It’s been over two months since that last ICA, which represents as big a gap as there has ever been in all the years the series has been running. I’ve a couple of efforts in the pipeline, but I’m genuinely delighted that it is returning with a very welcome guest posting from Echorich, offering up some thoughts, views and opinions on the band from who he has taken his nom de plume.
Here he is, with an absolute belter of an offering.
Let me start by making a confession. I am a coward. I am a coward when it comes to Echo And The Bunnymen – the only band that mattered and still matters, to me. The reason I proclaim myself a coward is that I could never have written an ICA of The Bunnymen from their “Imperial Period.” I wouldn’t have just second guessed myself, which I have on most every ICA I have contributed, but third, fourth and fifth guessed my choices, at the least. I am too close to the work of their first four, uncompromising albums. Crocodiles awakened me. Heaven Up Here stirred my being. I am Porcupine’s great defender. Ocean Rain is imbedded deep in my Soul.
Coming down from the lofty heights of Ocean Rain, was a filled with wrong turns and tumbling. The “Grey Album” saw the band searching for a direction, looking for one more path that might lead them to their deserved success and a way to keep things together. But the cracks were too deep and the choices made weren’t the right choices. Pete DeFreitas was gone, then back, but not really there for that last album, and then Ian McCulloch made the decision to leave.
After a decade of the band trying to continue without The Mouth, solo albums, the death of DeFreitas, Les Pattison becoming a ship builder and then McCulloch and Will Sergeant burying the hatchet and recording together again as Electrafixion, Les was brought back into the equation and McCulloch gave in to a return to being Echo And The Bunnymen.
The now 25 years since these three remaining Bunnymen decided to return to the studio as a unit and record has seen some highs – critically, some lows – musically and a body of work that has pretty much doubled what came before it. They have bowled over critics on their return, made a dubious World Cup song with The Spice Girls, experimented with different producers and plowed a path all their own from album to album. Without Pete to anchor the sound, but with an intelligent understanding that the past is the past, Echo And The Bunnymen, for me have acquitted themselves well and at times with touches of brilliance during their reformation.
It is this Echo And The Bunnymen that I want to put focus to here. Since reforming/recording in 1996/97, The Bunnymen have released 6 studio albums and a combined 15 proper singles and EPs. At the core of Echo And The Bunnymen in reformation are McCulloch and Sergeant. Les Pattison was involved in the initial recordings of Evergreen’s follow up, What Are You Going To Do With Your Life?, but only appears on the final track Fools Like Us as he once again felt a music career was no longer for him and he wanted to focus on the health of his ailing mother. Ever since, the rhythm section of Echo And The Bunnymen has been a somewhat revolving door. But throughout the years, recording sessions and many tours, The Bunnymen have managed to release some still vital, as well as mature music that has added to their legacy.
1. Scratch The Past – Bonus Track from Japanese release of Flowers, 2001
The Bunnymen released Flowers, co-produced with Pete Coleman who is a staple of the Liverpool Post Punk scene, most notably as a producer for Icicle Works and Wah!, in 2001. The album is a bit of a love letter to 60s Psychedelia, with songs that reference The Velvet Underground and even some early Pink Floyd/Syd Barrett sounds. It’s a bit of a tradition to add bonus tracks to the Japanese releases of albums and Flowers has Mable Towers and the final track Scratch The Past. Scratch The Past has a bit of a boogie and is a mid-tempo Rocker. Sergeant seems in a state of joy with pedal effects and switching guitars to layer the sound. Ceri James adds some electric piano and hammond organ to play up the idea of being from the past. McCulloch’s lyrics have a bit of fun with some Rock Jockism but it’s just cover for a track that’s more about attempting to recapture the magic of the past.
2. Hurracaine – Nothing Lasts Forever B-Side 1997.
Nothing Lasts Forever was released in a few different formats, including a 2 CD Single set with different B-SIdes on each. Hurracaine (not sure how the atrocious spelling got past everyone) Is like bridge between the old and the new for me. It opens like a track I might have expected post Ocean Rain but pre Grey Album. In fact, it could have easily sat on the B-Side of Bring On The Dancing Horses nicely. Will’s liquid guitar sound is on full display, sounding like it’s bobbing up and down in the waves of the sea. There’s a distinct Doors-y quality to the track with some fantastic keyboards from Adam Peters. Ian is in full voice and presence though the track.
3. Altamont – Evergreen – 1997
Altamont, for me, is one of the real stand out track on Evergreen. There is just enough reference to their past in the music, but there’s a feel of being current and accomplished, of the moment that runs throughout the track. I remember thinking that Noel Gallagher wished he could create such melody and chaos as Will does towards the end of Altamont.
4. An Eternity Turns – Flowers – 2001
An Eternity Turns is a bit of Terrace Anthem – Bunnymen style. You can’t help joining in on the chorus, it’s infectious. The track also manages to capture some of the live magic that the band have always been able to capture, taking a track on a sort of road trip from start to finish. As the track build to the ending, it goes off the rails as only a Bunnymen song can before it lands hard.
5. Lovers On The Run – Meteorites – 2014
Youth was behind the desk for Echo And The Bunnymen’s most recent album of new material, Meteorites. He has become a very sympathetic producer for artists that were his contemporaries in the 80s. Meteorites is a bit of dark and dense album, but it’s full of challenging, confident songs. Lovers On The Run was the pre-release “single.” I’m not really sure it existed as a single except as a promo really. It is a typical Wall of Bunnymen sound, with Ian’s aging vocal assisted with a good deal of echo, and Will somehow finding it possible to play numerous guitars for songs and make it all sound easy.
6. Watchtower – Nothing Lasts Forever B-Side – 1997
Of all The Bunnymen songs released since they “returned,” Nothing Lasts Forever is seen, pretty unanimously as their best. It, for me, is certainly a special song, but it doesn’t even rate in my top 20 Echo And The Bunnymen tracks. What I feel is important about the song, is the quality of the tracks chosen as B-sides for the various formats that were released.
Watchtower is a big track. There are things about it that bring me back to the latter part of The Bunnymen Mach 1. It has a power and confidence in sound and performance that is just effortless. They even managed to get Mike Lee to try his hand at jazz drums – a nod to the fact that Ian, Will and Les knew the track would have just killed if Pete had played on it.
7. Scissors In The Sand – Siberia – 2005
Hugh Jones behind the boards once again and Will and Ian sounding fully realized once again. Scissors In The Sand is built from the same DNA as Heaven Up Here, Over The Wall, All My Colours (Zimbo). Ian sneers though the lyrics with that knowing presence of old. All the while Jones’ production doesn’t attempt to transport them back 25 years, but he give Mac and Will the opportunity to dig deep inside themselves and reveal what’s never really ever gone away.
8. November – Think I Need It Too B-Side – 2009
Recorded during sessions for The Bunnymen’s 2009 album The Fountain. It’s an album I struggle with sometimes because I hear a clear attempt at mainstream radio play in a few of the songs. November accompanies the lead off single and sound miles more like a Bunnymen song that the A-side. It reminds me more of the sound Ian and Will were going after as Electrafixion. The opening bass and guitar set the stage and as the curtain draws, we are treated to a true rarity of female singers sychopated vocalizing. The layers of guitar buzz and saw through the track. Ian has a mature swagger in his vocal attack. Truly satisfying stuff.
9. Too Young To Kneel – Evergreen – 1997
Evergreen is an album full of fantastic songs played by artists who knew they had found the flint to make a real spark for a second time. The Bunnymen were always Post Punk’s “Psychedelicists”, it’s Doorsian troubadours, it’s Garage Punk fan boys. Too Young To Kneel celebrates all of that and brings it full circle for two men who were now on brink of 40. WIll’s guitar is a clash of liquid and buzz saw. Ian sings as an ageless troubadour full of questions for his audience and not at all worried about supplying any of the answers. Also one of my favorite lines from Ian – “…I heard they found Death on Mars.”
10. Get In The Car – What Are You Going To Do With Your Life – 1999
The Bunnymen’s return was just that, a return, not a “reforming.” The chemistry to make music was easy to distill once again. Evergreen was the proof of that. 1999’s follow up What Are You Going To Do With Your Life was, maybe, just a bit less immediate, less finding the spark as much as maintaining the flame. Over all the album filled with song that reflect the artists’ age and experiences. In fact the album only include one fairly upbeat track in Lost On You. I feel its a beautiful album filled with pathos and logos, while not losing any of the Bunnymen’s ethos.
Get In The Car is, for me, the albums most intimate and revealing song. Featuring contribution from Fun Lovin’ Criminals, there is also an important contribution of English Horn that sets the tone and feel for the track from it’s opening notes. This is The Bunnymen’s road song, their trip down a Route 66 of the mind, a look back through the side view mirror as the motor forward. There’s a cheeky use of the ‘na-na, na, na, na’ as heard on Nothing Last Forever but this time it’s a Fun Lovin’ Criminal and not the not so fun loving Liam Gallagher behind it.