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; 2005]
1. Stormy Weather
2. All Because of You Days
3. Parthenon Drive
4. In the Margins
5. Of a Life
6. Make Us Blind
7. Everything Kills You
9. Sideways Eight
10. Scissors in the Sand
11. What if We Are
SIBERIA lies in that lofty, keen-aired region where lightning jags across star-blazed skies, moonlight dances through mountain precipices, and blooms of rare beauty carpet dangerous ground. It crackles with a perfect synergy of disparate geniuses Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant: plaintively gorgeous melodies, lyrics that manage to be polished and heartfelt at the same time, songs as crafted as fine marquetry - all bulwarked and meshed and laced 'round with enough chiming, swirling, thundering, mesmerizing, sizzling and sometimes downright ear-shredding guitars to send anyone into aural rapture.
Darker, tougher, more focused than its predecessors EVERGREEN and FLOWERS (WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE? is an exquisite gem which belongs in the Ian McCulloch collection), SIBERIA springs from wilder soil. It hints of 'classic' this and that, and references many Bunny things past. A little Electrafixion bubbles through like a vesuvian spring. And, it all remains as fresh and vibrant and commanding as in Bunnymen days of yore.
But this album doesn't go back. It stakes out its own territory, defined by power and solidity; imagination and style; grace and humor. It holds that Bunnymen sense of beauty even within pain. The lyrics are clever, but not so clever they look like they came out of a Modern Poetry Writing 101 class. They have depth and emotional honesty. And producer Hugh Jones (a HEAVEN UP HERE veteran) certainly earns his keep - everything sounds terrific.
Songs range from the sweetly poignant, soaringly melodic dreamscape of "In the Margins", a classic Bunnymen anthem of the heart, to the toughness and drama and general spookiness conjured by "Scissors in the Sand", a little ditty guaranteed to breed paranoia. While Sergeant's guitars quake and boom with gleefully ominous portent, McCulloch warns darkly of "rubberized" scissors, mirrored walls and silverfish that "swim, don't crawl".
"Stormy Weather" starts off at a nice jog, but soon gallops across ever-rising plateaus of sound, spurred on by Sergeant's thunderous tempests and McCulloch's demanding shouts of "How's my stormy weather now?". In contrast to all this forward momentum, the title track stands like an icy fortress: complex, monumental and insular despite an appealing little "Bedbugs and Ballyhoo" riff that keeps popping up like a friendly puppy. "Siberia" contains some of McCulloch's most self-probing lyrics ("I was only ever scared of me/Peerless, and tearless"), but remains sternly aloof, "Cold as ice/Snow white"; charged with pathos yet grandly desolate.
"Parthenon Drive" offers pulsing, psychedelicized homage to Frank Sinatra's "It Was a Very Good Year" ("Spinning 'round at thirty-three/I tried to find the worth in me") before fading into an eerie sonic mist. "Make Us Blind" gives the Infernal response to the sunny innocence of 2001's "Make Me Shine". A spiky little harpsichord melody bobs and weaves through layers of sound while McCulloch energetically delivers some of the album's most disquieting lyrics.
"All Because of You Days" pulls at the heart with earnest lyrics and passionate vocals, while "Sideways Eight" gets down-and-dirty raucous with insouciant flair. "Everything Kills You" - in the tradition of Bunnymen classics "The Killing Moon" and "Nothing Lasts Forever" -- celebrates the beauty of life even as it laments its tragedy.
"Of a Life" roars in on scorching guitars, then launches into jaunty self-assessment ("This is where the begging ends/No more Trevi Fountains/No more kneeling; no more bends/No more jumping off the mountain") as McCulloch exuberantly proclaims his need for "a song to learn and sing/Of a life requited". It's answered by the unapologetically romantic "What if We Are", a song which speaks of hitting "rock bottom" in a riveting near-a cappella whisper, but also lifts into the celestial spheres, not "on the wings of a dove", but on Sergeant's swooping, soaring, shuddering guitar notes. "Maybe I'm not the boy/Maybe I'm not the man/Maybe I'm not the one", McCulloch sings softly; "But what if I am?"
Optimism in despair; light in darkness, and the power of a blistering guitar solo to raise up the soul have always marked the best Bunnymen work. SIBERIA delivers it all.
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
September 6th, 2005
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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