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]
[Ian McCulloch solo; 2003]
1. Love In Veins
2. Playgrounds And City Parks
4. Baby Hold On
7. Another Train
8. High Wires
9. She Sings (All My Life)
11. Stake Your Claim
William Blake said that a man who has never been to Heaven in his mind or sight is no artist. Ian McCulloch has traipsed through both Heaven and Hell in many songs over the years. He has seen much, and his work compels by its beauty and strength and basic honesty. SLIDELING holds more of Heaven than of Hell; more of hope than of despair. But sadness is here too, in the quiet acknowledgement that love and death, beauty and loss dwell side by side, and that time will stay for no man.
Sliding, a gracefully charming love song, gains its power from simplicity, and brings to mind the paradoxical truth that sometimes the simplest things are the most complex. The feel is almost innocent, but the darker meanings give the song an edge. Playgrounds and City Parks offers a deeply touching evocation of childhood, that sweet-sad time when the patterns of our lives are set, and "In every breath another spark was dying". Memories, like watercolor prints stored carefully against the years, "light up my lonely life", McCulloch sings in one of the album's best moments.
He creates translucently lovely music without being fey or pretentious about it. Arthur, a hymn of fragile splendor, appeals because of the almost childlike faith of its lyrics:
"Fill the skies with stars of wonder
Fill my dreams with love forever
And I'll believe
I'll believe in all that"
and because it is purely sweet, not sugary. Love In Veins -- carefree, even throwaway in its lyrics -- pulses with ebullient good spirits and a memorable melody. Passion, controlled but strong, imbues She Sings (All My Life), perhaps the most soaringly melodic song on the album. Baby Hold On, with its promises of "I'll be there to catch you/You won't fall", is spiritual kin to Bridge Over Troubled Water and makes a nice variation on McCulloch's more often used 'Woman, come save me' motif.
Seasons and Kansas paint upon a wider canvas, and with more sweeping flourishes. The anthemic Seasons revisits the vibrant imagery of Turquoise Days in lines of a more somber, world-weary and battered cast:
"Waiting up ahead night skies turning red
Too far out to hear the warning
As the day falls black there's no turning back
Sailing half-mast through the morning"
The darkly dramatic Kansas tackles issues of human life, faith and fate with some pointed questions:
"If who we are is who we love
Then who put all this hate inside me?
And if who we are is written in the stars
Is someone gonna come and find me?"
Some of these songs create little worlds within themselves. Another Train gives a remarkable sensation of actually being on a train. Through the music and McCulloch's vocal inflections, it rolls along across country, slowing for every station along the way. All it lacks is a whistle to blow when it picks up speed again. The poignancy of the lyrics calls up the rich history of train songs. High Wires has the same energy, ethos and structure as an old-fashioned evangelical revival. But the opening description, "My mind is frozen but my soul's on fire", suggests this is not a straightforward call to born-again salvation. The album's finale, a bravura performance called Stake Your Claim, translates the Jesus and Mary Chain milieu to a higher sphere. The lyrics:
"Come and save me
Come and fix me up like new
Do those tricks you used to do"
are enigmatic enough to be read several ways.
SLIDELING is true gold, not the chic dross of the moment. This is powerful, gorgeous, life-affirming music by an artist who understands about dark places and knows how to find the beauty even in them. It can offer pleasure in the good times and solace in the bad.
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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