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; 1983]
1. The Cutter
2. The Back of Love
3. My White Devil
6. Heads Will Roll
8. Higher Hell
9. Gods Will Be Gods
10 In Bluer Skies
If Bunnymen albums were items on a Mexican restaurant menu, EVERGREEN would be nachos - the good kind, with everything, including a few jalapeņos. OCEAN RAIN would be a robust fajitas platter, substantial, satisfying, and transcendently delicious. But the 1987 eponymous album, alas, is the plate of warm tortillas the waiter always brings out. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE? is a smooth, creamy flan, topped with caramel sauce and flavored with just the right tang of lemon. HEAVEN UP HERE, of course, is a pitcher of strong margaritas, made with Cuervo Gold and the best triple sec.
And PORCUPINE is a burrito: wonderful stuff, carefully wrapped and covered in spicy sauce, so no one is quite sure just what it is. Carrying the analogy to its proper metaphysical extreme, we might designate the first two songs, The Cutter and The Back of Love, as the tangy sauce, the next seven as the richly seasoned, homogeneous and slightly exotic interior, and the closing, In Bluer Skies, as a soothing dollop of guacamole.
The Cutter stands as one of the great Bunnymen songs, a strange, sweeping, and thoroughly inspirational epic from an alternative universe. Touched by eastern instruments (and 60s influence), and memorable for its guitar, it seizes the imagination. When Ian McCulloch sings:
"Conquering myself until
I see another hurdle approaching
Say we can, say we will
Not just another
Drop in the ocean"
you want to just go out and do grand things. Based around the bass and driven by drums, The Back of Love bounces along as buoyantly as a ping pong ball over an air jet, its progress occasionally waylaid by competing riffs and fractured melodies. McCulloch delivers his scathing vocal ("What were you thinking of/When you dreamt that up") with fine scorn.
The album's core, an elaborately orchestrated, complex suite of songs, moves the Bunnymen's voyage through the human psyche from the expansive terrain of HEAVEN UP HERE to subterranean caverns. Even at its most unrestrained, it has an enclosed feeling, and its beauty glimmers from shadows. It offers full, rich sound, layered and textured with a wide array of traditional and exotic instruments. (Or sometimes, perhaps, the remarkable Will Sergeant magically transfiguring his guitar into a wide array of traditional and exotic instruments.)
The lyrics - evocative, but basically an abstruse word thicket - speak of the need to clarify key beliefs; of trying to find oneself; and of evolutionary change both spiritual and mental. There is much questioning, and if the answers are not at all clear, then neither are the questions. One message does shine through it all: stay true. "When you asked the question/Did you miss the meaning?" McCulloch sings in Ripeness; "When you met your challenge/Did you go out fighting?". His resonant voice, controlled and expressive, gives conviction to sentiments which have been spoken by many others before him.
My White Devil begins with a delicate xylophone riff and a seeming non sequiter about a 17th Century playwright and glides into melodic speculations about growth, change and fate. Clay, the best of the core songs, offers swooping melodies, a plaintive vocal, clever word usage ("Pools of delusion deluge me") and thought-provoking imagery"
"Are you the wrongful half
Of the rightful me?
Are you the Mongol half
Of the cerebral me?"
Porcupine starts off with the stately dolor of a funeral caravan winding its way across the Mongolian Steppes. It picks up in the second half, morphing into an energetic dervish dance, complete with a few hovering demons. Heads Will Roll features a dazzling bit of weirded-out musical madness. The irresistible momentum of Ripeness carries it through layers of counter-choruses like a raft over a flood. Higher Hell gives us the sound of fingernails being scraped across an electrically-charged blackboard; conversely, it also contains the album's most elegantly lovely line: "Merely got to simply say/I think we all misheard". Gods Will Be Gods builds to a dramatic - and abrupt - end, resonating like some powerful and inevitable dark force.
The coda, In Bluer Skies, seems almost sunny by comparison, though this is partly illusory. "I know belief is in your eyes/But we can't believe in blind lies", McCulloch declares firmly. With its more open, less ornate sound, and suggestions of romantic love as a key to spiritual evolution, the song prefigures the far greater OCEAN RAIN.
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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