**FAR** Better Indie/Alternative Acid Rock Than The Purists
S. Nyland | Six Feet Of Earth & All That It Contains | 03/26/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"First off, I've had this CD since the week it was released, an acquaintance who works at a record store flipped me a promo copy because nobody else who worked there wanted it. That is because they were FOOLS and bought into the conventional wisdom which stated that Echo & the Bunnymen without Ian McCulloch was not Echo & the Bunnymen. Their loss, my eternal gain: From the first instance I played this CD it earned a place of respect even if I really had no idea what was going on here.
I had heard of Echo & the Bunnymen during the 80s when some of their cuts turned up on post-punk compilation records (anyone remember "Life in the European Theater"?) but to my credit or shame was unable to distinguish between the voice of McCulloch and surrogate Echo, Noel Burke. I also had no idea the drummer had died in a motorcycle accident, that the keyboard player was more of a hired gun who had augmented their live sound and been a session guest in the past, and could have given a rat's rear end that McCulloch's solo work from this period was where the "purists" leant their approval. After playing it for a few people I was informed that the record was "bogus", that it represented a "sell out" and that I was "stupid" for liking it. People ...
This is a FABULOUS collection of alternative pop songs tinged with a not so subtle psychedelic flavor that was quite the rage at the time thanks to the explosion of Manchester pop/punk pre-rave music headlined by Happy Mondays, The Farm, New Fast Automatic Daffodils, Stone Roses, etc. It was danceable punk lite that you listened to while you were tripping, essentially, and unlike some of the garbled babblings of Sean Ryder or the trite simplicity of The Farm, there is actual substance to these songs. Even with oblique stream of consciousness lyrical content that perhaps defies specific discreet meaning -- the only song I have figured out the meaning of to this day is "King of Your Castle", which believe it or not is a party song about domestic abuse. Go figure.
The rest of it is pleasingly open to interpretation, mood or temperment, and while the musical structure is unrelated to their work the lyrical content is actually quite reminscent of art rock demigods Yes: Imagine "Starship Trooper" as a new wave song and that's more or less what's going on here. The lyrics paint verbal pictures, with the selection of individual phrases that are evocative over specific content -- "Strawberry Feilds Forever" or "Penny Lane", with lots of reverb twanging guitars (VERY accurately titled album here), upbeat drumming that never gets overbearing, a pulsating bass that always contributes rather than distracts, all of it floating on top of a wafting sea of mellotron passages, channel switching phase shifts, flange effects, echos and washes of strings, Eastern culture instruments, tabla drums, feedback loops, and half-whispered backing choruses welling up out of nowhere. It's one of the most universally appealingly psychedelic albums of the 1990s, bettered perhaps only by Happy Mondays' "Pills and Thrills and Bellyaches" only because of that album's somewhat more sophisticated use of dance rhythms.
And now in retrospect, 17 years later, it actually holds up better, resisting some of the cliches of club rock that Happy Mondays made part of their schtick. This is very much an alternative rock album by comparison, tinged by lyrics of wistful introspection ("Gone, Gone, Gone"), searches for personal identity ("Enlightened"), social observation ("Freaks Dwell") and social critique ("King of Your Castle"), admonishments againts personal apathy ("Devilment", always my favorite track) and commentary on the aloof impersonal nature of pop culture ("Thick Skinned World"), relationships gone amiss (the marvelous "Cut and Dried"), peans to mis-spent youths ("Flaming Red") and all of it climaxing -- on CD, at any rate -- with the bone chilling anthem "False Goodbyes" which never fails to raise goosebumps on the skin of anyone who's perhaps seen a few too many friendships go by the wayside over nothing.
To tell the truth I am not a real huge fan of Echo & the Bunnymen's more well-known work. Stuff like "Sugar Kisses" always rubbed me the wrong way, and one of the things that makes this collection of work so remarkable is that none of the songs ever got much radio play, no doubt in part due to industry indifference over having anyone but McCulloch as the focus of the band's presentation. All I can say is that such was an unfair conclusion and this remains one of the great unheard albums of the pre-alternative club rock era, when anything other than AOR friendly stuff like Led Zeppelin or The Doors could be considered "alternative" or indie rock.
The preferred way to experience it at the time was to eat a tab of doseage, pick up a six-pack and head for the studio for a session of repeat play feuled painting or drawing. The nature of the album always seemed to bring out a kind of cheerful introspectiveness that loaned itself quite readily to the creative process. Never becoming overbearing and filled with memorable quotes that defied some coehsive, arbitrary meaning. Now that I'm hitting 40 and perhaps more inclined towards sobriety the one thing that strikes me the most hearing it again after 15 years or so is how well it all held up: It wasn't just "fad" music, a criticism justifiably heaped on the Manchester raver rock scene that now comes off sounding so silly.
Here by comparison is a statement about culture, identity, social consciousness and artistic invention that has managed to stay fresh & insightful for nearly two decades. It was way ahead of it's time: Easy listening acid rock for the alternative indie sect, a genuine sleeper mini masterpeice that deserves to be heard again. And again."
B. Martin | Milwaukee, WI | 12/26/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Don't get me wrong, the original lineup of Echo and the Bunnymen was about as good as its gets up through "Ocean Rain". I have no idea what Ian McCulloch was thinking when he split for a solo career after the "Grey Album"; maybe he thought he was bigger than the rest of the band, maybe it was hard to stay with the others because of all the internal friction (usually created in the press, due to his mouth). But what did he expect the other three guys to do, simply wither away?
I know a lot of EatB fans say, "'Reverberation' is a good album, but they really shouldn't have kept the name." That's a pretty laughable comment these days, considering that EatB still exists, but only contains two original members, Ian and Wil Sargeant. The lineup that recorded "Reverberation" was Wil Sargeant, Les Pattinson, Jake Brockman (who, for all intents and purposes WAS a Bunnyman, seeing as he had played keyboards for the band on albums and on the road for years), Noel Burke (a singer who had previously been in St. Vitus Dance), and Damon Reece (who has since gone on to hit the skins for Spiritualized). So Echo and the Bunnymen Mark II had just as many, if not more, true Bunnymen compared to the current lineup. They deserve the name and don't diminish it.
"Reverberation" is an awesome album. It has the playfulness that was sorely missing from the Grey Album. Wil and Les lay down the guitars and bass that have always been the backbone of the Echo sound (the absence of Les' bass is SO noticeable on "Flowers"). Noel can turn a phrase just as well as Ian without being a jackass in the press (Mr. Burke, by the way, went on to teach grade school, while McCulloch ruined his voice with cigarettes).
Star power at the helm must mean something, though, because "Reverberation" flopped in sales and the band was dropped by its label. EatBII did go on to record two more singles, "Prove Me Wrong" and "Inside Me, Inside You", both of which are quite good. Reece and Brockman recorded an instrumental album under the name BOM. How did McCulloch do? Well, his two solo albums sold pretty well, but it wasn't long before he came calling on Wil to form Electrafixion, then Les to reform Echo (Les left after one good album, "Evergreen", and one single, initially to take care of a dying mother but permanently because of McCulloch's overbearing ways).
Get this album. You won't be disappointed. It's Echo and the Bunnymen acting carefree all over again, having a fun time. Wil cuts loose on guitar, just like the old days. Is EatB MkII as good as the original lineup from 1979-1984? I won't go that far, but they kick the snot outta the EatB from 1997 to today."