I don’t want to run, I don’t want to hide / I just want a kiss goodnight, say goodnight one last time.
Echo and the Bunnymen have gone through quite a bit over twenty-seven years. Having started out as a band very big into the Doors, Television and the Velvet Underground, backed by a drum machine, they quickly progressed into a force unto themselves. The drum machine, which spawned the name of the band, was replaced by Pete DeFreitas who died in an accident just after the band split up for the first time. They reached massive heights in their native U.K., but were relegated to cult status in the states. The band reformed in 1997 to fan and critical acclaim, but little else. Subsequent albums came and went with a whimper, until now.
I was so heavily into the band in the mid to late ’80s that it stuns me today to hear people say that they had never heard of Echo and the Bunnymen. The quick reference then was always the Pretty in Pink soundtrack’s inclusion of “Bring On the Dancing Horses,” whereas now you usually have to mention “The Killing Moon” playing over the intro of Donnie Darko. Throughout the years, two parts have always been essential to making Echo work, vocalist and still cockatiel-haired Ian McCulloch and long-banged guitarist Will Sergeant. With Siberia, the `band’s’ tenth studio album (which includes the travesty without Ian, Reverberation) things have come full circle. Ian and Will seem to take the best aspects of the best moments of their careers and press it all into one bittersweet `goodbye’ record.
Despite the fact that they have obviously aged visually, Ian’s voice is just as charming and suave as ever, and Sergeant’s guitars have never sounded crisper. Listening to Siberia makes me wonder if the last 18 years have been one long dream, as it could have easily fit in with the `big five’ releases from the band, which ended in 1987’s self-titled release. Part of the reason the magic of Echo is back may lie in the production work of Hugh Jones, who not only was an engineer / producer for such acts as Adam & the Ants, the Damned, and McCulloch’s old bandmate Julian Cope’s Teardrop Explodes, but he was also an instrumental force in creating Echo’s maturing sound as a producer for Heaven Up Here. Other reviews I’ve seen often compare the new record with that particular album, but really, Siberia is a mix of the band’s best attributes. Take the title track, for instance, which sounds like a mix of the silly trippiness of “Bedbugs & Ballyhoo” and the dark foreboding nature of “Nocturnal Me.” It’s as if we’re being taken on a museum tour of Echo’s past, blending elements of each portrait that show where they’ve been, in order to make a grand exit by the end of the album.
With the isolationist imagery of the title and the numerous allusions to finality in the lyrics, this is most likely the swan song of Echo & the Bunnymen. After the mediocre reaction to the Rolling Stones’ most recent release, it’s probably best that Echo learned a lesson from them, not trying to stretch fan devotion for another twenty years. In truth, the Stones could live happily off of humongous tours playing nothing but their greatest hits. Neither fate would befit Echo, a band once ahead of its time and now a fond reminder of when arty music was daring and fresh. Echo & the Bunnymen will always hold a special spot as one of my favorite bands of all time and Siberia is one hell of a wonderful way for them to go out.