Echo and the Bunnymen – Echo and the Bunnymen

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Ian McCulloch left the band for a solo career after this album, and the other three very unwisely chose to continue with a new vocalist. While that fiasco was unfolding, drummer Pete deFreitas died in a motorcycle accident. The resulting album, with no McCulloch or deFreitas (but with future Spiritualized drummer (and partner of Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins) Damon Reece), tanked and then the band was no more. McCulloch eventually regrouped with Will Sergeant in Electrafixion and then the two revived the Bunnymen name, roping Les Pattinson in on bass for reunion album Evergreen. Pattinson bailed after that and the other two have continued since then. Some of those albums are pretty good (Evergreen and What Are You Going to Do With Your Life?), but nothing compares to the classic era.

What I Think of This Album

So much about this is so different from what the band gave us before. Even the change in cover art speaks to it, as does the album title. Indeed, the band finally provides the Doors pastiche they were always accused of flirting with, giving in to the rumor instead of playing with it. Overall, this album feels like a concession to public tastes, and as mainstream bids go, it’s excellent – melodic and lushly produced. Much of the mystery and mood is watered down, though, and McCulloch delivers his most straightforward set of lyrics ever, while also dialing back the dramatic delivery that he so liberally employed previously. If you listen to this without any knowledge of the Bunnymen, then it’s easy to love. It’s only in context of the albums that came before that the disappointment starts to seep in.

You know what? There is not a single bad song on here. Everything is appealing and it all sounds great. Producer Laurie Latham (who has worked with Squeeze and Ian Dury & the Blockheads) does a fantastic job of adding tasteful sheen. Due to the heavy reliance on keyboards (instead of strings this time), the album sounds less adventurous and more contemporary, which is also true of the songwriting.

“The Game” reins in drummer Pete deFreitas, and Les Pattinson’s bass is not well represented in the mix, but Will Sergeant’s guitars are excellent and the keyboards do the rest of the heavy lifting. Much the same can be said of “Over You.” On these tracks, McCulloch is almost subdued (he does dial it up a little on “Over You”), a shadow of his former, angst-wracked self. The melodies, though, are impeccable. A good portion of the album follows this basic blueprint. “Bombers Bay” piles on the atmosphere, with an almost-dancey feel, which is definitely present on the sparkling “Lips Like Sugar.” Sergeant’s reverby guitar is very cool and McCulloch croons seductively on what ended up being a sizable hit. There is an undeniable appeal to “Lost and Found,” even as it sounds very much like “The Game,” “Over You,” and “Bombers Bay.” 

The one song that manages to break free of its shiny mold is “All My Life,” which while not being representative of the Bunnymen, is still a moving, stirring ballad. Notably, this is one of the few times that the keyboards sound like strings instead of keyboards. Anyway, McCulloch kills it with a quiet, rich, and resonant vocal, and the melody is stellar.

Three songs are standouts. “All In Your Mind” goes a long way towards recapturing the old Bunnymen sound, with Sergeant offering some welcome weird guitar sounds (including sweet dive bombs later in the song) and deFreitas hitting almost as hard as he did on Crocodiles. Pattinson gets a meaty bass part and McCulloch spits out lyrics with intensity and a sense of danger. This is probably my favorite song on the album. “New Direction” also hearkens back to the glory days, with a choppy guitar, percussion accents as well as energetic drumming, and a passionate McCulloch vocal. And a notch below these sits “Satellite,” which rocks very credibly (deFreitas does an excellent job) and McCulloch cuts loose. 

“Blue Blue Ocean” sounds like another attempt to get back to basics, but it’s less successful. Whether the band was trying too hard or somehow the seams showed no matter what, this song never becomes what it clearly was intended to be.

I hate the Doors, and so I have trouble with “Bedbugs and Ballyhoo,” which goes so far into homage as to feature Ray Manzarek on keyboards. The lyrics are notably ridiculous. But for the first time on the album, Pattinson gets a prominent role and deFreitas gets a little funky. I don’t hate it, but I can’t listen to it a lot.

There are seven bonus tracks on my version. The most notable is the noisy “Over Your Shoulder,” which uncharacteristically traffics in white noise and primitive drumming. “Hole In the Holey” is simply a different version of “Over You.” There is an early version of “Bring On the Dancing Horses” as well as a dance remix of the same. There is an unfortunate Doors cover (“Soul Kitchen”) and the original version of “Bedbugs and Ballyhoo,” which sounds much cooler minus Manzarek’s nonsense. An acoustic version of “The Game” is actually superior to the album version. The liner notes indicate that New Order’s Stephen Morris might have been the drummer on “Soul Kitchen.”

Gil Norton was involved in engineering, mixing, and production.

The Best Thing About This Album

“All In Your Mind,” for being a reminder of how special this band was.

Release Date

July, 1987

The Cover Art

Obviously an Anton Corbijn pic. I much prefer the photo on the back cover, which would have been much more enigmatic and also funny. As it is, this is okay but nothing special. I do like the grey tones. The font is excellent; not sure why “The” is capitalized.

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