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Signs of a possible change in musical direction into a more stadium-oriented sound first became apparent during a series of live performances in the summer months of 1983 by Simple Minds to huge European crowds."Those gigs brought us back to the rawest kind of state, I think," Kerr said."In places like that, 50,000 people, there's just no room for subtlety, and there's no need for it, there's no want for it." This foresaw the band coming into direct contact with U2 for the first time at the Belgian rock festival Torhout-Werchter; upon meeting the two bands immediately developed a strong liking for each other."The song's throbbing pulse and enormous sense of space suggested the way the band were thinking," Adam Sweeting commented, "the elaborate, almost ornate arrangements of New Gold Dream (81/82/83/84) were receding into the distance.Simple Minds were making bigger music for bigger occasions." Shortly afterwards, the band were looking for a producer for their forthcoming sixth album; initially Alex Sadkin, of the Compass Point All Stars, was sought after due to his work with Grace Jones, but his schedule was incompatible with that of Simple Minds.Steve Lillywhite however, had wanted to produce for the band for a long time, and ultimately Simple Minds completed a three-way Celtic grouping along with U2's War and Big Country's The Crossing under Lillywhite.

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"Mick would be fiddling away like this, Charlie would be going like this, then Jim would come in and sing something completely different to what the other two were doing.Whereas I now think Jim is taking some of the melodies from the guitar and the keyboards, which he didn't use to, which makes it more like a song." The recording process drew to a completion with Lillywhite and the band adding some finishing touches to "Up on the Catwalk"; Jim Kerr sang some additional lines that had been stored in his notebook instead of name-dropping some extra famous people towards the song's end.The band's new drummer Mel Gaynor, who had contributed for some tracks on the previous record, agreed on the album's aggressiveness: "On this album I'm getting a few of my ideas across, not only in the drumming field but in other fields as well.It's a lot different from New Gold Dream, both sound-wise and material-wise. This album's got a bit more dirt in it." Regarding the role of producer Steve Lillywhite, Brian Hogg wrote that Sparkle in the Rain "captured the bravura of their in-concert sound" and Lillywhite "introduced a dynamic, often contrasting, perspective quite unlike the panoramic standpoint of its predecessor, but there was no denying the resultant brash excitement." Adam Sweeting described how, during the recording process of "Up on the Catwalk", "Forbes and Gaynor had combined to create a steamrolling rhythm track which came hammering out of the opening chorus like a runaway train." Mac Kenzie Wilson of All Music retrospectively described the album's musical style thus: "Synth-beats throb over Charlie Burchill's new wave third-chord guitars and swooning basslines...

Piano vibes are pinch-hitting and Kerr's songwriting thrives on celebrity and the falling grace that coincides that." Other slower tracks include the instrumental "Shake Off the Ghosts" and the "pensive" "'C' Moon Cry Like a Baby", while the punk-revivalist "The Kick Inside of Me", "straining vocal and stinging guitar" of "Speed Your Love to Me", and "pounding percussion and keyboards" of "Up on the Catwalk" and "Book of Brilliant Things" emphasize the album's more intense sound.

Matt White of Pop Matters described the band's transformation into "soaring, grandiose rock": "The electronic elements are pared down in favor of more standard piano flourishes, the guitar now having won the battle of dominant instrument." A review of the album for Rolling Stone discussed how many of Jim Kerr's lyrics can be interpreted as religious references, such as The Bible in "Book of Brilliant Things", or redemption at the Christian cross in "East at Easter".

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