspent youth in 4 lines than “All those nights spent drinking on the rooftops / All those nights spent dreaming at the stars / Winnie red & blue, Welcome to the Boomtown / the sweet taste of Gadangarums.” This title track needs to get nationwide airplay. Stat !
After this jubilant beginning, the remainder of side B becomes more introspective & atmospheric. Safe in the Hands of Love exposes a man unashamed to share what he’s lost & gained along the way whist paying tribute to those that anchor him now. Wheelspray & Going Home showcases Mark Gretton’s ever subtle percussive range, which perfectly underpins London’s despair & haunting lyricism as he plumbs the depths & effects of loss. Troposphere is a stunner of a closer; the way it builds from sparse simplicity to heart bursting crescendos is achingly & cinematically beautiful.
On that note – a word on Simon London’s voice. This bloke could well be a contender for one of the top-shelf male vocalists making music in Australia right now. It’s a range you rarely hear – some have soft folk troubadour vulnerability, some have earth shattering power & vibrato; London does both -and makes it sound easy. Think the soaring clarity, vulnerability & power of Thom Yorke, but without the sneer. Think the Robert Plant wail & heavy rocky heft, but without the screechy - baby baaaaaby. A similar likeness in terms of range is musical & vocal polymath Brendon Perry from Dead Can Dance ; i.e. sonorous gravitas with effortless delivery. But perhaps the best description, comes via a comment whispered to me by a mate who’s been heavily ensconced in the music scene for over 30 years, & knows his apples from his potatoes, whilst at Simon London & the Sprits’ recent gig at the Gold Room to launch the album single Headlights. The crowd was silent, focused & listening intently whilst they played, and rowdy with appreciation after each song. The joint was packed & standing room only, so the group of polite Gen Z males who arrived in a stylish pack midway through the first set, headed right up the front and sat in a respectful arc on the floor at the bands’ feet ….. and Did. Not. Move. Nor. Take. Their. Eyes. Off. Them. For the rest of the gig.
At one point as Simon’s voice was lifting the roof off the Goldroom, my mate, who is not prone to hyperbole, lent over & whispered …… “this is not A Gig. This is like ……a Recital !”
Simon London + The Spirits Facebook page
DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME – OUT NOW ON BANDCAMP.
The Journey by Bob Rees
Review by Samele