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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

HEAVEN UP HERE
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]

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HEAVEN UP HERE
[Echo and the Bunnymen; 1981]

1. Show of Strength
2. With a Hip
3. Over the Wall
4. It Was a Pleasure
5. A Promise
6. Heaven up Here
7. The Disease
8. All My Colours (Zimbo)
9. No Dark Things
10. Turquoise Days
11. All I Want

    Snake and seraph magic and mysticism terror and rapture. William James might have been describing HEAVEN UP HERE rather than the human psyche. He certainly could have used it as an illustration. As CROCODILES details the agonies, challenges and fears of growing up, the second Bunnymen album confronts the world. It is full of sound and fury, signifying life viewed through the bottom of a tequila bottle.
    HEAVEN UP HERE is a big album, sweeping and dramatic; the aural equivalent of the windswept, darkening beach the four Bunnymen stand ranged across on the cover. The band's synergy has never been greater, its energy higher, its sound more turbulent. Ian McCulloch's voice is at its mercurial best, veering from defiant declamation to operatic yelp to breathy anticipation to a sonorous intonation worthy of a medieval priest. He sounds out of his head half the time. His lyrics contain much fine imagery (some of it genuinely metaphysical), clever word usage ("Hopefully/But that's as well as maybe"), and a lot of silly junk ("The applecart upset my head's little brain")
    Show of Strength, With a Hip and It Was a Pleasure churn with tales of paranoia, hypocrisy, deceit, suspicion and the betrayals of life. But the Bunnymen don't hang their heads in gloomy acknowledgement, or trouble deaf Heaven with bootless cries of rage against a bad old world. They suggest how we can live in it. Show of Strength closes amid emphatic aural punctuation, as if each band member is adding his signature to McCulloch's slow and clear articulation of a key Bunnymen principle:

  Guts and passion
  -------------------------
  All those things
  You think might count
  You can never set them down
  Don't ever set them down
  Never set them down ""

    HEAVEN UP HERE begins a Bunnymen tradition of rich, sprawling epics with
Over the Wall and Turquoise Days. The former forges together vivid - sometimes shocking -- combinations of images, a compelling vocal and music as relentlessly powerful as the mighty Mississippi. Turquoise Days takes on the meaning of life with pistol packin' conviction, literally 'banging' home a few points. McCulloch's advice, while not remarkable, comes couched in a pair of very lovely images: "Put your faith in those crimson nights/Set sail in those turquoise days".
    He sounds near to sobbing through much of A Promise. But the music, flowing like an ocean current, carries the song past dark, not altogether coherent lyrics and into the exultant " light on the water/We could sail on forever ...." chorus. It is a glorious moment, like sun breaking through clouds.
    The raucously drunken
Heaven Up Here surprisingly (or perhaps not) offers the album's most virtuoso playing. Guitars, bass, drums and assorted other rattles and blasts merge with gleeful finesse as McCulloch practically shouts out his lyrics over the fast-paced melodic din. The Disease sounds eerily quiet and spooky after the dazzling exertions of the title track, but basically it is just metaphysics run aground. The brooding atmosphere makes up for commonplace, slightly pretentious sentiments. And its placement shows the usual Bunnymen good sense of variety within unity.
    With its haunting "All my colours turn to clouds" lyric, its talismanic "zimbo" chorus and music that speaks of sorrow and power and things unknown all at once,
All My Colours (Zimbo) soars into the genuinely mystical. Zimbo provides drummer Pete de Freitas's finest moment. His restrained, decisive and ultimately mesmerizing playing gives a firm structure to an other-worldly song, greatly increasing its force.
    Tipsy in its own way,
No Dark Things takes us through a musical and lyrical landscape as askew and aslant as a well-appointed funhouse. It holds its own odd majesty. All I Want mixes snatches of melody --  some heavy on the bass, some reminiscent of an adrenalized music box -- and McCulloch's sometimes assertive, sometimes fragile-sounding vocals to a palpable tension. But the Bunnymen don't close the song (and the album) in a welter of despair. The enigmatic closing line actually seems hopeful: "Got the hands/To hold the key ..." And they do.

Previous    Next
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
blinfool@wyomail.com
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
Dilettantes-At-Large

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