“I think our songs sound like they’re from the future. That’s how I’ve always felt about our stuff. We’ve always aimed it to be timeless. We certainly never wanted it to sound dated; because we never used synths, really. Our music had more to do with Television or the Velvets…” – Ian McCulloch, describing the legacy of Echo & the Bunnymen.
Few Generation Zero youths know the history of these legendary Liverpudlians. Since 1984 many have argued that The Bunnymen have failed to live up to the legacy of their greatest album, Ocean Rain. (One of the highlights of my music seasoned life was seeing McCulloch and Sergeant live, as a reunited sans Pattinson, as they performed a majestic version of “Ocean Rain” at the Metro in Chicago.)
I, myself, was a fan of 2005′s Siberia which glimpsed at the splendor of Rain and was one of the best albums since their magnum opus. Now four years later, The Bunnymen have finally eclipsed the past with one foot toward the future with the help of co-producer John McLaughlin. The Fountain may sound too glossy for some die-hard Bunnymen fans but all you have to do is look to one at McCulloch’s heroes, Lou Reed, to hear the inspiration for this album. The final Velvets album to feature Reed was the underrated Loaded. Reed’s goal for his swan song was for the Velvets to create perfect pop songs, with a New York Underground flair. They succeeded. I could just as easily believe that this was the template that McCulloch and Sergeant used while recording The Fountain.
I wouldn’t call The Fountain pop but, thanks to McLaughlin, you can hear flourishes of oscillating luster throughout. Mix that with Sergeant’s furious trademark riffs and McCulloch’s vintage lyrics and legendary vocals and you have one of the most distinct sounding albums in the Bunnymen’s history. Just like Mac said, it’s timeless with odes to the past as in “The Forgotten Fields.” When McCulloch sings, “It’s behind you/ look behind you…can’t you see, what will be?” it’s the sound of the Bunnymen taking on their legacy head on. The climax of that song and Sergeant’s blistering guitar licks show how the magic of The Bunnymen is still as thunderous and magnificent as ever.
Ian and Will have never been ones to do anything half-assed musically. Look back at Electrafixion, the band they created that eventually inspired the reformation of The Bunnymen in 1997. Their lone album Burned has some of the most explosive rhythms ever set to vinyl. Some of the futuristic riffs heard on The Fountain were seeded from these electric sessions. Speaking of underrated, novices to The Bunnymen experience are urged to dig out this buried treasure to appreciate the evolution of this ever evolving Liverpuldian band.
Some may claim to hear Coldplay influences on the first single “I Think I Need It To,” and all I can say to that is open your ears fools! It’s time to end this nonsense. It’s the other way around: The Bunnymen are the ones that influenced Berryman, Buckland, Champion and Martin. Echo has the fury and eloquence that Coldplay wishes they had. I’m not a hater, I am actually a Coldplay fan, I just feel the need to stop the shenanigans and put the needle right where it belongs. The Bunnymen are icons, Coldplay are still learning and they owe a lot of their growing sound to McCulloch and Sergeant.
What you will hear on “I Think I Need It To” are some of the Electrafixion-ized riffs, with some punk zeal. McCulloch adds his trademark prosaic lyrics and classic vocal that are so addictive that I defy you not to sing “Whatever you want…Whatever you need…” cranked up on your stereo while cruising down the highway. “Do You Know How I Am” is McCulloch’s social commentary on the Hollywood celebrity starving culture. Sergeant shreds the riffs over the Echo filled drum beats and Ian’s clever lyrical barbs will resonate while you reverberate to the three minutes of this futuristic melody.
The next song “Shroud of Turin” is McCulloch’s self proclaimed `tongue-in-cheek conversation with Jesus.’ Only Mac would have the gall to write a song where he meets the son of God: “It never happens when you want it to/ it never does what it’s supposed to do.” Mac’s lyrics deal with the unpredictability faith has in our lives. The Fountain grows with the irresistible chimes of “The Life of a Thousand Crimes.” I love Will’s jangling wah wah guitar riffs over Mac’s lyrical search for salvation in the surprise of love.
My favorite song is the title track, which has a stronger personal connection to me. You see “The Fountain” is going to be the theme to my wedding. We’re going to spin this beauty right after Michelle and I say our vows, and devote our lives to each other. Sealed with a kiss, and then here comes the greatness, our life together and this glorious song. Simply, “The Fountain” is the best song The Bunnymen have recorded since “Ocean Rain.” “The Fountain” has McCulloch’s trademark water filled imagery, soaring strings, Sergeant’s guitar greatness and a sound that’s timeless, everything we’ve come to expect from these mystical Liverpuldians.
The Fountain climaxes with the very lovely “The Idolness of Gods.” In the vein of Evergreen‘s “Forgiven,” “Gods” reflects the rarely heard maturity of Ian contemplating his own future through his life as a lonesome lyrical king. When Mac sings, “Oh what now,” he’s not trying to be ironic. Nearing the twilight of his life as an artist, McCulloch and The Bunnymen are trying not to become irrelevant in this age of throw away Pop Idol fame where music often comes second to the goal of celebrity.
If The Fountain is any indication, McCulloch and Sergeant have nothing to worry about. In fact, none other than Quentin Tarantino is a devotee of The Bunnymen. The writer/director of “Inglorious Basterds” actually appeared on Jimmy Kimmel’s show because he was heart broken to miss the Ocean Rain revival shows in Los Angeles. Q.T. was actually star-struck meeting his Liverpuldian idols. Ian being his Mac self told Tarantino, “Stick us in one of your movies.” Quentin returned the favor with the highest compliment—while at the legendary Cavern Club in Liverpool he told a group of fans, “You don’t need The Beatles here…you’ve got Echo & the Bunnymen.” High praise from one genius to another. And you know Mac was thinking to himself, “damn right.”
Echo & the Bunnymen may be in the shadow of the Fab Four, but with fans like Tarantino they will never become irrelevant. Unconvinced? Take a dive inside The Fountain, one of the best albums of the year from a band bred from the Ocean Rains of Liverpool, still making waves towards the future. The voice, the guitar, the majesty is all there for you to rediscover again.
Velvet Underground – Loaded
Electrafixion – Burned
Pulp – We Love Life