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]
1. Feel My Pulse
2. Sister Pain
7. Too Far Gone
9. Who's Been Sleeping in My Head?
10. Hit by Something
11. Bed of Nails
Spirit, mind and body: the three aspects of man. Echo and the Bunnymen generally go for the first two: they have raised vast aural cathedrals under star-studded skies; explored subterranean caverns glowing with dark, true color; built pretty rooms in songs opening onto warm blue oceans. BURNED is of the body. As Electrafixion, Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant offer a burning bed of nails beneath a hot-wired crucifix; a throbbing, bursting heart; Pompeii engulfed in thick-falling, fiery ash. The Bunnymen sing of fragile human souls screaming beneath the heavy waves of life; Electrafixion tell of raw flesh screaming beneath hot lava. This is bone and gristle and sinew; sinking pulses and "bad blood" and being split right in two.. The lyrics are starkly painful, sometimes shouted more than sung, and often swathed in noise like bandages. BURNED looks into darkness, not "without shrinking", as a great writer once specified great art should do. There is plenty of "shrinking" here - and some cowering and agonized moaning as well. And yet, beneath the seething, roaring, spuming mist, lie songs of considerable depth and beauty. It is this conjunction of Pompeii and Vesuvius that gives BURNED its power..
Feel My Pulse, with its talk of pulses and desires, its frankly salacious, sneering vocal and its thunderous, unsubtle ambiance, makes clear from the git-go that this is not a Bunnymen album. But then comes the surprisingly buoyant Sister Pain. Bunnymen swirl and shimmer bubble up like an evanescent spring in the midst of grungy waters. Even the ominously ambiguous "shoot, shoot, shoot shoot … can I be forgiven?" chorus sounds almost sprightly. The melodic Lowdown also receives only a light coating of ash, flowing along like a swift-moving river, opening out into glistening eddies and pools of sound and finally trickling off into a last, faint whirlpool. Its lively energy plays against its none-too-cheerful sentiments.
Sergeant's guitar wails like firebells in the night on Timebomb, amid layers of fuzz and growl and boom. McCulloch shouts out some of the album's most poignant lyrics ("I wish that I could/Go back where I came") over a complex and very pretty (if loud) melody. Self-confident and assertive (and the only 'upbeat' number in sight), Zephyr roars along with the exhilarating speed of an express train. McCulloch exhorts the stokers to greater efforts with some good advice:
" Don't look to the crowd
Aim above and out beyond
Leave the common ground
You never wanted to belong".
Never gleefully works serious black magic, conjuring the flames of Hell with an all-out heavy noise barrage over a strong tribal beat. Sergeant's guitar slithers through like a cobra. Too Far Gone comes flying out of the eerie darkness of space, a burning meteor that pulls everything relentlessly in its wake. This tale of a plunge toward a bottomless abyss includes one of McCulloch's most beautiful - and, conversely, bleakest - images:
Love the way they burn inside your eyes
From here to the end
Burning up the cold and lonely sky"
An almost hoarse McCulloch bawls his Mirrorball lyrics over great rolling waves of sound. And in the midst of it all, a gorgeous wisp of a gentle tune blooms for a brief moment. The Nirvana-inspired Who's Been Sleeping in My Head?, despite its revved up (and deeped-down) musical effects, practically has a sing-along chorus. Hit by Something is indeed a blow to the senses - 'stunning', in the literal meaning of the word. It opens with a crash/blam, and provides many more along the way. But even here, another of those sweet little melodies pokes up like a determined crocus amid screaming guitars, booming drums and God knows what else.
The guitars on Bed of Nails manage to growl and chime simultaneously while McCulloch throws out a mélange of metaphors involving the dodgy sleeping-couch of the title, turning tables, tangled spider webs and "dark and hollow rain". It is bravura. And though BURNED may be down in the mud, one can still look up at the stars.
NOTE: A discussion of BURNED should include the Lowdown single, which contains Electrafixion's finest work - two of the best songs Ian McCulloch has yet written. Somberly beautiful, The Holy Grail and Land of the Dying Sun explore the same theme - the purpose of a human life - in different ways. The Holy Grail, didactic, even moralizing, counsels courage and fortitude against the inevitable: "Slay the dragons if they're asking/For what you've always known". Land of the Dying Sun offers no remedies, no hopeful admonitions; only a searing journey into the depths of despair and a strange, dark splendor. That these two remarkable songs are relegated to the b-side of a little-known single constitutes one of life's small injustices.
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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