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
ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN (1987)
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 & THE BUNNYMEN
[Echo and the Bunnymen; 1987]
1. The Game
2. Over You
3. Bedbugs and Ballyhoo
4. All in Your Mind
5. Bombers Bay
6. Lips Like Sugar
7. Lost and Found
8. New Direction
9. Blue Blue Ocean
11. All My Life
"Let us, with Claude [Lorraine], make a few 'ideal' alterations in this landscape. First, we will reduce the multitudinous precipices of the Apennines to four sugar-loaves. Secondly, we will remove the Alban mount, and put a large dust-heap in its stead. Next, we will knock down the greater part of the aqueducts, and leave only an arch or two …. For the purple mist and declining sun, we will substitute a bright blue sky, with round white clouds. Finally, we will get rid of the unpleasant ruins in the foreground; we will plant some handsome trees therein, we will send for some fiddlers, and get up a dance, and a picnic party."
-- John Ruskin, on the Old Masters' approach to landscape painting
This is exactly what Echo and the Bunnymen do with ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN. Jagged guitar peaks and crashing drum breakers smooth down into rolling hills and lapping waves. Dark, moody atmospheres transmute into blue, blue oceans. Epic journeys through starry skies and heavy storms have wound up at a glee club picnic. Instead of fiddlers, they bring in a carrousel. This album tidies, generalizes, prettifies, and takes the moxie out of most everything. There are no sharp lines, harsh contrasts or garish colors here. All has been muddied to a pleasing sameness, and given too many coats of nice glossy varnish. The band sounds muffled. Singer Ian McCulloch sounds both muffled and tired. These are tame Bunnies; carefully groomed angoras, not the proud, exuberant half-wild hares of better days.
They do manage a few very fine songs. Bombers Bay and All My Life share a line, imagery and the same theme, looked at from different perspectives. Haunting, evocative, poignant and gently resonant, they stand tall in the Bunnymen canon. The Game breezes along with an easygoing melodic chime. McCulloch nonchalantly mixes clichés ("Spring has sprung") and good lyrics, including a nicely metaphysical metaphor involving the world and the game of life. The energetically saucy Bedbugs and Ballyhoo percolates happily through nonsensical chatter about bumbling bees and rumbling thunder. The band actually seem to be enjoying themselves, which happens rarely on this album.
But sometimes things get altogether too pleasant. Lips Like Sugar, a strongly-written and well-crafted piece of work, renders a tale of la belle dame sans merci with the complacent grace of a summer's afternoon on the river, with nary a whitewater rapid nor a murky tarn in sight. Lost and Found opens upon a fine gothic moment:
"I was standing in a graveyard
Under silver studded skies
In a forest burning ashes
On the bonfires of our lives"
but suffers from lackluster, sing-song vocals, a sprightly melody and various bright little tinkly things.
All in Your Mind takes on religious hypocrisy and the Jimmy Bakkers of the world. But despite scathing lyrics ("All you thieving wheeler-dealers in the healing zone") and Will Sergeant's blistering guitar, what ought to spark and flash with outrage damps down from overproduction. And not even Sergeant's singeing, all-out guitar barrages can crash throw the persistent perkiness of New Direction.
Satellite has some good guitar and percussive bits, and sounds throughout as if it is about to become interesting, but it never gains any traction. Poor lyrics don't help. Blue Blue Ocean, for all its richly textured fullness and nicely panoramic imagery ("Silhouettes and a vulture hoping/He's gonna pick the bones of you and me"), sinks under an inane chorus. And Over You is a fiercely melodic bit of silliness which, judging by the lyrics, aspires to be serious.
All that said, ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN is not a bad album. Like Claude Lorraine's landscapes, it possesses clear merits. It is pretty, and intelligently made and it gives pleasure. But it needs a good scrubbing with a turpentined cloth, a little less 'beauty', and a little more 'truth'.
NOTE: ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN is the last album with the original four band members. Ian McCulloch left the group in 1988. He and Will Sergeant resumed working together in 1994, and Echo and the Bunnymen reformed in 1996. But a key player was forever lost; Pete de Freitas died in a motorcycle accident in 1989.
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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