ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN, IAN MCCULLOCH AND ELECTRAFIXION: ALBUM REVIEWS
Sixteen Detailed Essays by a Biased, Non-Cool, Middle-Aged but Decidedly Pro-Bunny Victorianist
CROCODILES [Echo and the Bunnymen; 1980]
HEAVEN UP HERE [Echo and the Bunnymen; 1981]
PORCUPINE [Echo and the Bunnymen; 1983]
OCEAN RAIN [Echo and the Bunnymen; 1984]
SONGS TO LEARN AND SING [Echo and the Bunnymen; 1985]
ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN [Echo and the Bunnymen; 1987]
CANDLELAND [Ian McCulloch solo; 1989]
MYSTERIO [Ian McCulloch solo; 1992]
BURNED [Electrafixion; 1995]
EVERGREEN [Echo and the Bunnymen; 1997]
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE? [Echo and the Bunnymen; 1999]
FLOWERS [Echo and the Bunnymen; 2001]
CRYSTAL DAYS (4-cd box set) [Echo and the Bunnymen; 2001]
LIVE IN LIVERPOOL [Echo and the Bunnymen; 2002]
SLIDELING [Ian McCulloch solo; 2003]
SIBERIA [Echo and the Bunnymen; 2005]
[Echo and the Bunnymen; 1980]
1. Going Up
2. Do It Clean
3. Stars Are Stars
8. Villiers Terrace
9. Read It in Books
10. Pictures on My Wall
11. All That Jazz
12. Happy Death Men
A wise man once noted that what we call 'originality' is not newness - for nothing is new -- but only genuineness. Perhaps that is why CROCODILES sounds as fresh and 'original' today as it did twenty-three years ago. From the moment the first song, Going Up, comes charging out of the ethereal mist like a conquering army (and promptly metamorphoses into muttered incantations from the blasted heath) it's plain the Bunnymen are neither the latest corporate product nor the garage band from down the street.
Part of this is sheer instinctive ability; these young novices sound as if they know what they are doing. The rhythm section (Les Pattinson on bass; Pete de Freitas on percussion) provides a strong, steady anchor, while remaining innovative and vibrant throughout. Will Sergeant's guitar and Ian McCulloch's vocals weave through the songs like brilliant threads in a tapestry. McCulloch's voice on CROCODILES is not yet the marvel it would become a few years later, but it is strong and distinctive, and he sings with as much self-confident panache and dignity as a man proclaiming: "Rusty chalk-dust walker" can muster.
They do things their own way, understanding that music should have beauty, and that beauty requires variety. CROCODILES moves (sometimes within the same song) from surging river to gently lapping tidal pool to tumbling cataract, all interspersed with the occasional muffled explosion, eerie scream or exhalation from the depths of a dank cave. On the American version of the album, they follow the mysterious wonders of Going Up with a clear, strong rocker, Do It Clean. The Do It Clean-less UK release offers contrast of another sort with the strongly melodic Stars Are Stars.
Solid melodies and sing-along choruses stay in the mind. Villiers Terrace (which is apparently about Adolph Hitler, not chemical dependency) bowls along brightly, swinging into multipart harmonies and a tumultuous close. The majestic cadences of Monkeys invest the song with a grandiosity wonderfully out of proportion to the lyrics. With the deliberate pace of a ship taking the rolling swells, Read It in Books unfolds a narrative dialog, rising and falling with the progress of the story, until McCulloch writes finis with a succinct "That's all". Happy Death Men, a blackly merry little ditty, achieves its own wild and kooky grandeur before it - and the album -- suddenly evaporate into that stuff which Boschian dreams are made on.
The key to CROCODILES lies in its edgy juxtaposition of bold, assertive music with McCulloch's lyrics, which speak movingly of confusion, self-doubt and the tender ego of youth. The title track, like its protagonist, jitters with pent-up emotional energy, as McCulloch encapsulates fear, bravado, and one of life's ignoble but totally satisfying desires: "… you don't wanna look back/You gotta look tall/Gotta see those creeps crawl". The somberly lovely Stars Are Stars melds striking, painterly imagery ("I caught that falling star/It cut my hands to pieces") into a poignant meditation on the passage of time and the brevity of our moment in it:
"I saw you climb
Shadows on the trees
We lost some time
After things that never matter
You came here late
Go home early
Now you've gone away
But CROCODILES shimmers with light as well. Pride takes an amusing, but insightful and ultimately affectionate look at the undercurrents of close relationships. "They think I'm headed for a fall", the singer tells us darkly; "They hope I'm headed for a fall". But others call upon him to "Make us proud of you/Do something we can't do". The song ends with a definitive "Do it". Similarly, Rescue -- that rare song which is instantly recognizable by the clarion call of its first two notes -- balances its "jumbled up" sentiments with the prospect of "rescue" through human love.
Flashes of humor crop up throughout. "Instinct is the common law, y'all", McCulloch declares on All That Jazz, and the offhand colloquialism lightens a portentous (and perhaps pretentious) sentiment. Do It Clean gives us the wonderful phrase: "Itzy bitzy witzy witzy everywhere", and Villiers Terrace contributes a "Bop-showaddywaddy Hailie Sellasie" chorus.
CROCODILES is a coming-of-age album, full of the vigor and uncertainty and splendid daring of youth. In Pictures On My Wall, McCulloch recites a litany of looming threats to heart, soul and ego, and concludes with an enthusiastic "Don't you just love it/All?" A little later, in All That Jazz, he sings: "It appeals because it's what I feel/I know I don't understand". This could serve as an anthem of the young, and it goes far in summing up the essence of CROCODILES.
NOTE: The UK and American releases of CROCODILES had different track listings. The remastered edition [November 2003] follows the UK sequence:
1. Going Up
2. Stars Are Stars
7. Villiers Terrace
8. Pictures On My Wall
9. All That Jazz
10. Happy Death Men
with Do It Clean and Read It In Books added on as the first two of six 'bonus tracks'. Remasters of HEAVEN UP HERE, PORCUPINE, OCEAN RAIN and the 1987 album have the track listings given here, with various 'bonus tracks' appended. All of these reissues include new, extensive liner notes and additional photographs.
CROCODILES HEAVEN UP HERE PORCUPINE OCEAN RAIN SONGS TO LEARN AND SING ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN CANDLELAND MYSTERIO BURNED EVERGREEN WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE? FLOWERS CRYSTAL DAYS LIVE IN LIVERPOOL SLIDELING SIBERIA
Kristin F. Smith
October 23rd, 2003
This page last updated: September 6th, 2005
An Annotated Discography: Works by Echo and the Bunnymen, Ian McCulloch, Will Sergeant, Electrafixion and Glide
The Bunnymen Concert Log: A comprehensive, annotated listing of concert dates, venues and set lists for Echo and the Bunnymen, Ian McCulloch and Electrafixion (off-site link)
The Songwriter as Poet: Ian McCulloch and the Pre-Raphaelite Tradition (off-site link)
Bunnymen.info - The (Unofficial) News Source (off-site link, run by Charles Pham)
Aldems' Political Quotations: Apt and Otherwise
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