Echo and the Bunnymen are four guys from Liverpool, England who have been called one of the best rock 'n' roll bands in the world. On Ocean Rain, the Bunnymen's fourth album, they stake their claim to that title with some grandiose, dramatic music. Though a couple of the songs fall flat, Ocean Rain contains enough strong, well-arranged songs to make it a fine album, if not one of 1984's best.
Despite having the classic R 'n' R configuration of guitar, bass, drums and vocals, The Bunnymen have always fleshed out their songs with other instruments, mainly keyboards. On Ocean Rain, they use orchestral arrangements to help define and shape the songs. For example, the lead-off track, "Silver," starts with a strings-versus-guitar duet that builds with added instruments until the climax. This song sets the pace for much of Ocean Rain: a balance of hushed, quiet parts with powerful explosions highlighted by Will Sergeant's stinging guitar leads over Les Patterson's bass, Pete de Freitas' drums, the string section and Ian McCulloch's voice. There is a lot going when these songs hit their stride and usually it is highly rewarding. Cuts like "Crystal Days" and "Seven Seas" use this musical combination effectively.
There are other times when The Bunnymen try too hard. Despite their somewhat silly name, Echo and the Bunnymen are serious musicians. Sometimes, too serious. On "Nocturnal Me" and "The Yo Yo Man," it just isn't worth wading through McCulloch's tortured soul to find the songs. These songs don't connect with me because they are too down, too depressing -- there is no way out, no instrumental breaks that rescue them. Instead of being dramatic, lyrics like "Take me internally/Forever yours nocturnal me" and "I'm the yo-yo man/Always up and down" become melodramatic and ponderous. On the other hand, "Thorn of Crowns," potentially the most melodramatic song on the whole album, works because it is lifted out of the morass by Sergeant's wild guitar effects. Contrast is the name of the game here. Contrast, and always keeping the arrangements full enough that I hear something new with every listen.
It's the type of record that I wasn't sure about at first, but has grown in stature with repeated listenings. Certainly, the two best songs work like that: "The Killing Moon" seemed understated at first, like I was listening to it from a distance -- but the epic feel won me over; and "My Kingdom," which epitomizes the quiet/loud dichotomy of their music -- the way McCulloch's scream of "king-kingdom-kingdommmmmm!" falls into the guitar solo is, to me, a transcendant moment.
For the most part, Ocean Rain shows Echo and the Bunnymen at the top of their songwriting and arranging skills, and even if commercial success here in America never comes, they will do doubt be a force to be reckoned with for quite a while.
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This document HTMLized 14 August 2001
I was listening to that dog -- retreat from the sun