"Okay, so I've sort of argued against myself at times and given Me I'm All Smiles a cautious thumbs up. I'm confusing myself at this point. I dunno, there is something missing though… The ironic thing is some kid is going to buy this out of curiosity and love them. So why do I bother?"
Strange one this. I'm a huge Bunnymen fan, and many people who read this rag are painfully aware of this. But this recording doesn't move me as it should. Can I venture a suggestion? Rather than allowing any more off the cuff live releases, they need to take a leaf out of the books of their old (and crapper) adversaries - U2 & Simple Minds, and release a deluxe, definitive live LP - chock full of notes & pics - of a great concert, a shattering concert, a concert that proves to all the lumpen mass out there that this band were, along with New Order, the greatest, most defining and influential band of the last twenty years. On the whole the ones they have released (Live in Liverpool, and this one, Me I'm All Smiles) have just (in my very, very humble opinion) missed the boat. The one which really did capture their eighties greatness, the BBC recording of Liverpool 1987, which was utterly brilliant, (and would be shatteringly brill if it was presented with the full trimmings) probably wouldn't get backing from the band; oh I don't know, ask them not me...
Anyway; by way of introduction to Me I'm All Smiles... back in the Bad Old Days when bootleg hunting consisted of buying incredibly badly recorded tapes of your favourite band at record fairs or from dodgy shops, I once stumbled across a tape of the Bunnies in Japan (1984 fact finders) which claimed to contain versions of Ripeness and Gods Will Be Gods (neither of which I had live). I got home, put my ear to the speaker (that's how bad these recordings normally were) and was disappointed to find it was a standard, rather quiet show with no sound of Ripeness or Gods will be Gods. To paraphrase Mark E Smith I was-uh, very disappointed-uh...
That's how I feel. This recording doesn't move me as it rightfully should.
Maybe I'm spoiled.
Maybe I need to grow up.
And having said that of course, it's Echo & the Bunnymen, who are as legendary as they come. And it's the revitalised, harder edged, no-nonsense Bunnymen, fresh off the back of a mighty LP in Siberia and a clearly revitalised Mac & Will. Going Up is still spine tingling, and as for With a Hip, the sheer viciousness of that guitar run still fills me with a kind of electrified abstract dread after 20 odd years. The Heaven up Here stuff on Me I'm All Smiles is still master of its own internalised, Gnostic logic. Show of Strength and The Disease are still the decisive blue prints of the Art Rock form. And I have to say that the krautrocky keyboards really help these older songs.
As for the new stuff, In The Margins is (I have decided) their greatest song ever, better than The Killing Moon (thankfully on this recording shorn of all the asides) and streets ahead of the other torch song, Nothing Lasts Forever, in which Mac suffers from an attack of an attack of a frog in the throat, flattening the atmosphere somewhat. Scissors in the Sand is a monstrous Goth epic, its massive slabs of white noise effectively mocking any other band who attempted this genre, and on here the segue into All That Jazz is brilliant. At this point the recording really does hit its stride.
Okay, that's some of the good covered, now the less good. For starters, Dancing Horses - it always left me cold and its ponderous nature still does. It's not a live song. (Neither is Never Stop in my opinion). I never truly believe in Mac when he sings Dancing Horses... And talking of Mac, I think the subdued nature of the entire gig is down to the fact that the inter-song banter is utterly missing. Normally I hate it when he goes on too much, especially when he gets too self-congratulatory, but this total lack of a (usually) indecipherable aside (apart from a gravely growl at someone near the end) really renders parts of this gig flat. It's not the event it should be. Something made him get a cob on.
Things elsewhere are pretty good though; The Cutter is as unbalanced and life affirming as ever and the underrated single Lips like Sugar is a killer live track. Ocean Rain is still beauty incarnate and Will's guitar solo amidships is the moment when the Earth opens and (to paraphrase Iggy Pop) all misery is swallowed whole. (Oh a note; the promo copy I got called this song Ocean Road, which is sloppy and gives me an image of a pebble dashed holiday bungalow, not the stately mansion image I should be receiving. Someone sort this out please...)
Okay, so I've sort of argued against myself at times and given Me I'm All Smiles a cautious thumbs up. I'm confusing myself at this point. I dunno, there is something missing though... The ironic thing is some kid is going to buy this out of curiosity and love them. So why do I bother?
Words: Richard Foster.