soundstreamsunday #86: “Ocean Rain” by Echo and the Bunnymen

echoIt’s like they couldn’t help it, all the British bands that invented themselves in the wake of the Sex Pistols.  As hard as they tried not to, they created some of the loveliest pop music one can imagine, with smarts and restraint and pretension, lots of pretension.  In their willful endeavor to be a serious, art-y band in an evolving psych-goth-pop scene, Liverpool’s Echo and the Bunnymen were not the equal of Siouxsie and the Banshees or the Cure or even Simple Minds, but they had it in them to produce one of their era’s best records in 1984’s Ocean Rain.  As unique as it is in its genre for its use of an orchestra the album nonetheless captures the period, as romantic impulses toward grand gestures infused particularly British music with a youthful, surrealistic poetry — it didn’t always work, of course, and didn’t always need to work to be successful: if you were to ask me to name an album that summed up 1984, I’d point to, among others, Ocean Rain, even as I was a teenage metalhead.  But it’s not a perfect album.  Singer Ian McCulloch’s reach as a lyricist at times exceeds his grasp, and two of the record’s tracks (“Yo Yo Man” and “Thorn of Crowns”) threaten to bring down Ocean Rain‘s otherwise glistening pop dramas and diminish the band’s full flowering.

The title track closes the album, and “Ocean Rain” is a study in building pop ballad tension across five minutes of orchestra and guitars, with McCulloch and the band finding peaks and shifting down, delivering lyrics perfect for 80s college angst.  Echo and the Bunnymen would never be this good again, but they really are so good on Ocean Rain that nothing else compares to this jeweled and flawed masterpiece.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

The Bunnymen’s METEORITES Streaming Now

echo-and-the-bunnymen-meteoritesFor some one of my age (46), it’s very hard not to trap Echo and the Bunnymen in the best memories of my youth.

From 1980 to 1984, the band produced four classic albums in a row, the best of which was HEAVEN UP HERE.  Their self-titled album of 1987 was ok, but nothing spectacular.  In 1990, with a new singer, Echo released an album that has stood the test of time rather well.  Though it’s simply not Echo and the Bunnymen, REVERBERATION is a really catchy pop-rock album with a lot of neo-psychadelia.  REVERBERATION, still, is better than anything else Echo has released post-OCEAN RAIN.

In 1997, Echo reformed with Ian McCulloch once again taking lead vocals.  Everything Echo has produced since 1997 has been unsatisfying, an Echo of an Echo with momentary flashes of brilliance.

The new album, METEORITES, slated to come out in four days, is good but not astounding.  Maybe this is simply my fault, my failure to appreciate all that is currently Echo.  I very much want the Echo of my youth–angry, hard edged, nasty, lush, claustrophobic, and angular.

METERORITES is, as I just noted, good but not astounding.  It’s a safe and nice return to the late 1980s without causing any problems and without taking any serious chances.  What saddens me, though, is that the album is on the edge of astounding.  A different producer, a different engineer, a different some one (as Rush has down with their last several albums) might have made METEORITES spectacular.

As McCulloch has recently said, METEORITES is a concept album.  And, so it seems to be.  There’s a lot of discussion of religion, especially historical religion.  I’m just not sure what it all means.  Still, Echo was always best when combining elements of hard rock and prog with pop sensibilities.

McCulloch’s voice is excellent and the same can be said of Sargeant’s guitar work.  But, again, it’s all so safe.  The bass and the drums are bland, and, thus, an essential part of Echo seems missing.

The Guardian is streaming the entire album, and you can judge for yourself before buying it.  After listening, I’ve decided not to purchase it.  I know I would only listen to it a few times, but then I would forget about it, relegating it to mere un-accessed space on my hard drive.

If you’re looking for the best of Echo, you must return to the band’s past: CROCODILES (1980); HEAVEN UP HERE (1981); PORCUPINE (1983); and OCEAN RAIN (1984).  These four albums rank as four of the best in the rock era.  Additionally, as Pete Blum has recently argued, the best modern Echo is to be found in Sergeant and Patterson’s prog band, Poltergeist.