Echo and the Bunnymen – Crocodiles

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I saw Echo and the Bunnymen live just once, on a reunion tour in the late 1990s (in fairness they broke up before I started to listen to them) and the enduring memory of the show is how Ian McCulloch chain-smoked through the entire thing. He used the dying end of one cigarette to light a new one, over and over again. Never never never stop. At no point during the concert did he fail to have a lit cigarette in his hand. His voice sounded okay, too, though I’m sure it was better in 1983.

What I Think of This Album

It is difficult to judge the classic-era Echo and the Bunnymen albums. The exciting debut offered a sound that the band did not consistently pursue. Sophomore effort Heaven Up Here is terrible. Porcupine provides perhaps the quintessential Bunnymen experience, but it is a little uneven. Ocean Rain has all the hits, but it’s a bit removed from the sounds of the first and third albums. The final, self-titled album is glossy and poppy, and while very enjoyable, is definitely a blander affair. In the end, there is little point to comparing the records – you just have to enjoy each on its own merits.

On Crocodiles, you can hear some of the elements of the Bunnymen’s music that would gain prominence later, but this has a much more post-punk sound than the albums that followed. And in that respect, there are songs on this album that are unlike anything they ever tried again. What it reminds me of at times is Magazine, except with career goals.  

This is a striking, thrilling, disorienting work. It swells with darkness, pulses with emotion, persists with drama, and gleams with bravado. Each member of the band is indispensable. McCulloch transcends his occasional Jim Morrison-isms to deliver confident, powerful, and moody vocals. New drummer Pete deFreitas is a revelation, dynamic and skilled. Les Pattinson pumps out simple but creative bass lines that propel the songs through the mists of despair, and his high school classmate Will Sergeant adopts a painterly approach with his guitar.

The middle third of this album is golden. My favorite song here may be “Crocodiles” – I adore the line “I can see you’ve got the blues / In your alligator shoes / Me, I’m all smiles / I got my crocodiles” – with its energetic bass line and deFreitas’s fills; McCulloch sounds like he has a sense of humor for the first time. The “I’m gonna do it tomorrow” part is perhaps too Morrison-like for comfort.

Providing strong competition for favorite track is terrifying drug tale “Villiers Terrace,” where people are rolling around on the carpet. The drumming from deFreitas is outstanding – I can’t tell if the fill at the end of each line of the verse is a bass drum or toms (though I very much hope it’s the kick). Pattinson, Sergeant, and co-producer/guest keyboardist David Balfe battle each other to see who can create the most ominous sounds. Note the “mixing up the medicine” nod to Dylan.

And the third winning song is “Rescue,” with a classic chiming intro from Sergeant and a hypnotic seesaw bass line; Sergeant again displays a ton of versatility and McCulloch amps up the drama on this track, which was the band’s second single. It’s an odd choice, being one of the longer songs at over four minutes and with no consistent melody – the song mutates multiple times.

“Pride” sounds a lot like future Bunnymen, with soaring vocals and percussion accents, as well as a dominant bass sound, and Sergeant does about five million different things with his guitar. “Monkeys” follows the same outline, though Sergeant is much more present in the mix on this one. “All That Jazz” sounds a little like a retread of “Villiers Terrace,” though in fairness Sergeant and deFreitas do amazing work (even as the drum sounds on this track are very early ‘80s). I love the “see you at the barricades” line – but on the whole, something about this song just doesn’t gel for me. 

Much of the rest of the album is, for better or worse, unique in the Bunnymen oeuvre. Opener “Going Up” is icy, foreboding, and stark, even after the rhythm section erupts into existence. McCulloch’s echoed mumblings and Sergeant’s pinging tones (as well as keyboards by Balfe) weave a web of isolation, and Pattinson and deFreitas shove you towards the cliffs. The Morrison comparisons are valid on “Stars Are Stars,” but this is what Morrison fronting a pop-smart goth band would sound like. McCulloch comes across as enigmatic and mysterious, while deFreitas hits everything very hard. Pattinson’s bass is critical and Sergeant subtly shines again. “Pictures On My Wall” is less successful, again leaning into the Doors comparisons, though deFreitas does a nice job. “Happy Death Men” is the weakest song, sounding very contrived and manufactured. All of these songs are representative of an approach that the band left behind at least by the third album.

My copy adds what it enumerates as six bonus cuts, while also tacking on the Shine So Hard live EP, providing in actuality ten extra songs. Three of the bonus cuts are demos, basically, and one is a B-side. The other two – “Do It Clean” and “Read It In Books” – were supposed to be on the album (and were included on the US version) but were left off due to concerns about obscene lyrics (of which there were none). 

“Do It Clean” is outstanding, with McCulloch sounding alternately confused and commanding. Sergeant puts on a showcase, at one point playing in a style I would accuse the Edge of stealing if I believed the Edge actually listened to music. “Read It In Books” (great title) dates back to McCulloch’s time in The Crucial Three (with Julian Cope, who later formed the Teardrop Explodes, for whom Balfe played keyboards), and it’s fine but nothing special. B-side “Simple Stuff” belongs to the “Villiers Terrace”/”All That Jazz” subgenre of which the Bunnymen were specializing in at this time; the burbling keyboard line is fairly awesome, but overall it sounds a little rough even as it’s a good song.

The Shine So Hard Ep is a fun little document. There is a lengthy live version of “Crocodiles,” with some lyrical changes and Sergeant getting flashy and McCulloch hamming it up. Benefitting from the live environment is “All That Jazz.” Plus there are live recordings of two other songs:  “Zimbo” and “Over the Wall.” The former features a martial beat but never really goes anywhere, though Sergeant makes an effort at some stark skyscraping. The powerhouse drumming from deFreitas on “Over the Wall” is the best thing about it. 

The album was produced by Bill Drummond (later of The KLF) and Balfe (together as the Chameleons, though not to be confused with the eventual band of the same name). “Rescue” was the work of Ian Broudie (also known as the Lightning Seeds).

The Best Thing About This Album

Actually, “Villier’s Terrace.”

Release Date

July, 1980

The Cover Art

Outstanding. Created by the team of photographer Brian Griffin (he did Depeche Mode’s A Broken Frame) and designer Martyn Atkins, the artfully staged shot is as foreboding as it is beautiful. The use of colored lights; the arboreal, quasi-Druidic setting; and the hyperbolically despondent and dismayed poses of the band members combine in one of the best album covers of the 1980s, if not beyond.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑