Tuesday, June 9, 2009
E - Echo & the Bunnymen - "Crocodiles"
[Vyvyan throws the Molotov cocktail into Rick's bedroom, which explodes]
Rick: Oh, well, how ruddy considerate, Vyvyan. Thank you very much!
Vyvyan: Why aren't you dead?
Rick: I'm not prepared to discuss it with you, Vyvyan. You will be hearing from my solicitors in the morning. I'm going to write to my MP.
Neil: You haven't got an MP, Rick. You're an anarchist.
Rick: Oh. Well, then I shall write to the lead singer of Echo and the Bunnymen!
- The Young Ones, episode “Sick”, 1984.
I must admit that, despite owning 4 of the records and a greatest hits compilation, my musical knowledge of Liverpool’s Echo & the Bunnymen is limited to “Lips Like Sugar” & “The Killing Moon”. They were a band that I always planned to get around to, but never seemed to find the time. Well, they’re next on the list, so there’s no getting around it now.
One of the challenges that emerged on the music scene following the advent of punk was the re-definition of “guitar hero”. Part of the nature of rock and roll, all the way back to Scotty Moore backing up Elvis, was that the electric guitar would be one of, if not THE, hallmark of the genre. Yeah, the vocalist would always get at minimum 50% of the attention, but there needed to be that other guy (I’m not being mysoginistic, there weren’t that many guitar goddesses in the 50’s & 60’s) who would step forward during the break and strut his stuff. After Eric Clapton stepped out from the Yardbirds, almost every band was expected to have a virtuoso guitar player that was just as, if not more, important than the vocalist. Unfortunately within that format, while such amazing players as Hendrix, Peter Green, and Mike Bloomfield had the opportunity to develop and advance on their already excellent technique, you had guitar players who really did not have the expertise, feel, or talent to have such a spotlight shone on them “stretching out” for far longer than needed. This led to wank-fests where the 10-20 minute guitar solo became the norm at rock concerts, sometimes on record (holy moses, Canned Heat’s “Living the Blues”, a 2 record studio set, has a 40 MINUTE VERSION of something called “Refried Boogie”; and that’s AFTER a 19 minute thing called “Parthenogenesis” – NOT GOOD.)
Punk was intended both as a return to the initial simplicity of rock and roll and a condemnation of the bloated monster it had become (I’m looking at YOU, YES! You, too, Jethro Tull – PUT THE FLUTE DOWN!!!) But how different was punk from, say, early rockabilly? Outside of the obvious production developments and more mature subject matter, musically it was, as described by the Dictators, faster and louder, but the format remained the same. Without a doubt, Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and Mick Jones of the Clash were, at heart, stereotypical guitar heroes, albeit without as much wankery. But beneath the substratus of punk lurked a new brand of guitar players who weren’t much interested in keeping up with the Joneses. These players used their instruments for more atmosphere than attention, often getting away from the distorted roar that had become a cliché even within punk’s initial years. Players like John McGeoch of Magazine & the Banshees, Bernard Sumner of Joy Division, & the Edge of U2 utilized a more dry, choppy sound to accent SONGS rather than draw attention to the SOLOS.
Will Sergeant of Echo & the Bunnymen is also one of these new guitar heros. On this first record by the band, he plays just as vital a role as vocalist Ian McCulloch (which says a lot, as Ian was one of the more powerful SINGERS in post-punk Britain.) Throughout the album, Will provides colorful commentary with his ringing phrases, letting Ian and bassist Les Pattinson carry the melodies. It’s nice to have guitar playing catch your ear on a rock album in this rather unconventional manner: he’s not soloing to the skies, building up to some kind of guitar orgasm. Sometimes it’s what he’s NOT playing that grabs you; other times the timing of his interjections give Ian’s already emotive singing even more UUMPH. He’s good – he’s DAMN good. Johnny Marr of the Smiths must’ve LOVED this guy.
I’ve already mentioned how good the vocals are; for a debut, they’re already very mature. The rhythm section (Les & drummer Pete DeFreitas) sound very Joy Division influenced and are solid. The songs are well written, with side two perversely being MUCH better than side one (except for the so-so closer “Happy Death Men”, which is the only song that Will cuts loose in. That said, it’s only for about a minute.) Some of the songs betray a mid-60’s swinging London influence filtered through a late 70’s attitude (“Going Up”, “Villiers Terrace”), and “Do It Clean”, “Rescue”, and “Read it in Books” are extremely catchy rockin’ classics. The sound is raw but professional.
VERDICT: this is a very good album, and I look forward to hearing the other records once I get through all the other E’s.
VIDEO: from the classic new wave film “URGH: a Music War” – this song is not on the album, but was released as a single shortly after “Crocodiles” release.)