The Album List: #74 Echo and the Bunnymen “Ocean Rain”

My devotion to 80s British music that is not Duran Duran and Wham! should now be obvious ( though to be clear, I love Duran Duran and Wham! as well. “Rio”? “Club Tropicana”? Anyone? ANYONE?).  The pockets of music spread out over the land that spawned my mother’s family was diverse and compelling. There were definitive scenes with unique sounds. What came out of London didn’t sound like what was coming out of Manchester. And then there was Liverpool.

Oh, yes. Liverpool. The home of the greatest single band in the history of humanity. The Beatles.

Yeah, they were all screwed right from the get go.

These bands were fantastic- the Teardrop Explodes are grossly neglected, in my opinion, even if Julian Cope is completely mental now. Frankie Goes To Hollywood were also from Liverpool, grandiose disco provocateurs they were and I admit, one of my favourite bands of the 80s, even if their album work doesn’t get them on this list. “Two Tribes” is a fantastic song, and one that has lyrically aged well, even if the music sounds very 80s. Other 80s acts from Liverpool that made an impact include the Icicle Works ( “Birds Fly (A Whisper to a Scream”); A Flock of Seagulls ( “I Ran” , an appallingly bad song that somehow everyone loves);  and Dead Or Alive ( “You Spin Me Round”, Pete Burn’s pus infected lip job); the La’s ( who didn’t become well know until the early 90s release of their only record, but were central in the scene since the mid 80s). These are bands with heavy dance influences, even Teardrop Explodes, who’s magnificent masterpiece “Reward” is an explosion of Stax horns over a post-punk beat, creating the true dance classic of 1981.

Echo and the Bunnymen sound NOTHING like any of these bands.

There was a brief moment in music history, a mere six weeks, in which Julian Cope ( Teardrop), Pete Wylie ( Wah!), and Ian McCulloch were a band. They achieved nothing in those six weeks as a band, but their mere existence is legend. McCulloch was ultimately the commercial and critical winner of these three- the other two lack the numbers of Echo and the Bunnymen, not only in sales but in sheer influence and timelessness. Echo still rings as powerful thirty years on.

1984’s Ocean Rain is an exquisite album. It doesn’t have “The Cutter” or “Bring On the Dancing Horses” , the band’s best songs, but it’s their best collection by far. the album does however contain the band’s most beloved song, “The Killing Moon”, which gained a new audience when it was used so brilliantly in the 2001 film Donnie Darko ( a much better choice than the original track Richard Kelly wanted to use, by the way). It’s characteristically 80s- it feels like a John Hughes movie mope track. But it’s so much more- moody and melodic, with the key line “Fate up against your will” being repeated as the dream girl leaves him to go off to be brutalized by someone else, and he helplessly sits and watches fate take her away forever.

Contrast the dated sounds of “The Killing Moon” to the acoustic intro and more organic sounding “Seven Seas”, a song that seems the antithesis to “The Killing Moon”, as there seems a hope that isn’t in the other track, and a search for something new in the world seems to be the main theme of this lovely song. “Glad to see my face among them” McCulloch sings with a wisp of nostalgia.

I never like “Silver” as much as other people, as it just sounds the same as “Seven Seas” without the lyrical impact. As the album opener, it did give an idea of the musical sound scape the band was trying to impart on us as listeners, but the better tracks are buried in the last half of the album- the angry lyrics and bash of the guitars and drums that populate “My Kingdom”; the slow and sad title track which closes out the set; the nonsensical rage of “Thorn of Crowns”.  It’s an album that builds to a moment, that moment being the famed “The Killing Moon”. But it’s a grand album, filled with references to moons and seas, death and revival. It’s brilliant for what it is- a relic of a decade and a town that has struggled to gain respect in music.


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