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What's new in iJamming!...
Wed, Jun 19, 2002
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

Continued from Part 1.

The four-CD box set Crystal Days was compiled for Rhino by Andy Zax, a well-connected fan unhappy at the group's fallen reputation and the unavailability of many tracks on CD. By concentrating on all that was best about the band (crucially skipping the years 1989-1996), he has gone a large way to restore the Bunnymen legacy. Let's be honest, as we grow older then sometimes we need a jolt to be reminded of a band's magic. I had listened little to the Bunnymen's catalogue this past five years, but for the first few weeks after receiving Crystal Days, I did little else. It's thrilling stuff, and though it doesn't come cheap - $50 in the States - I recommend it as essential listening for any fan of creative, ambitious rock music - and guarantee Bunnymen fans that there's enough here previously unreleased or unavailable on CD to thoroughly justify the investment.

Crystal Days is sensibly chronological, opening with an early demo of 'Monkeys'; the first single, 'The Pictures on My Wall' and 'Read It In Books'; and then a John Peel session version of 'Villiers Terrace.' All four were recorded with the original Echo (the drum machine), and all are astoundingly confident declarations of intent from a period where it seemed as if everybody and his cousin was making music and it was all too easy to get lost in the shuffle. The rest of the first CD presents recognized band versions of so many classics it's hard to believe they were recorded in barely a one-year span. Were Echo & the Bunnymen really just coming out of their teens when they recorded 'Rescue,' 'Simple Stuff,' and 'All That Jazz' for their precocious debut album Crocodiles. . .? When they found time to write and record 'The Puppet' and 'Do It Clean' (initially relegated to a b side!) shortly thereafter. . . ? And then ran off to the Welsh hills to record such beauties as 'A Promise,' 'Over The Wall,' and 'All My Colours' for the gloriously drunken second album Heaven Up Here
. . .? Yes they were and aren't we glad to be reminded of it?

The second Crystal Days CD celebrates the band's truly golden period, when critical acclaim and commercial success came hand in hand. Though the album Porcupine was problematic to record and patchy as a whole, its best songs are among the best the Bunnymen would ever offer up: 'The Back Of Love' and 'The Cutter' (of course), but also 'Clay' and 'Heads Will Roll.' The single 'Never Stop' came between albums. Always one of my favorites, it maintains Porcupine's aggression, offers a clear hint of the band's desire to experiment further with strings, and its front cover had a picture of the Royal Albert Hall, which the Bunnymen played twice the week of release.

Were Echo & the Bunnymen really just coming out of their teens when they recorded 'Rescue,' 'Simple Stuff,' and 'All That Jazz' for their precocious debut album Crocodiles. . .? When they found time to write and record 'The Puppet' and 'Do It Clean' shortly thereafter. . . ? And then ran off to the Welsh hills to record such beauties as 'A Promise,' 'Over The Wall,' and 'All My Colours' for the gloriously drunken second album Heaven Up Here. . .? Yes they were and aren't we glad to be reminded of it?

Right: a young Echo & The Bunnymen. Pic: Andy Catlin.

As Mick Houghton rightly points out in his copious sleeve notes (which pay way too much attention to the words of Bunnymen reviewers, though then again, Houghton is a publicist), back in 1983 rock bands no longer played the Albert Hall. The Bunnymen rose to the occasion: the show I saw there was nothing less than one of the best rock performances I've seen in my life. Echo & the Bunnymen were out of the recording doldrums, at a live peak. The audience was fanatical. McCulloch, already a pop star, was on his way to becoming a rock god, supremely confident in his ad libbing, his shimmying and shaying, and his willingness to take that voice into territory other singers couldn't dream of. Sergeant and Pattinson epitomized cool, the former whipping out eastern-tinged guitar riffs like he was born with them, the latter delivering melodic bass runs as casually as if he'd picked them up on the way to the gig; de Freitas played alongside them at stage front, a pillar of restrained intensity. A night that opened with an organ recital concluded with string players taking to the stage in ever-increasing numbers until the set crescendoed to a dazzling finale with 'Do It Clean.'. It was a show to treasure for eternity.

(Later, when writing Never Stop, lighting designer Bill Butt loaned me a videotape of those Royal Albert Hall shows; I in turn loaned it to Pete de Freitas, and never saw it again. Now I just wish someone would unearth the master and release it on videocassette/DVD. It would serve every bit as much testimony to Echo & The Bunnymen's greatness as any box set.)

Following those shows, the Bunnymen went on to record Ocean Rain in Paris with a full orchestra. That fourth LP was released with an advertising tag proclaiming it "The Greatest Album Ever Made" and I don't disagree. Suitably then, six of its nine songs are included here (two of them, the singles 'The Killing Moon' and 'Silver' in more obscure extended mix mode), and while it would perhaps have been appropriate to end this second box set CD with the title track 'Ocean Rain,' arguably McCulloch's finest hour, Zax sees out the glory days with the Bunnymen's rendition of fellow Liverpudlian heroes the Beatles' 'All You Need Is Love' from their Play At Home TV special - which itself revolved around the band's local cafe, Brian's Diner. The Bunnymen were that type of band.

These first two CDs on the Crystal Days box set span just five years and the three hours of music they offer up are as good as anything you will hear. That the third CD spans fifteen years and is decidedly irregular gives you an idea of just how pear-shaped it all went. There are moments of greatness - 'Bring on the Dancing Horses,' 'The Game' and 'Lips Like Sugar' were each great pop singles; 'Rollercoaster' and 'Over Your Shoulder' were classic b-sides from a band that excelled at them. 'Satisfaction' is a song I remember from the abandoned fifth album sessions with Gil Norton at Amazon in Liverpool and always thought had merit. And a couple of the numbers from the late nineties "comeback" are better than most bands could ever come up with in a lifetime. But then most bands are not Echo & the Bunnymen, and as CD3 tapers away with 'Rust' and 'Hurracaine' from the disappointing 1999 release, it's all too easy to lose interest.

The last CD is reserved for the fans, as should be the case on a box set. At their peak, Echo & the Bunnymen toured continually, often with a curious or comical set of motives. In 1985, the group headed off to Sweden to play their fave covers, tapes of which have long been around on bootleg. Now they make it to official CD, with raw versions of Dylan's 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue,' the Stones' 'Paint It Black,' the Doors' 'Soul Kitchen,' and the Velvet Underground's 'Run, Run, Run.' We also have the historical performance of 'Zimbo (All My Colours)' with the Royal Burundi Drummers from the Womad festival in 1982. There are early versions of 'The Cutter' and 'Heads Will Roll' and, I am glad to see, the original, b-side version of 'Bedbugs and Ballyhoo', which makes up for the cloyingly commercial re recorded rendition that epitomized all that was wrong with the fifth Bunnymen album. The CD, and the box set, ends with Echo & the Bunnymen at their absolute peak, from those Royal Albert Hall shows in 1983, performing Lou Reed's 'Heroin' and closing out, as they always tended to, with a lengthy, fiery, 'Do It Clean. '

What a legacy. And thanks to Zax and Rhino for restoring it. But in turn, what a weight for the Bunnymen to carry as they came back to us, so ignominiously this spring, with Flowers. What could a band reduced to its founding duo, each the far side of 40, coming off an all-time commercial and creative low, and stuck on a small indie, possibly have to offer?

Well, surprising though it may be to hear, but Flowers is Echo & The Bunnymen's finest hour since Ocean Rain. I repeat, Flowers is Echo & The Bunnymen's finest hour since Ocean Rain. . .

You didn't expect that, did you? I didn't either. And it might not be immediately apparent should you decide to go buy it on this recommendation. For, as with many a good underground rock album, Flowers takes some warming to. In other words there's no 'Cutter' here, no 'Lips Like Sugar,' no 'Silver' or 'The Killing Moon,' in other words nothing that shouts "classic" on first listen. The tempo is mid-paced and restrained throughout, as befitting R.E.M. On an unhurried day, and without major label budgets, the recordings are simplistic and pure, acoustic guitars forming a solid foundation over which Will Sergeant, in especially fine form, adds all manner of enticing electric arrangements. The rhythm section rightly stays in the background - no blustery attempts at de Freitas like paradiddles from Vincent Jamieson, no Pattinson-like melodic runs from Ceri James. As for Ian McCulloch, a decade or more of cocaine abuse has clearly taken its toll - we no longer hear the operatic shrills that rendered 'Heaven Up Here,' 'My Kingdom' and others so impressive - but in its middle-aged mellowness, it remains reassuringly distinct.

And Mac's lyrics have suddenly become painfully reflective, almost maudlin in their admission of defeat. It's easy to read too much into a songwriter's state of mind, but Mac was always one to sing about himself and his sense of purpose, and the somber mood surrounding Flowers is too consistent to be mere coincidence.

Take the opening song. It's entitled 'King of Kings' in what initially appears to be a typically grandiose comeback statement, but Mac quickly turns the pronouncement on its head, confessing to "wearing broken wings, I've lost my crown." On the subsequent 'SuperMellowMan' the singer notes that he has "Never felt so lost and lonely." 'Hide and Seek' contains the plea, "Help me get my feet back on the ground." There's a brief moment of happiness with a lover on 'Make Me Shine', but 'It's Alright' indicates that it's not -"Wished I'd never said what I said," - after which the beautifully melodic 'Buried Alive' finds a middle-aged Mac knocking at death's door, admitting "I don't wanna believe that life is just to die."

Mac onstage in Fuji. From the Bunnymen web site.

On 'Flowers,' you get the feeling Mac is so far under the waves that he's drowning in his own self-pity. But in admitting to it, and especially given Will's deftly and sparsely delivered guitar lines, he's offered up Echo and the Bunnymen's greatest spiritual in seventeen years.

Then comes the title track 'Flowers,' on which the mood dips yet lower, the backing strips away to ballad level, and Mac toasts his failures like a drunkard at last call. "Here's to all the things we'll never, here's to all we could have done." Then Will Sergeant's guitar lines spiral upwards, tucking in sweetly behind the chorus, and Mac makes one final reach for the fortissimo that used to come so easily, as he really pours it out: "I, as it came undone, knew that I'd lost everything, everything I'd won."

In some ways, 'Flowers' can be seen as a counterpart to the song 'Ocean Rain,' of which Flaming Lips singing Wayne Coyne in an introduction to the box set rightly isolates Mac's final, operatic line "Screaming from beneath the waves," as "proof that the inner struggle, though unwinnable, is the only fight worth fighting." Except that on 'Flowers,' Mac is no longer screaming, and you get the feeling he's so far under the waves that he's drowning in his own self-pity. But in admitting to it, and especially given Will's deftly and sparsely delivered guitar lines, he's offered up Echo and the Bunnymen's greatest spiritual in seventeen years.

Flowers the album could get no more maudlin after 'Flowers' the song, and it doesn't attempt to. Though the lyrics remain full of self-doubt ("How do you stop yourself from falling apart and going under?" "Down the river my life flows, took another wrong turning,") and arrangements remain simple, the beat picks up considerably. The piercing guitar line on 'Everybody Knows' recalls 'My Kingdom'; the intro to 'Life Goes On' heads back to 'Day Tripper'-era Beatles; and that to 'An Eternity Burns' further back still, to surf-style garage bands. Flowers ends with 'Burn For Me,' an overly-conscious attempt at a closing ballad, the final lyrics "One night, your sea will melt into my ocean" reminiscent of a former album's final statement. But it's no 'Ocean Rain' and to my mind, the title track 'Flowers' fulfills its duty so much better. 'Burn For Me' is actually the album's only weak moment, but coming so late in proceedings, it doesn't matter. They've already made their point.

No, it's not still available, and short of e-bay or second hand book stores I couldn't tell you where to get it: Never Stop, my biography of Echo & The Bunnymen written with the band's full co-operation in 1986, published late 1987 by Omnibus Press.

Who thought they had it in them? Backs against the wall, budgets reduced, a palpable sense that nobody might be listening, Mac and Will dug deep into their souls and made a great album. I could quibble that certain songs would have benefitted from grander production - particularly the three attempts to rock out towards the album's conclusion - but that same sparcity works in favor of the more down-tempo tracks. I could complain that Mac's voice is not what it was - again, especially on the uptempo numbers - but then, whose is? And I could complain that this band is only half of Echo & The Bunnymen, but then, we all already know that. The one thing I can not complain about is that they have messed further with the legacy. As Crystal Days clarifies, Echo & The Bunnymen can never again expect to blossom like they did in the eighties, but Flowers plants more durable seeds for the future than we had any right to expect. Evergreen? Just possibly.

Tony Fletcher, September-October 2001

Echo & The Bunnymen will be touring the USA again in November with The Psychedelic Furs, another group whose core members have come back together and appear to have gained a new lease of life. I was asked to write the sleeve notes for the Furs' new live album and the re-issues of the first three studio albums. I will be posting the full transcript of my lengthy interview with Richard Butler here in the very near future.

Further surfing:
Echo & The Bunnymen official web site
Will Sergeant's Glide
Spin Art Records
Cooking Vinyl Records
Rhino Records

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