Monday, April 28, 2014
Sweet Tooth Jukebox: Echo and the Bunnymen
You guys, it's time once again to explore the musical touchstones of my award-not-winning new book Sweet Tooth, the gay diabetic memoir you've always wanted yet didn't really understand why. Up next: Liverpool's Echo and the Bunnymen. Now, truth be told, I probably would have fallen in love with these boys even if they didn't sound like mad romantic post-punk love fraggles. Reason #1: singer Ian McCulloch's hair. Reason #2: Ian McCulloch's lips. Reason #3: I just like the word "bunnymen." And reason #4: the hella handsome blonde rhythm section of Les Pattinson and Pete de Freitas. I mean, look at them. It's just... gah.
But the fact is, these attributes, however important and arousing, were just window dressing for some of the most exhilarating, operatic, and punchy music to come out of post-punk England. Echo and the Bunnymen's debut album Crocodiles is a classic, bursting with angular new wave classics like "Rescue"and, on the US version, "Do It Clean." The follow-up, Heaven Up Here, explored an icier pallet, with McColloch's sombre lyrical playfulness and the band's dramatic arrangements meshing to arrive at something more epic, yet just as raw. But it was on their third record Porcupine that they really justified their existence. From the swirling, mathematically precise strings on "The Cutter" to the staccato guitar and bouncy bass of "Back of Love" to the ode to Shakespeare contemporary John Webster (and the misnaming of one of his most famous tragedies, The Duchess of Malfi, which McColloch for some reason renders as "The Duchess of Malfior") on "My White Devil," through to the swaggering closer "In Bluer Skies," Porcupine is a frigid masterpiece.
And just when you figured they'd reached their high watermark, here came 1984's Ocean Rain, the quintessential Bunnymen album, with all the drama, spleen, and hooks of its predecessor, but with that ineffable, hard-to-pin-down, "I-don't-know-what" (as the French say) that pushed it into the official shortlist of desert island albums.
Did I listen to this album over and over while lying on my bed with my black light on? Would you even believe me if I said "no"?
Up next was the 1985 singles collection Songs to Learn and Sing, which featured one of their most swoon-worthy tracks, "Bring on the Dancing Horses." Also featured on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, this song spontaneously got high school boys and girls across the land pregnant, constantly.
You know what else did? The band's 1987 single "Lips Like Sugar." This track was from their self-titled album from the same year, on which the band incorporated lots and lots of crystalline keyboards. In my opinion, it's always a good idea to incorporate lots of crystalline keyboards, so this album made me a furiously happy fop.
Of course, all lead singers with giant pillow lips eventually wants to go solo, so Ian McCulloch left the band after this album to embark on a fully unremarkable solo career. Also, very sadly, drummer Pete de Frietas was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1989. Bizarrely, the band continued with a new drummer and singer, releasing the actually not embarrassing album Reverberation in 1990. Still, it wasn't the Bunnymen.
After a few years of other projects, the three original surviving Bunnymen regrouped in 1997 and released Evergreen, a solid, melodic collection that saw them settling very nicely into middle age. They've put out an album every few years ever since and continue to tour. And as it happens, they've got a new one called Meteorites coming out later this month.
Of course, the Bunnymen's dancing horses have long since returned to the stable to play canasta, and anyway it's Echo and the Bunnymen Version 1.0 that really matters. You can't be beautiful forever in this cruel world, but you can on YouTube, so let's sit on the floor, turn on the black light, and soak in "The Killing Moon" while teasing our hair into a fright wig in honor of Ian and his bunny boys.