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]
[Ian McCulloch solo; 1989]
1. The Flickering Wall
2. The White Hotel
3. Proud to Fall
4. The Cape
6. Horse's Head
7. Faith and Healing
8. I Know You Well
9. In Bloom
10. Start Again
Some things are worth keeping. Because they are - simply - beautiful; because they are timeless and universal; or because they carry particular meanings for us as individuals. And so we hold them by us, sometimes physically, sometimes in the keepsake box of memory. These are the things we have picked up along the way, and that we turn to again and again - for pleasure, and, when needful, for comfort.
I have avoided first-person narration in these reviews because I think it leads to self-serving blather (in my case, anyway). But I want to speak directly here, because - along with the memory of a certain painting I journeyed far to see, a couple of novels and some lines of poetry, CANDLELAND gives me strength. In SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY, one of the characters advises us to "Memorize some bit of verse of truth or beauty./It may serve a turn in your life." In our times, record albums may do likewise.
I was in my mid-thirties when CANDLELAND came out, and curating happily away in a local museum. I had no particular need for emotional balm. The album appealed to me then for its beauty: beauty as fragile and ephemeral and full of quiet depths as a perfectly painted twilight. I loved the hope amid despair theme of The Flickering Wall, its vibrant, chunky guitar and its notion that seeing "the gods up in the sky" is a wondrous thing, even if it doesn't last. I had actually read D. M Thomas's remarkable novel THE WHITE HOTEL before I heard Ian McCulloch's song. He captures it: the lake, the train station, the sense of "life apart from destination", the "letters of persecution" - and the powerful, life-affirming spirit.
The music in Proud to Fall rises and swells and meanders in fine Bunnymen fashion. And despite the song's tale of moral and emotional disaster, McCulloch sounds like a voice from the undefeated. The Cape navigates a tricky course over dangerous ground ("past the cape of all temptation") with perky determination and some of McCulloch's best vocals.
The fairy-tale delicacy and lullaby tones of Candleland give the title track a simple and magical reality; you just have to believe in it in order to go there. Certain lines:
"I walked back inside me
I'd gone back for my youth
As I came down the fire escape
It must have stayed up on the roof"
have come to hold considerable meaning for me these past few years. And I love the evocative imagery in Horse's Head
"Found a scroll
And ancient bones
A million ghosts
Were all around"
But the hyperkinetic Faith and Healing suffers from sheer busyness, as McCulloch sings resolutely through assaults from all directions by assorted racket. This is the only song on CANDLELAND which sounds truly dated to me.
I Know You Well swirls and sways to a richly-stringed waltz melody as McCulloch croons resonantly of silver dollars and holiness and blood spilling. You can create your own motion picture of the mind. Muscular and enveloping, In Bloom simply catches you up and takes you with it. McCulloch delivers a vivid montage of images, as concise and sharply cut as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. (For me, they bring back strong memories of the Vietnam War, though I doubt that is what McCulloch had in mind when he wrote it). Start Again, with a metronome-thump like a distant heartbeat, delicately plucked guitar and strings and almost whispered lyrics, somehow coalesces into the most powerful song on the album.
CANDLELAND speaks not only of loss, but of what remains; not only of memory, but of the power of what one has seen; not only of endings but of starting again. It is less about fighting bravely on than simple resilience.
Over the summer of 2001, I lost most of my eyesight. Going blind doesn't rank all that high in the list of calamities which can and do befall people every day. But I lack the serenity of a John Milton, and it gave me an over-all sick feeling which I finally recognized as fear. CANDLELAND was one of the things which made me feel better. It is part of the reason I am back at the computer - a little dented, a little daunted, but still here. And it, more than any of the other albums on this page, is the reason I have pecked all this out, one click at a time with an on-screen keyboard.
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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