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
SONGS TO LEARN AND SING
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]
SONGS TO LEARN AND SING
[Echo and the Bunnymen; 1985]
2. The Puppet
3. Do It Clean
4. A Promise
5. Back of Love
6. The Cutter
7. Never Stop
8. The Killing Moon
10. Seven Seas
11. Bring on the Dancing Horses
For those who like this sort of thing, SONGS TO LEARN AND SING is the sort of thing they will like.
'Greatest hits' albums are an inherently dicey proposition. The general notion is to provide a sampler - an introduction to the artist's work. The general result is a fairly good (if not always coherent) album, comprised of the cream skimmed from several average ones. But with artists of genuine merit, the opposite situation exists. A truly good album is crafted, not tossed together. It stands as an integral piece of work, like a narrative poem with a number of stanzas. You can't pluck stanzas from four or five poems, cobble them into one, and expect anything approaching the originals.
On the other hand, a record that brings together the stark emotionality of A Promise, the unabashed idealism of The Cutter, the madcap invention of Never Stop and the sweeping romanticism of The Killing Moon should not be sneered at.
SONGS TO LEARN AND SING consists of singles released with the first four Bunnymen albums, plus Bring on the Dancing Horses, a song which introduced many Americans to Echo and the Bunnymen via the film PRETTY IN PINK.
The best of the three non-album singles included here, 1983's Never Stop shows kinship with The Back Of Love and The Cutter, though not with the rest of PORCUPINE. Considering that it is a veritable wonderland of percussive phenomena (including an impressively resounding crash) Never Stop comes off as notably melodic (and conversely biting in its lyrics). It conjures images of demented geniuses toiling gleefully in a Rube Goldberg laboratory of sound.
The Puppet owes its inclusion in such august company not to intrinsic worth, but to its 'single' status. Its imagery, while vivid ("Rocking horse rocks/As the wallpaper peels"), seems disjointed, and its attitude ("You knew about this/With your head in your hands/All along/I was the puppet") a little whiney. Musically, there is nothing wrong with the song, but nothing emphatically 'right' with it either.
Bring on the Dancing Horses is one of those souls atremble, fraught with plaintive feeling, ephemeral beauty and so forth Bunnymen epics. But it is simply too calculated. All the lovely synthesizers, angelic harp flourishes and little tinkly bells swamp the song, transforming a wash of emotion into an emotional wash. When McCulloch sings, "Hating all the faking/And shaking while I'm breaking/Your brittle heart", the line seems regrettably apt. This is one of the few Bunnymen songs ever to sound dated -- and to sound phony.
BALLYHOO: THE BEST OF ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN (1997) includes everything on SONGS TO LEARN AND SING except The Puppet, plus Villiers Terrace, All That Jazz, Over the Wall, The Disease, People Are Strange, The Game, Lips Like Sugar and Bedbugs and Ballyhoo. It does not, unfortunately, have the gorgeous yellow-hued Anton Corbijn album cover, opting instead for a dismal gray Anton Corbijn outtake from the 1987 album photography. Perhaps the best course is to buy the BALLYHOO cd, and track down SONGS TO LEARN AND SING in its original vinyl format, along with a suitable frame.
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
Back to the top of the page