The album also has a rejuvenated feel to it, and as such, doesn't half give me the feeling that it closely resembles Crocodiles in spirit.
Right. Before you read this review, it is necessary to understand one thing. I adore Echo & the Bunnymen, and have adored them for a good twenty years. I followed them religiously through barren stretches of the Wasteland is known as the 1980s. That decade is now wholly enveloped in a rosy-tinted mist by all who don't remember it, but believe me long stretches of it were unendurably shit. Especially if you lived in Accrington.
I have every record they ever made, most of them bought on the day of release. I spent my teens walking around, ridiculous as it may seem, in full combat clothing and spent most of the winter months wearing the clothes they wore on the front of the Porcupine album cover. I wanted to be Will Sergeant. I probably looked like I was insane, or on the run from an establishment, (and certainly my mother worried) but I didn't give a toss. To me, the Bunnymen were the epitome of everything that era wasn't; cool, surly, supremely individual in their outlook and possessors of an inner belief that was so obviously lacking in all the other bands who sold their souls to the Bizz. And the records were great. Dark, brooding, mystical and quite druggy, (though my thirteen year old mind didn't really clock that), they were a kind of throwback to the sixties - a decade that was widely derided in the eighties I'll have you know. You could say Echo & the Bunnymen records were utterly at odds with a lot of music produced at the time. The singles were quite shocking in their un-poppiness and other-worldliness. The Cutter was like nothing I'd heard, especially that opening sitar riff. Gawwd, played next to Wham and Culture Club, it sent shivers down my spine. And the things they did, playing the Albert Hall, having a mini festival in Liverpool - the famous Crystal Day - taking a year off at the height of their powers; doing all the things bands weren't supposed to do. I loved them all the more for it.
I have given you this little diatribe just to let you, the reader, know that I think I know what I'm talking about when it comes to reviewing Siberia. And I won't beat about the bush in this review (though I will wax lyrical). It's brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. It's the best since Ocean Rain. Better than Evergreen. Consistent, lush, dramatic, imbued with the old, dark, dramatic Bunnymen spirit, tons of weird, snappy guitars, great powerful drumming, loads of references to past records (and I am sure that this is a deliberate ploy), and fab, yearning, older 'n wiser lyrics.
I'm telling you, it's bloody fab, bob-on and far out.
The album also has a rejuvenated feel to it, and as such, doesn't half give me the feeling that it closely resembles Crocodiles in spirit. Maybe it answers all of Crocodiles' youthful questions. I don't know, maybe I'm just theorising, but certainly that old bolshiness has come back.
The opener and single, Stormy Weather is a classic Bunnymen song, with the balance of Mac's wistful lyrics and Will bruising guitar solo perfectly poised. It's a perfect opener, and has, despite the wistful nature of the track, a spring in its step (as do all the numbers on Siberia). And if you thought Stormy Weather was good... All Because Of You is better. A beautiful repetitive chorus, Ruby Tuesday shamelessly, brazenly Bunnified; the song endlessly swirls round with fabulous chiming guitar giving the song a crystalline quality. I'd have had this as the single, to be honest, but, hell, who cares? It is a brilliant song. Parthenon Drive is the first track where you really get a feeling that this album is a statement of intent by the band; there are obvious references to earlier songs, (Dancing Horses, an Over the Wall-esque bass line, the tail out drum machine pattern sounds like that on Fuel). The song's theme also revisits old territory. In a way, Parthenon Drive is a kind of a continuation to all the family observations posed on Crocodiles' Pride. Musically it is a fabulous, never-ending psychedelic groove that just keeps building on the same hooks, and blessed with a great, Happy Death Men style tail out.
And if you thought Parthenon Drive was good... In The Margins is just a classic Bunnymen torch song, re-iterating the old, cooler-than-thou, "biggest cults on earth" message. It's full of Baroque flourishes and crashing, repeat choruses, and Mac's voice just soars at times, almost of old. Of A Life is possibly my favourite track on this album, a growling, strummy start - like Lips Like Sugar it has to be said – soon blossoms out into a brilliant, crashing, guitar-led canter. Will's guitar is just so powerful on Of A Life, summoning up echoes of Porcupine's restless, driving sound. I can't stop playing it. The next track, Make Us Blind, is underpinned by a fairground synth melody, conjuring up a feeling not too dissimilar to Antelope. It's quite wistful but with a grumbling undertone (doubtless Mr. Sergeant's doing), always stops the track becoming cloying or too sentimental. Everything Kills You is the most wistful and downbeat track on the album. Not to say it's bad, oh no, far from it. In the old days though, you would suspect, there would be a lot more fire and brimstone. In this new mood of reconciliation and reappraisal that has taken over Mac, he seems generous and humble in his appraisals. And that seems to have affected the music in that now we have a beautiful cascading lament with Mac's almost soothing, reassuring vocals. Uncle Mac indeed.
Four tracks to go...
You know what? I was thinking the other night.
These last four tracks on Siberia could stand alone as an instruction to other bands on how to be imaginative and flexible, yet remain within a strong musical framework that is undeniably your own.
The title track, Siberia picks up the shuffling rhythm of Bedbugs & Ballyhoo and warps it into a fabulously glacial tour de force, with crashing guitars and wonderful changes of mood and pace. Sideways Eight is a lovely hook-laden pop song with the most outrageous, uncompromising blasts of guitar noises created by Will. It is such a fabulous riposte to Mac's jaunty pop and never fails to cheer me up. Scissors in the Sand is an absolute masterpiece, and if they don't play this live then the band will miss a trick, that's for sure. Musically it's very much akin to those fabulous Nothing Lasts for Ever b-sides such as Watchtower and Colour Me In (both of which should have gone onto Evergreen). It's a dark and brooding Bunnymen blast in the best tradition with a great break-down in the centre. The rhythm section on this track is immense, thunderous. What If We Are? continues the "quiet last song" convention that seems to prevail with Bunnymen lps. It's a cracker too. The music has a affirmatory feel here - despite the rather bleak lyrics – and that is no doubt due to Will's guitar break; a wonderful counterpoint that seems to lift the mood up a level or two. Mac's voice fades to a whisper and then it's all over.
Fantastic. As a new release? Album of the month. No competition.