Liverpool. Quite a few good bands come from there. Not as many as come from Manchester, mind. But, The Beatles trump all. With a tip of the hat to the wonderful Clinic, The Coral, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The La's and Michael Head's endeavours, you'd have to say that coming in second for Scouseland were undoubtedly Echo & The Bunnymen.
The progression of their music, the ambitiousness of their songcraft, their romantic, poetic lyrics and imagery, pumped glorious life into the post punk movement over six of the 1980's best albums.
Midway through that decade, singer/lyricist Ian McCulloch, guitarist Will Sergeant, bassist Les Pattinson and drummer Pete de Freitas had conquered both the post punk underground and the pop charts in the UK and were poised to take on America, despite their music often boasting irregular content for mainstream pop, such as completely unfathomable lyrics and Eastern music influences. Their back combed hair was always going to be a problem for mainstream America too. But nevertheless, in 1984 they were embraced there, as everywhere, upon the release of one of the decade's greatest albums, “Ocean Rain”
The band have a new album out on October 5 2018 and undertake an eight day UK and Ireland tour in support. But, to celebrate 40 years of the band, Marko Kutlesa (with the help of some Scouse authorities) dug into their back catalogue to pick six of The Bunnymen's best.
When Echo & The Bunnymen released their debut album 'Crocodiles' in 1980, lovers of dark pop and post punk sounds in the UK were still smarting from the death, just a couple of months earlier, of Joy Division's singer Ian Curtis. In Echo & the Bunnymen they found not so much a replacement, but a new expression within their broad genre; more romantic, more poetic and, certainly at times more optimistic.
The album contained perennial fan favourites 'Villiers Terrance', 'The Pictures On My Wall' and 'Rescue', the latter two having previously released as singles. Despite an incredible advancement in their sound over forthcoming years and singles, it was 'Rescue' that you would still often hear as The Bunnymen track the DJ chose to play at the indie disco.
'The Cutter' 1983
Although with second album 'Heaven Up Here' (1981) The Bunnymen added further critic and fan plaudits to the ones gained for their debut, this sophomore effort failed to produce a stand out single. That changed in 1982 and 1983 with their next single releases 'The Back Of Love' and 'The Cutter', both from 'The Porcupine' album.
An Eastern string sound lead The Cutter; ambitious and indicative of why they'd been so warmly embraced by leading world music festival WOMAD just a year earlier. It reached the top 10. Dark and menacing, McCulloch was in fine form as his vocals pleaded optimistically. Like their Korova record label, it perhaps evoked images of A Clockwork Orange and at the same time was funky, in a way that perhaps only Bauhaus from those realms of music could also be.
Boom! Echo & The Bunnymen's fourth album 'Ocean Rain' (1984) was again critically acclaimed and loved by fans. The wider public loved it too and it reached number four in the album charts. But it didn't so much sound like the album listeners had been waiting for as it did the album that The Bunnymen had been waiting for.
Awash with complex, bold string arrangements, it sounded like the band had finally achieved the grand scale their ambitious songsmanship had always demanded. Ian McCulloch himself declared it 'the greatest album ever made and it kicked off with the stunning 'Silver', one of the album's three singles (it also has a lovely 12” mix).
'The Killing Moon' 1984
Of the three singles released from 'Ocean Rain', 'The Killing Moon' fared the worst. And that, folks, is why the pop charts can and should never be trusted. It's probably The Bunnymen's best song and definitely within the top five rock songs released in 1983. That rise in key to the chorus and the accompanying strings are the closest kids back then got to ecstasy, the introduction of mdma still being a couple of years away.
The best pop song from Liverpool since The Beatles, by this stage Echo & the Bunnymen had far surpassed peers from the city's scene around the Eric's club, such as The Teardrop Explodes (whose singer, Julian Cope had previously fired McCulloch from his band) and Big In Japan. It would be another decade and a half until Liverpool again produced something as grandiose and refined (from Michael Head).
'Lips Like Sugar' 1987
'Ocean Rain' would be a tough act for anyone to follow and so it was with The Bunnymen. In 1985 they instead released a compilation album 'Songs to Learn & Sing', which contained a well liked new single, 'Bring On The Dancing Horses'. But it sounded dirgeful in comparison to 'Ocean Rain', and seemed to be made in awareness of peers like Talking Heads and New Order. Perhaps its video emulated both? It distinctly felt as though someone was positioning The Bunnymen for the American market.
It worked. Their next album, 1987's Echo & The Bunnymen was their most successful in the States and its lovely single, 'Lips Like Sugar' (which was thankfully more Liverpool-sounding), their most popular there also. Gosh, Ian looks pretty in the video to this. I guess some guys just suit a bit of make up.
'People Are Strange' 1988
Ian McCulloch has always endured comparisons to Jim Morrison and indeed The Doors, along with Television, The Rolling Stones and Talking Heads, were among the bands famously covered by the Bunnymen, not least on their recorded 1985 tour of Scandinavia. So, he probably didn't mind.
But, let's get this right. Ian McCulloch is a poet. Jim Morrison was pretty and a great singer and front man. But a poet he is not. “Ride the snake to the lake”??? This guy had his “poetry” published! Can you ever imagine Ian McCulloch singing ride the snake to the lake? Master of cringeworthy lyrics Anthony Kiedis, perhaps. Ian McCulloch? I think not.
Anyway, in 1987 The Bunnymen managed to get The Doors keys man Ray Manzarek to play on their eponymous album. He also produced The Bunnymen's great cover of The Doors song 'People Are Strange', immortalised within one of that year's best movies, cult classic The Lost Boys.