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; 1984]
2. Nocturnal Me
3. Crystal Days
4. The Yo-Yo Man
5. Thorn of Crowns
6. The Killing Moon
7. Seven Seas
8. My Kingdom
9. Ocean Rain
A small, white open boat floats in the mirror-calm blue dimness of an underground lake. Two men stand in the stern, pale and indistinguishable as shades. Another sits amidships, staring pensively into darkness. A fourth man leans over the bow, touching his hand to the still blue water. It is a haunting scene, a captured moment in time; a moment out of all time. It is the cover of OCEAN RAIN.
OCEAN RAIN stands as the quintessential Echo and the Bunnymen album. It is darkness suffused by gentle light; arctic grandeur caressed by a soft summer breeze; the vault of eternity within the polished gleaming curve of a tortoise shell. The band reaches maturity here. As a writer, Ian McCulloch finds his focus, in the exploration of private worlds bounded by a love relationship. Most of the songs are about love, in some aspect. OCEAN RAIN creates sound landscapes of depth and dimension, with less of PORCUPINE's complexity or HEAVEN UP HERE's crash-bang combativeness. The songs are assertive and inventive, often sparsely arranged, sometimes driven by a live orchestra.
Love triumphant imbues Silver and Crystal Days with images of freedom, power and joy. Silver proclaims a paganistic Eden, a world made new by love:
"A world that's true
Through our clean eyes
Just look at you
With burning lips
You're living proof
At my fingertips"
It is a simple song, its appeal resting on the intensity and pure, plain beauty of the orchestral accompaniment. Crystal Days, with its bright, exuberant guitars and frankly jubilant vocals, adds the notion of romantic love as a means to spiritual salvation, celebrating "The pleasure of pain and joy to/Purify our misfit ways/And magnify our crystal days".
Set squarely between these two paeans to higher feeling, the complex and lovely Nocturnal Me invests a mélange of gothic imagery and sexual double-entendre with a stately and classical grandeur reminiscent of the first half of Porcupine. The visionary attitude, solemn vocal and long orchestral close manage to be both moving and a little comical.
The Yo-Yo Man conjures worlds within worlds, all of them strange. The song vibrates with nervous tension, even in a gorgeous crystalline 'music box' sequence. Sudden string interjections cut knifelike through the melody. The vocal is layered and polyphonic; the imagery ("Froze to the bone in my igloo home/Counting the days 'til the ice turns green") wonderfully outré. And the Bunnymen deliver the whole weird thing with élan and conviction.
The Yo-Yo Man's deconstructed counterpart, Thorn of Crowns, stands as the literal centerpiece of the album. Beloved by many, (for, the cynical will say, no discernable reason), it is a song one either loves or hates; either brilliant and boldly experimental or a passel of pretentious poppycock. This is an issue which must be resolved within the soul of the listener.
One of the great 19th Century poets eloquently described a 'Lady Beauty' attended by love, death, terror and mystery. The Killing Moon comes of a similar vision. Its sweeping, all-out romanticism, the darkly tense undertones and savage guitar flourishes of its melodic, almost caressing music and its richly painted images of life's sweetness shadowed by inevitable Fate, touch. the sublime.
Seven Seas, with its sunny skies and warm ocean waves, pulls back from the icy depths of eternity. Guitars chime and flow like water over wave-smoothed rocks and sandy beaches, as McCulloch sings once again of love as the key to navigating life's oceans. But lest this induce too much dreamy contemplation of "water games", the Bunnymen follow it up with an alternative-universe counterpoint. Will Sergeant's guitar soars on My Kingdom, and McCulloch throws back his head and howls like a melodic coyote. Abstruse, angry lyrics talk of many things (but not cabbages. C-c-cabbages are covered in Thorn Of Crowns.)
Moving quietly, almost imperceptibly out of the darkness, Ocean Rain builds with much restraint to become a song of transcendent power and beauty. It is a song of great sadness, but not despair; of the fragility of man, but also of his strength. It tells of a small boat sailing through vast, dark and very rough seas, sometimes "Screaming from beneath the waves". But it also offers the anodyne of refuge in human love: "Your port in my heavy storms/Harbors the blackest thoughts". It is McCulloch's finest moment, and the summation of what is best in his and the Bunnymen's work.
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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