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
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE?
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]
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE?
[Echo and the Bunnymen; 1999]
1. What Are You Going to Do With Your Life?
3. Get In the Car
4. Baby Rain
5. History Chimes
6. Lost on You
7. Morning Sun
8. When It All Blows Over
9. Fools Like Us
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE? calls to mind the adage that at twenty, we consider ourselves the captains of our fates, but at forty we know we've been traveling as deckhands on the Titanic. The songs speak of lost days and lost youth; of chances missed and fortune squandered; and of hopes deferred. But Ian McCulloch is no cynic, and he counterpoints his darker musings with beautiful music, quiet but sturdy optimism and a solid belief in the power of human love.
It is, de facto, if not de nomine, an Ian McCulloch solo album: gentle, introspective, sometimes melancholy, and unabashedly romantic. It bookends nicely with OCEAN RAIN (the love world fifteen years down the road), and gives us arguably McCulloch's best collection of lyrics (CANDLELAND remains in the running). Many of the songs merit reading through as poetry. They vary in mood and style, but fit together as a richly textured whole.
The album balances songs against one another, and feelings and ideas within songs. "If I knew now what I knew then/I'd wonder how not wonder when", the singer muses in the title track's opening lines, going on to relate how youth's invincible bright hopes become "Memories and might have beens/Heaven's scent: the smell of dreams/We'll never find". So, in light of all this, what is he going to do with his life? The answer is simple: "I'm going to be me". And the rest of the album follows from that.
Rust delicately offsets its wistful "I wish that you were here/I wish that it was true" sentiments with a hopeful "Everything's gonna be alright" chorus. Musically, the song is one of the album's best, with Will Sergeant's guitar, muted on much of WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE?, swirling and shimmering like the music of the spheres. It gives power to one of McCulloch's most gorgeous images: "I can feel the stars shooting through my heart like rain".
Get In the Car makes explicit What Are You Going To Do With Your Life?'s indications that romantic love holds the anodyne for life's ills. McCulloch firmly counters talk of how "… things are coming out all wrong/And no one hears" with the buoyant:
"Let's go and take a ride
To all those starry nights
We used to fly upon
When we were young
You'll be the star
I'll be your satellite
Even elusive youth can be revisited, if not recaptured.
The intricately structured Baby Rain sets forth the dilemma, the solution and the happy resolution in three cantos. Frankly aglow with sweetness and light, the song hovers on the edge of sugar overdose until a nicely naughty "I've got what you want/When're you going to get me?" counter-chorus throws in the touch of tartness so vital to a good confection. History Chimes follows up Baby Rain's elaborate choruses with the straightforward simplicity of McCulloch's voice, a piano, and some of the album's best lyrics.
The slightly frenzied Lost On You doesn't stand out in this collection of songs, but it does boast the most purely enjoyable image on the album: "Just get me out of this jam/It's stuck to me like glue".
"Give me a hope I can lean on/'Cos I'll bend in the calmest of winds" is about as 'hopeful' as things get on Morning Sun. It offers instead some memorable imagery ("Here it comes the morning sun/Another hit and run/And we're just the ones in the way"), a good melody and a very singable "alibis and lies" chorus. The song counterbalances the 'love is the answer convictions of Get In the Car and Baby Rain, but is followed immediately by the plain-spoken and moving When It All Blows Over, the most powerful love song on the album. And Fools Like Us gives a lushly orchestrated, dead-on, swooningly romantic summation.
As CROCODILES speaks plaintively of youth's fears and challenges and worlds to be conquered, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE? sets out upon the second half of the journey.
NOTE; the first Rust single from this album is well worth seeking out because of the b-sides. Fish Hook Girl stands out for its tense, edgy sound and gritty atmosphere, while See the Horizon contains one of McCulloch's most gorgeously resonant images:
"Everybody wants you now
Now your wings are open
Everybody asks you how
You were never broken"
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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