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
LIVE IN LIVERPOOL
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]
LIVE IN LIVERPOOL
[Echo and the Bunnymen; 2002]
2. Lips Like Sugar
3. King of Kings
4. Never Stop
5. Seven Seas
6. Buried Alive
7. Supermellow Man
8. My Kingdom
9. Zimbo (All My Colours)
10. All That Jazz
11. An Eternity Turns
12. The Back of Love
13. The Killing Moon
14. The Cutter
15. Over the Wall
16. Nothing Lasts Forever
17. Ocean Rain
Age cannot wither, nor custom stale. Some of these songs date back to 1980, but remain as fresh as the FLOWERS of 2001. (And the 'FLOWERS' stand tall among the classics.) Ian McCulloch has spoken of Bunnymen songs as "timeless music", and LIVE IN LIVERPOOL proves his point.
With over twenty years to draw from the Bunnymen opt for a fair mix of old and new, with an emphasis on the first four albums. The only Bunnymen record not represented is 1999's WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE?, an exquisite piece of work which just does not fit in with the rest of the Bunnymen canon.
But there is no nostalgia here. Songs have not been simply preserved, like artifacts in glass cases. They seem vitally alive, and still evolving under the hands of their creators.
Many of these live versions are played faster, which generally works well. Lips Like Sugar, a competent but somewhat lackluster album track, blooms with particular vibrance under this treatment. It is the difference between a pretty pastel tea rose and a blood-crimson floribunda. King of Kings takes on the aspect of a suspense thriller, dipping and swirling as McCulloch deadpans through his slightly loopy narrative of sin and debauchery in the city. The adrenalized Buried Alive fares less well. It sounds rushed, and loses some of the emotional force and poignancy which place the song among the Bunnymen's best works.
All That Jazz still has the defiant vim and vigor of old, backed by a very satisfying Bunnymen barrage of sound. Rescue has acquired a nice insouciant swagger, befitting a more mature perspective. The Back of Love loses a bit of its bounce, but gains a more full-bodied sound (and some wonderfully weirded-out bits as well).
Good touches abound. A silvery little riff skitters across Seven Seas like crystalline raindrops. The guitar seethes and soars on My Kingdom. An Eternity Turns incorporates a nicely saucy "anybody wanna feel my pain?" moment.
The stand-out track (among several strong contenders) is a spooky, high-tech, slightly jazzy Over the Wall. Zimbo (All My Colours) picks up a darkly brooding, ominous quality, making up in power what it loses in sheer mysticism. It sounds more akin to PORCUPINE than HEAVEN UP HERE. Other highlights include a don't-spare-the-horses version of The Cutter, a vigorous and more kookily grand than ever Never Stop, and a sweet Nothing Lasts Forever.
McCulloch's voice has lost the operatic flamboyance of earlier years, but not its expressiveness and flexibility. He sounds great. His best vocals include an impassioned Supermellow Man, a vibrant and magical interpretation of The Killing Moon, and the album's final track, a stunning Ocean Rain, which moves seamlessly from quiet and delicate beauty to sublime "screaming beneath the waves" power.
The band are in fine form, very tight and professional. Everything pulses with energy and self-confidence. When An Eternity Turns gallops to a tumultuous conclusion, McCulloch declares proudly, "I wrote that!" - and the audience quite rightly cheers.
NOTE: LIVE IN LIVERPOOL was recorded over two nights at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts in August, 2001. The sound quality is excellent, the editing tight. There is also a DVD with a somewhat different track listing. Supermellow Man is not included; added tracks are: Bring On the Dancing Horses, Altamont, Flowers, Villiers Terrace, Silver, Angels and Devils and Crocodiles.
ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN: BBC RADIO ONE - LIVE IN CONCERT (1991) was recorded in January, 1988 at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool. This cd is no longer generally available, but well worth seeking out.
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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