I have to be careful here as I could end up sounding like a librarian, or an obsessive (which I am).
I have to be careful here as I could end up sounding like a librarian, or an obsessive (which I am). Oh well; it's only fair I review the back catalogue, especially as it's all just been re-mastered & re-issued on cd. I'm going to review the re-issues, as they have lots of extra tracks (which I shall kindly evaluate for you), saving you tracking down all that bloody rare vinyl, (or pestering me to tape it all for you). Here goes...
Sounds a bit gauche in places now, but it is still, all things considered, a bloody classic debut. It is so confident and accessible, I just wish it had a bit more oomph at times; especially Rescue (which is always better live). BUT; the songs, that voice, the thunderous drumming and bass playing, that chiming guitar.... It all comes together on the last track Happy Death Men where a truly eerie, cavernous sound is whipped up. The cd release has the flat Shine So Hard EP, plus the growly and lippy b-side of Rescue, Simple Stuff, together with Do It Clean & Read it in Books, both of which were barred from being on the album proper. Still shits on most releases today.
Heaven Up Here (1981)
In my books, their finest moment. Undeniably brilliant, epic, beautiful, monstrous, fucking hard sound-scape. With tracks like Show of Strength, With a Hip and All I Want to knock you out of your seat, you will wonder why this record isn't in everyone's collection; (and see where U2 got their "trademark" mid '80s sound from). To be critical, I suppose you could say it has its "dewy eyed youth streams of consciousness" moments, but that would be churlish. Even better the extra tracks on the CD are 4 amazing live outings from late '81, plus the excellent (long version), of Broke My Neck. You need this.
Slagged at the time, (as is the wont with rock journalists), for not living up to their own expectations, and the result of a difficult, nearly 18 month pregnancy, Porcupine stands up pretty darn well nowadays, despite the "hazy" side 2. The heavily psychedelic nature of this LP won't be to everyone's tastes but the lyrics, coupled with an epic sonic assault (the band at times sound truly thunderous); and, of course, the killer singles The Cutter and The Back of Love make this a powerful listen. The extra CD tracks are culled from the stillborn LP, (you'll be glad they did scrap it; it sounds extremely confused, wallowing around in a druggy mire), but there is the inclusion of the rare Fuel.
Ocean Rain (1984)
Total change from the last LP; lighter on its feet, more melodic, more psychotically twisted, much weirder in places; Ocean Rain has a beautiful, champagne-like swish to it. What stops it becoming all flouncy is the brittle, caustic nature of the guitar work and the incisive drums and bass. Their greatest songs are here: as well as the hits Killing Moon and Seven Seas there are less well known delights such as Crystal Day and the summation, for me, of all that was brilliant about them, Thorn of Crowns. Fantastic extra CD tracks include Angels & Devils and two stunning live performances from the "Crystal Day" in the 'pool.
Songs to Learn & Sing (1985)
A greatest hits package; run up on the back of Bring on the Dancing Horses, this has all your non-album singles; Never Stop, Dancing Horses, the (average) Puppet; a non-single single; (Do it Clean), and the usual suspects (Killing Moon, Cutter etc). As a layman's introduction to the band at their commercial peak, its hard to fault. I find it an odd listen, though, as their weird and dark side, (that makes up a great deal of the band's charm) isn't really present. Good for grazers who want to bullshit at parties I suspect.
"Echo & The Bunnymen" (1987)
Huh, they were so un-inspired, they couldn't even come up with a decent name, or a good cover. It soon got monikered the Grey Album by fans, and with good reason. As for the record itself; what a let down it was when I first put it on back in 1987. This was the period when they effectively gave up the ghost and it shows. To be fair, a listen in retrospect shows that the lyrics are really, really good and there are some classic tracks here, (The Game, one of their greatest singles IMHO, Bedbugs, Lips Like Sugar). However, the over-production makes the whole shebang really watered down. Especially when you hear unfinished B-sides like Rollercoaster, or hear the LP's original sessions. One for the completists.
Mac leaves to underachieve on his solo album Candleland, Pete, (who had effectively left anyway), was tragically killed. Will, Jake & Les soldier on with recruits Damon Reece and new singer Noel Burke. And it's just not really happening. Despite a far better cover, (believe me, this matters for Bunnyfans), and a willingness to explore their more experimental side, you have to follow Mr. McCulloch's comment when he called this Rump Parliament" "Echoes of the Bunnymen". Because you know these tracks would have been dynamite with Mac singing on them... Actually worth a listen if you can find it, as there are some snatches of former glories, but it's not something to jump up & down to. Brownie points awarded for finding the excellent singles Reverberation and Prove Me Wrong. No one bought them.
(Electrafiction) Burned (1995)
Mac & Will get together again with a loud, Stooges "inspired" collection. It has the odd tremendous moment such as the chart hit Sister Pain, a great single, Zephyr, but the rest? It just sounded like an expensive studio jam session to me.
Triumphant return with the top ten single Nothing Lasts Forever and packed with a warm softer more reflective sounding band. Highlights are the singles (including I Want to Be There..), the title track, and the last four songs. I know some people curse the fact that Will's guitar is in more reflective mood, but this is the one to buy as well as the first four. Try to find the two CD set with the best of the John Peel sessions. Classic "old style" cover, too.
What Are You Going To Do with Your Life? (1999)
I can't understand why Mac just didn't release it as a solo LP, (as Les leaves and Will goes awol for most of the recording). He was even on his own on the front cover. Apart from the brilliant Rust and Fools Like Us, its very samey and frankly, despite the harmonies, pretty tired sounding. I never listen to this album.
Actually, a quietly underrated album. Even though it does have some bloody awful moments. A weird cover balanced by a welcome regeneration to blistering form by Will. Super Mellow Man and King of Kings are big highlights.
Note: 2005's Siberia is reviewed at length elsewhere in this magazine. And a veil will be drawn over 2009's The Fountain
Live in Liverpool (2003)
Playing live of course allows a walk down memory lane, and this is an okay, occasionally fine, occasionally boring concert for the late period Bunnymen, with towering performances of Rescue, and Zimbo. Worth buying, I suppose, as the only other non-semi official live LP I know of, (which of course I have), is pretty hard to get.
1987 BBC concert "Live in Liverpool" (1991)
This showcases the classic line up in truly inspiring form. Unbelievable versions of Show of Strength, Heaven up Here, and Thorn of Crowns. Buy this if you have the chance. If you don't then I can swank and taunt you.
The semi-official Me I'm All Smiles live LP is reviewed at length elsewhere in this magazine
"Crystal Days" boxed 4 CD set (1999)
Cool if you want to discover all the nooks & crannies; fantastic notes from their publicist Mick Houghton, and caustic interviews from Mac & Will. Includes the drum machine led Pictures on my Wall & Books, a brilliant live set from the infamous 1985 tour of Sweden, unearthed Peel sessions; all the (now digitally re-mastered) nuggets. Beautiful, but bloody expensive.
Mac's Solo LPs
Candleland and Mysterio are much more traditional singer song writer based albums with little of the left field weirdness that characterized the Bunnymen's sound. Oh well, Mac did say he wants to emulate Leonard Cohen. Last years' Swing is the best so far, actually, with a more confident take on things, (he seemed lost & uncomfortable on the other two). He's going for the reflective and romantic angle at all times, so you've got to be in the mood.
Will's solo ventures
Always inspiring and different. I admit to being something of a fan, but his back catalogue is pretty impressive, starting in 1978 with Weird as Fish (just recently issued), via 1982's dense and dark art-house soundtracks "Grind" and Via Luonge. His collaborations as Bom with the Late Great Bunnymen keyboard player Jake Brockman are also great. Glide, his other venture have released 3 CDs; Glide (1997), Performance (1997), and Curvature of the Earth (2004), this last being his best so far. Has potential to become the next Conny Planck.
Illustration : Richard Foster