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What's new in iJamming!...
Tue, Oct 23, 2001
ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN: "Flowers is Echo & The Bunnymen's finest hour since Ocean Rain."
An intrigue of early 90s New York nightlife.
NEW CHAPTER now online
From the Jamming! Archives:
U2 interviewed in 1984.
"It's not U2 that's creating this great art. . .There's something that works through us to create in this way."
My immediate reaction to September 11
PART 2: Messages from friends & family overseas
PART 3: Observations & quotes from others.
PART 5: COPING - 2 weeks later
iJamming! Wino/Muso:
"New world wines are just too techno for me."
Featured albums
(Hub, Slumber Party, DJ Harry, Spearhead, The Who tribute
Albums that sound different since September 11
(Charlatans UK, Arabian Travels, Cafe del Mar, Sugarcult)
Featured wine region 3:
Featured wine region 4:
iJamming! interview:
Jesse Hartman, aka LAPTOP
"Every New York band knows the meaning of failure"
MIX Albums:
Who, what and why you should bother (DB, Spooky, Jody, RSW, Bad Boy Bill)
FEATURED Wines (Langlois Cremant de Loire, Honig Sauvignon Blanc, Campbell's Muscat, Brumont Gros Manseng, Dr Frank Gewürtztraminer, Daubree CoteRotie, Dry Creek Chenin Blanc, Mas Saint Laurent Picpoul, Quivira Dry Creek)
"I don't think people realize that life can become so exciting and interesting that it can draw you away for long periods of time from creating music - & why not?"
From the Keith Moon archives:
the JEFF BECK interview .
From Homework to the Disco:
grows up and dumbs down
The iJAMMING! chat:

"If I was asked why Sniffin' Glue was so important, it was the way we conducted ourselves, the style of it, just the attitude. It had attitude in abundance didn't it?"
The Return of Shoegazing:
DOVES take New York by swarm
Forgotten Classics:
THE CHILLS: Brave Words
THE iJAMMING! Book Review:
SNIFFIN' GLUE: The Essential Punk Accessory
Musing with SALLY TAYLOR:
"I'm not interested in what the major labels have to offer."
From the JAMMING! archives: PAUL WELLER ON POP
Featured wine region 2:
From the JAMMING! archives: ALTERNATIVE TV
interviewed in 1978
Fran Healy explains why "you cannot own a song." (And why Liam Gallagher "is going to turn into a really great songwriter.")
Featured Artist Web Site:
From the JAMMING! archives: The Story That Spawned Creation
Featured vine:
Finally, a worthy rival to Chardonnay.
The iJAMMING! interview:
"Once you've had your go, what-ever it may be, they want you to piss off, and they can't bear it if you come back, they can't bear it."
They love rock'n'roll but they don't want to deal with the hassle
From the JAMMING! archives: RAYMONDE in 1985
The full iJamming! Contents
FLOWERS take root
When I discovered - at very short notice - that Echo & The Bunnymen were playing New York City this July, I decided not to attend. That I had a perfectly good reason - I was out of town - actually made it easier. Because had I been in town the night they played, I would still have had doubts about attending. The band's last album, 1999's What Are You Going To Do with Your Life? was mediocre at best. The last show of theirs I had seen, at Roseland in 1997 on their "comeback" tour, had been good - but just not good enough to maintain the faith.

Furthermore, I had not heard the new album, Flowers, on the independent label SpinArt; until its release, I had not even heard about it. I had also been entirely unaware that Rhino Records/Warner Archives was releasing a box set. I felt out of touch with a band I had once loved as much as any other, a group I had once been friends with, the band who were the subject of my first ever book . . . and I felt that maybe it was better to keep it that way. There comes a time to move on, and by finding myself so removed and unaware of Echo & The Bunnymen's activities, I had clearly, if inadvertently, arrived at it.

That same week as I felt distanced from Echo & the Bunnymen, I received, unrequested, the new New Order CD Get Ready several months up front of release. Given that I don't know New Order personally, and have rarely written about them, this was an unusual bonus - and made up in many ways for feeling neglected on the Bunnymen front. So I went out and bought Flowers, started listening to the two albums alongside each other, and began talking to friends about them both. What immediately struck me was the difference in reactions: almost total disinterest in the Bunnymen's return countered by a near sexual excitement at the prospect of New Order's come back.

How did it come to this? Back in 1979, New Order and Echo & the Bunnymen were joint figureheads of the entire post-punk movement. They were beacons for our hopes that music could do something different this time around. And both groups did their best not to let us down even as it was part of each act's charm to apparently not care. (The Bunnymen played Hebridean village halls on one tour, New Order only released 'Blue Monday' on 12".) Year in year out, they built in stature and credibility, the Bunnymen pushing rock into uncharted territory, New Order helping invent alternative dance music, each representing all that was best about northern England during a decade the region was in constant economic and political turmoil. Finally, in 1987, they co-headlined one of the first "shed" tours by "alternative" bands across the USA, viewed as a triumph of the underground and a signal that each band was on the cusp of a major commercial breakthrough.

Now one of them is on an independent label, struggling to fill venues, renew interest, gain airplay, even to sell albums; Flowers had Soundscanned a paltry 10,000 in the USA as of early September. The other remains a priority act for its major, could sell out a concert hall tour up front, and has superstar Djs queuing up to do the remixes: Get Ready will probably ship over 100,000 albums.

What went so wrong with the one band? What stayed so right with the other?

The answer is quite simple. Echo & the Bunnymen fucked with their legacy. New Order knew better.

Following four great albums in barely five years, Echo & the Bunnymen had already transcended rock's conventional boundaries in the studio, and were one of the most dynamic live bands on the planet. . . (But) when that fifth album finally came out in 1987, three years after its predecessor, the group couldn't even think of a title for it.

From left: IanMcCulloch, Pete de Freitas, Les Pattinson, Will Sergeant, 1987. Photo: Anton Corbijn

It's safe to say Echo & the Bunnymen were never the same after drummer Pete de Freitas first left in 1986. At that point, following four great albums in barely five years, Echo & the Bunnymen had already transcended rock's conventional boundaries in the studio, and were one of the most dynamic live bands on the planet. They had also made a good sum of money and were ready to take some take time off. De Freitas took that time, along with a royalty check and a bunch of friends, and headed to America with the idea of filming their collective adventures as the Sex Gods, a new rock band for which De Freitas would be guitarist. Within months, he had waved goodbye not only to a small fortune but to a large amount of his sanity. He had also left Echo & The Bunnymen.

The bond was broken. The founding trio - vocalist Ian McCulloch, guitarist Will Sergeant, bassist Les Pattinson - reluctantly decided to tour without de Freitas and started recording without him, only to have that album scrapped at the behest of their label. They accepted de Freitas back once he announced himself ready to rejoin, and then undertook re-recording their fifth album under the production auspices of Laurie Latham. But the joy had gone and it turned into a laborious and lethargic process. I know, because I was there, attempting to write the book Never Stop (a perfectly good title for the unending recording process). When that fifth album finally came out in 1987, three years after its predecessor, the group couldn't even think of a title for it. (It became the 'eponymous' album.) Their long-standing British audience immediately recognized it as a turd and dropped it like it was a hot one.

America, though, was a different story. In the States, especially in those days, if you could build a following for long enough, stay together for long enough, and keep touring long enough, it was a statistical certainty that at a certain point the pieces would all fall into place and you would break through. Echo & the Bunnymen duly broke through on that fifth album. The airplay afforded 'Lips Like Sugar' certainly played its part, but so did the group's cult reputation and their ongoing live superiority. The album moved higher and higher up the American charts for nearly a year. A gold album - the magical 500,000 sales mark - lay just on the horizon.

Not so ironically - band stories rarely resemble fairy tales - the group were coming apart at the seams even as they were finally conquering America. There were physical fights. Les was forced to wear sunglasses on stage for a few nights after catching a black eye off Mac. On one occasion, the group took to the stage two hours late after demanding their management fly in from the west coast to mediate their personal animosities. Two of the group were heavily into cocaine. All of them drank heavily. And yet every show was brilliant. The anger they felt for each other - much of it borne out of the knowledge that they had made a mediocre album - was directed into the music, and the shows were electrifying.

Further time off from each other could possibly have saved their creative soul. But we'll never know. At the end of that year's world tour in Japan in April 1988, Mac's father had a heart attack and died just before the singer's flight landed in Liverpool. Mac told me later that he felt his dad communicate with him at that very moment of departure. Ever a believer in the power of the human spirit, he took it as a sign, and soon informed the others that it was time for the group to call it a day. Echo & The Bunnymen had achieved more than they had anticipated - both creatively and commercially - but they weren't enjoying their new-found American fame, were embarrassed by their sudden British fall, and no longer liked each other much. They should end now, Mac insisted, and leave their legacy intact.

Here's what actually happened to Echo & The Bunnymen's legacy over the following decade.

1988, October. Spurred on by UK record label boss Rob Dickens, who assures the band (and appears to himself believe) that their growing American audience will stick with them whoever fronts them, then Sergeant, Pattinson and de Freitas decide to continue as Echo & The Bunnymen, but with a different singer. Rather than find someone with the critical credibility and self-confidence to take over Mac's considerable mantle, they recruit an unknown, Noel Burke.

1989. June 14: On his way to the first rehearsal of the new Bunnymen line up, Pete de Freitas is killed in a motorbike accident.

Too soon thereafter: Sergeant and Pattinson decide to continue Echo & The Bunnymen regardless. That small percentage of the Bunnymen fan base not already alienated by their decision to continue recording without McCulloch now virtually disowns them.

1989. September. Ian McCulloch releases a solo album, Candleland. Sounding much like a continuation of Echo & The Bunnymen the band (Mac was, after all, the voice) and Echo & The Bunnymen the album (surprisingly so given Mac's dissatisfaction with that work), it is moderately successful. Critically, it gets a lukewarm reception. (Personally, I still like it a lot; both the songs and production, if not the inherent Bunnymen performance, seem on a par with the last Echo album. The decision to release 'Faith & Healing,' its weakest cut, as a second single, surely contributed to its demise.)

1990: Echo & The Bunnymen, with new singer and new drummer, releases Reverberation. Critically panned, it dies an instant commercial death. A band whose first four albums were classics of the post-punk period, whose fifth album sold half a million in the States, whose last five albums had gone top 10 in the UK, are reduced overnight to the bargain bins. Live shows are disastrous, understandably so given that Burke attempts to sing the McCulloch classics. Echo & The Bunnymen, as such that they are, quickly break up again.

Above: Ian in Liverpool, August 1989. Pic: TF.

1991-92: Ian McCulloch spends far too long recording a second solo album with the same band (the Prodigal Sons, local Liverpool lads) that had toured his first one. By the time it is released, his audience has given up caring. Mysterio is received poorly and sells even worse. British shows are sparsely attended. An American tour is canceled.

1993-94: Ian McCulloch records with original Bunnymen producer, manager and all-round maverick Bill Drummond. But the demos are kept under wraps, and the collaboration abandoned. McCulloch also records with ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. An entire album mysteriously "disappears" from a courier van in transit from the studio to the London label. Conveniently, there are no back-ups.

1995: Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant examine their individual failures, consider their options, and decide to kiss and make up. They form a new band, named, for reasons never widely understood, Electrafixion. They release an album, Burned, heavily influenced by grunge. But grunge is on the way out. Burned flops.

1996: Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant examine their collective failure, consider their options, and decide to kiss and make up with Les Pattinson. They reform Echo & The Bunnymen. The cynics - myself among them - have a field day anticipating the worst.

1997: The cynics - myself among them - are all but silenced. The initial club shows (Echo & The Bunnymen at the Mercury Lounge!) are thrilling. The comeback album Evergreen is confident but not brash, a very good album if not a classic. Riding the Britpop buzz, the band scores a couple of major hits at home. In the States, they play to medium sized crowds. "Mac the Mouth" reappears in the press, spurred on by a new generation of journalists too young to have heard him spout off first time around. Even Mac knows though, that to fully make up for past embarrassments, the Bunnies need to make another solid album straight away.

1998: Les Pattinson leaves Echo & The Bunnymen. McCulloch and Sergeant recruit another bass player.

1999: Echo & The Bunnymen release the aptly-titled What Are You Going To Do With Your Life? It sounds half-hearted, uninspired. It doesn't sell. The group is ignominiously dropped from its major label record deal.

2001: Echo & the Bunnymen - i.e. Mac and Will and another trio of newly hired hands - return with a new album, Flowers. Given its independent status, and the band's recent history, few people are likely to hear it even if it's wonderful. Sadly, few people seem to think it will be.

But don't despair. Even before we get to the pleasant musical surprise that is Flowers, 2001 has also given us Crystal Days. . .


Left: The cover to the pleasant musical surprise that is Flowers,

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