Echo & the Bunnymen
A simple pleasure of enjoying a favorite band’s “come back” effort is feeling a sense of connection to that group’s history. It’s what some people call nostalgia. I can remember playing Echo & the Bunnymen’s Crocodiles on my college radio show as a new release, and I was fortunate see the band play live many times back when they could sell out arenas. Maybe you had to be there to understand that, at one time, these guys — along with New Order and The Cure — stood at the vanguard of what would eventually become the now meaningless genre of “alternative” rock music. That said, it seems unreasonable to imagine that historians of Echo & the Bunnymen, meaning any fan who lived through and loved the group’s vintage period (Crocodiles, Porcupines, Heaven Up Here, and to a lesser extent, the band’s “commercial” breakthrough, Ocean Rain) would fail to celebrate the release of Flowers as a spectacular offering from a band who arguably rate as one of the most important post-punk rock bands of the past two decades.
As the band’s ninth album, Flowers makes a faithful contribution to the powerful legacy of Echo & the Bunnymen, as founding members, vocalist Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sargeant, are joined by bassist Alex Gleave, keyboardist Ceri James, and drummer Vinny Jamieson, whose sublime performance pays reverent homage to original drummer Pete DeFrietas, who died in 1989. With the ballads up front, and a few vibrant anthems shaking up the album’s second half before a final lullaby takes the listener gently back to earth, Flowers is cloaked in a paisley patterned blanket of heavily opiated guitar pop ecstasy. Over the various mood swings — sometimes exhilarating, often wistful, but never maudlin — we are presented with passion and beauty that is uncommon to music made in the past ten years.
The Doors were always the most obvious of McCulloch’s influences, and Jim Morrison’s specter presides over the first track, “King of Kings.” McCulloch’s detached vocals (think: male version of Hope Sandoval) continually hint he might nod out at any moment, and Sargeant’s swirly guitars, augmented by unexpected keyboard flourishes, lend an understated elegance and sophistication. With an extended atmospheric bridge, the song seems to ebb and fade out before creeping back in for another chorus.
Elsewhere, it’s fun to spot the various muses that creep into McCulloch work. “Supermellowman” feels like mid-’80s Siouxsie, with vivid lyrical imagery (“As life came without warning/Your destiny will come too late“) set against another bed of circular guitar patterns. It’s here that the gifted vocalist does his best Bono imitation with a recitation of the final lyric, “kiss the ground.”
“Buried Alive” is “Sweet Jane” with a Thorazine beat, the title cut is vintage Clapton-esque blues rock, but “Everybody Knows” is most like classic Echo, recalling anthems like “Do It Clean” and “Villiers Terrace” from Crocodiles .
“Make Me Shine” stands out as a straight-up love song, complete with punctuating breathy sighs, that floats in on a signature guitar riff borrowed the from the Stones’ “As Tears Go By.” It’s a simple sentiment, but one that avoids falling back on languid doot-de-doots before it fully explains itself. The best song on the album is also the first single. “It’s Alright” — a near clinic on verse-chorus-bridge-verse arrangement — should filter through your brain leaving plenty of hook residue. The chorus alone — a powerful salvation outcry with love (“somebody loves you”) as the buoy of hope thrown to the drowning man — is so sweet, you can’t wait for it to come back around. This is great songwriting.
Flowers is pretty close to being Echo’s Achtung Baby. Will Sargeant and Ian McCulloch have written a love letter to their fans that’s one of the best albums of the year so far.
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