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; 1997]
1. Don't Let It Get You Down
2. In My Time
3. I Want to Be There (When you come)
5. I'll Fly Tonight
6. Nothing Lasts Forever
7. Baseball Bill
9. Just a Touch Away
10. Empire State Halo
11. Too Young to Kneel
EVERGREEN is something like a cross between Sotheby's and a big country auction: good stuff and plenty of it (including a few priceless gems), ranged a little haphazardly across a vibrantly blooming meadow and presented with style and gusto. All of these wares proudly bear the Bunnymen hallmark (though Baseball Bill still carries a faded sticker with 'Electrafixion' scrawled across it). They generally follow the OCEAN RAIN pattern of cleaner lines, more open spaces and greater transparency.
Of the gems, Nothing Lasts Forever shines with brightest radiance. It is warm ruby to The Killing Moon's icy sapphire; the human heart against the implacable depths of eternity; the sweetness of today against the waiting hand of fate. It is intimate rather than majestic; human and not abstract. The pure beauty and vibrancy of its presentation rebuke the bleakness of its message. Just a Touch Away is a darker, but richly glowing jewel. Its strength rests upon the plaintive beauty of the melody -- sometimes delicate as the sheen of a black pearl; sometimes intense as emerald.
I'll Fly Tonight, sinister and touching by turns, drifts and glides with the eerie loveliness of some iridescent, winged night creature in the moonlight, floating upon the swells and falls of the music. There is even a flock of electronic geese, calling to one another across the vastness of the evening sky. The all-out romanticism of Empire State Halo conjures gorgeous images of angels flying through snow-draped cityscapes, golden haloes glowing. Frank Sinatra could have made this song his own (along with The Killing Moon).
Forgiven is one of those great and timeless ballads of guilt, remorse, and the struggle that goes on within every human soul. It is a powerful song of some complexity; the music slow, with a mournful twang, but also an underlying tension. The lyrics are the sort of thing people have been saying to one another for millennia, though usually not with this much eloquence. Finely crafted and thought-provoking, In My Time pairs grim, almost despairing lyrics ("All my pages empty/Like a book I never read") with a warm, complexly orchestrated and purely lovely melody. Ian McCulloch's vocals are almost caressing. This song is a little gem of brilliant cut.
Moving on to the good silver, Evergreen is of a bold and plainly-styled pattern that offers value for money. It fits nicely into the category of 'rousing guitar anthem', its statement simple and direct:
"Keep the flames of your desire
Always rising higher
Aim for the stars and hit the sky"
Not the most original exhortation, perhaps, but it serves perfectly here. Will Sergeant's soaring guitar offers emphatic testimony that it is the real thing and not plate. Don't Let It Get You Down, with its richly plaintive strings and resonant vocal, leans more on consolation than exhortation. The uncertain questioning of the lyrics ("Tell me how it feels/To touch the flame") is met by the apparently sincere reassurance of the chorus: "God's above us/And Jesus loves us".
The expansively energetic, musically unsubtle and suspiciously titled I Want to Be There (When You Come) belies hints of double entendre with exuberant talk of future hopes and expectations.
"I wanna be like you
I wanna laugh and cry
About the things we do
And never ask why"
McCulloch sings, and it's possible a father with young children may simply be saying he wants to be there when they come of age.
Every auction sports a few odd pieces of china. The raucous Baseball Bill belongs with the Electrafixion set, but that has been discontinued. It follows BURNED's pattern of rendering depictions of horrific situations and emotional states with jaunty musical Úlan, here with most of the grunge scrubbed off. McCulloch trades in his croon for an almost deadpan narration. Altamont, with its eastern tinges, squealing guitar barrages and angry, accusatory lyrics ("God's above and all he's really thinking of is/How much pain you've gotta pay") also sounds as if it belongs on some other album.
Like a painting that doesn't quite fit on any wall in the house, Too Young to Kneel seems a bit gawky. It's a little one dimensional. Annoyingly brassy horns don't help. The lyrics, which enumerate the virtues of Woman ("Who's gonna be there when your world goes wrong?/Who's gonna tell you you're the only one?") prove monotonous in the telling, though admirable in sentiment.
Dropping a few of the odd bits would have made for a smoother, more cohesive album, but part of the fun of a big country auction is that it is a little hodge-podge.
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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