Friday Full-Length: Trouble, Simple Mind Condition

Trouble, Simple Mind Condition (2007)

In light of the announcement earlier this week that Hammerheart Records in the Netherlands has undertaken the rather significant charge of stewarding deluxe reissues of Trouble‘s entire catalog to-date as well as putting out their next full-length, it seemed only fair to close out the week with an album by the Chicago-based doom legends. They have eight albums to this point, the most recent of them having been 2013’s The Distortion Field (review here), and over the course of a career that dates back to 1978, they’ve hardly been Uriah Heep or Hawkwind when it comes to output, but they put out six LPs between 1984 and 1995 and have done just two since, so take from that what you will. One of those, obviously, is The Distortion Field. The other is its predecessor, Simple Mind Condition, from 2007.

Whether because of the direction away from earlier-Sabbathian riffs and grooves heavy metal took in the post-NWOBHM ’80s or the more hard-rocking direction Trouble embarked on circa their 1990 self-titled, moving into a semi-psychedelic phase through 1992’s Manic Frustration and 1995’s Plastic Green Head, they’ve long since been due for a level of consideration that’s proven elusive. In 2006, when Stockholm’s Escapi Music signed them and began reissuing pieces of their back catalog and sundry live offerings, their Unplugged recordings and so on, it seemed like perhaps their work was receiving a bit of well-earned respect, and though he’d already left the band once in the 1990s and been replaced by Kyle Thomas of Exhorder, I have to think that if Simple Mind Condition had gotten a bigger reception, vocalist Eric Wagner might have at least considered staying with Trouble after the release. Instead, it marks his final album with them after what was then already a nearly-30-year run.

But what a record. No, Simple Mind Condition isn’t the riffy force of Trouble and it doesn’t carry the morose feel of their landmark 1984 debut, Psalm 9 (discussed here), but it is a mature presentation of the band Trouble were at that point. The guitars of Rick Wartell and Bruce Franklin, on point as ever, while bassist Chuck Robinson and drummer Jeff “Oly” Olson locked in a groove on opener “Goin’ Home” that seemed to hold for the entire 11-track/45-minute duration. Trouble were always about that crunch in the guitars — their tone no less a signature than Wagner‘s soaring vocals in the early days — but with Simple Mind Condition, the songwriting came front and center in a way that was genuinely exciting and, at least to an extent, fresh. Consider it had been 12 years since Plastic Green Head, and Simple Mind Condition was the first album since Wagner rejoined the band after leaving the first time.

The hooks in “Mindbender” and “Seven” and the swinging “Pictures of Life” not only kept an underlying doomy feel — the chug of the latter is up there with whatever classic metal you want to put it next to — not to mention the later “Trouble Maker” or “Simple Mind Condition” or “If I Only Had a Reason.” Even the ballads “After the Rain” and “The Beginning of Sorrows” — the latter delivering the line “Sewing pillows for those which are asleep,” from which The Skull would later derive the name of their first LP — proved memorable when given the time to do so, and along with a cover of Lucifer’s Friend‘s “Ride the Sky” that fit seamlessly among the originals, and the quirk in “Arthur Brown’s Whiskey Bar,” with Wagner touching on some oftrouble simple mind condition the Beatles influence that the band manifested in their psychedelic days — they covered “Tomorrow Never Knows” on Plastic Green Head, and Wagner‘s short-lived post-Trouble project, Lid, certainly had that vibe as well on 1997’s In the Mushroom — while of course referencing the ’60s psych era in the title character of the song, added personality between the start-stop stomp of “Trouble Maker” and the thrust of the title-track.

All of this tells the story of an album that is front to back, flat out, all in. No pretense, heavy, raw in its way when it wants to be, but of course with rampant melody. They were never the most energetic of bands, and neither were they intended to be, but Simple Mind Condition still ups the tempo when it wants to, whether it’s the lurch-to-life at the bass-led outset of “Goin’ Home” or “Ride the Sky”‘s recognizable signature progression, and they’re no less at home in doing so than in the piano-complemented emotionalism of “The Beginning of Sorrows,” which builds from its subdued beginning over the course of its sub-five-minute run as Wagner intones, “Six long years/Since I’ve been in love/Yeah, maybe since birth,” and lets the sadness of those lines stand on its own, beautifully understated.

It’s a what-if record. The landscape of heavy into which Simple Mind Condition was introduced was vastly different from what the underground would become even a few years later as the new generation to which Trouble seemed to be speaking actually opened its ears. But by then it was too late, at least for Trouble as they were up to that point. They toured without Wagner to support Simple Mind Condition and the various other Escapi releases, and I remember seeing them at the old Knitting Factory in Manhattan circa 2008 with fellow Chicagoans Minsk opening and Warrior Soul vocalist Kory Clarke fronting the band. Franklin and Wartell sounded great, of course, but as a band it just didn’t work, and they brought in Thomas once again shortly thereafter. Sometimes you try a thing, I guess. I seem to recall Clarke was a last-minute call anyhow.

Of course, Wagner went on to form The Skull with former Trouble bassist Ron Holzner and Sacred Dawn guitarist Lothar Keller, and they’ve been touring and releasing albums since, at first playing old Trouble material and gradually bringing originals to the mix, then letting their own songs take priority. Their two full-lengths to-date, 2014’s For Those Which are Asleep (review here) and 2018’s The Endless Road Turns Dark (review here), shone like a melancholy beacon and realized the potential in Simple Mind Condition to engage that emergent generational audience of which Trouble seemed just a couple years ahead. Those are two of the last decade’s best American doom records, easily, and inextricably tied to Trouble‘s legacy while forging their own outward path therefrom.

I don’t know what Trouble‘s new deal with Hammerheart — which is more known for its dealings with death and black metal than doom — will bring. A chance for fans to buy records they already own? Bonus material? I don’t know. If I’m lucky maybe I’ll get to review some of those albums? Maybe? We’ll see. One way or the other, since their inception, Trouble worked against trend and were a band who spoke to a particular segment of the heavy converted. It would be great if they got the museum-grade respect they deserve, but even if that doesn’t happen, at least it’s a chance for a few new heads to turn on to what they were doing all along, and maybe Simple Mind Condition — which has been reissued along the way, in 2009, 2010, 2013 — can play a role in making that happen. It was a special, fleeting moment for the Trouble, and one that, 13 years after the fact, still holds up.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Things seemed to settle down a bit this week, which was good. We had The Patient Mrs.’ birthday dinner last Sunday, and that was kind of a mess while it was actually coming together, but by the time food was served it was fine. I think it’s been since Monday that I last really felt the need to take a xanax, so that’s something, and I feel like I’m starting to get a handle on the semester schedule and how to work the days with The Pecan and all that kind of thing. His going to part-time daycare on Wednesdays and Thursdays has been working out for him, and he has had a language explosion over the last month-plus that has helped cut a lot of frustration he was feeling not being able to express himself. He talks now almost as much as he moves, and he moves constantly.

Actually, he fell at daycare in some woodchips or something this week and cut up his face. His teacher when The Patient Mrs. and I went to pick him up was all worried in telling us like we were going to freak out. We were like, “shrug.” She said he just got up and kept running like nothing happened and I said, “Yup, that’s who he is.” This kid falls every single day in ways that, if I did it, I’d have to go to bed for a week. I’m not bragging because he’s tough or whatever — it’s something we worked on, actively not making a big deal of it when he falls down.

And now he does and it’s no drama. He falls off the couch. He falls off his bike. He falls running. He falls jumping. He bumps into walls, tables, shelves, doors, whatever. He slips while climbing the windowsill. It doesn’t matter. You have to stop yourself from reaching for him, but now when he plotzes down I mostly just laugh, and so he does too. And if he starts complaining I say, “You’re fine,” and he is. That’s just who he is. He’s that kind of kid. That’s the real him. I was glad it came out at what we’ve been calling “school” just for the ease of doing so.

The week’s centerpiece as regards general plight was money. As in, we don’t have any. And The Patient Mrs. made the woeful mistake of extrapolating how much we spend on groceries per year and, well, that just sucked. I offered to get a job — go work in some store or something — but it hasn’t really been part of the discussion. We’re keeping receipts for the next week or so and then seeing where we’re at and what we can do. I fucking hate money. I hate everything about it. I hate having it, I hate spending it, I hate making it, I hate not having it. It astounds me that, as a species evolved over hundreds of thousands and millions of years, we’ve so totally failed to come up with anything better to do with our time than engage in the pursuit and interchange of so much made-up bullshit. That I spend so much time, and that my wife — who pays our bills — spends so much of her time, fretting about these things shames me deeply.

But it’s the weekend. I have work to do on the Roadburn ‘zine, and some other stuff, but next week is pretty full. Look out for a Foot track premiere on Monday. Australian band. That record is so god damn good. There’s other stuff too, a few announcements here and there. A My Dying Bride review. It’ll be fun.

The kid’s up, so I’m gonna get rolling on the day. Great and safe weekend. Have fun, be kind. FRM. Forum, Radio, Merch.

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