Thursday, June 11, 2009

June 11: Echo & The Bunnymen, "Crocodiles"

Artist: Echo & The Bunnymen
Album: Crocodiles
Year: 1980
Label: Korova

One of the most interesting and creative eras of music was undoubtedly the "post punk" movement of the last 1970's and early 1980's. With the emergence of bands like Joy Division, R.E.M., and Gang Of Four, it was clear that there was much to be done with fusing the punk aesthetic into different forms. Taking influence from the Velvet Underground as much as The Doors, U.K. rockers Echo & The Bunnymen became one of the standards within this post-punk movement. With a somewhat spacey, somewhat retro, dark mood, their sound remains unmatched to this day. The band also represents the beginning of punk influenced bands that worked under the impression that louder did not necessarily equal "better." Echo & The Bunneymen's 1980 debut, Crocodiles, is nothing short of phenomenal, and it would be the first in a run of nearly half a dozen brilliant albums.

One of the more interesting aspects of Crocodiles is the number of people who received production credits. The trio known as "The Chameleons" receive the credit, but if one digs deeper, it is rather fascinating who these people actually are. First off, there is Ian Broudie, who worked with The Fall, as well as being a part of Original Mirrors, Big In Japan, and the creator of The Lightning Seeds. Bill Drummond, who was also in Big In Japan, is perhaps best known as a founding member of the avant-pop group, The KLF. David Balfe remains one of the best talent scouts on the planet, having signed the likes of Blur, Jesus Jones, Kula Shaker, and perhaps most notably, The Proclaimers. With this number of producers, it is not that odd that the music itself is a bit strange in sound. The musicians take a minimalist approach to their sound, and though the music is anything but sparse, the "typical" formations and spacing of the instruments is nowhere to be seen on Crocodiles. The band gels perfectly and create a fascinating musical soundscape over which Ian McCulloch presents eerie, yet riveting vocals. Everything about Crocodiles seems somewhat unconventional, and the combination succeeds in producing one of the most original and enjoyable records ever.

The music found on Crocodiles is an amazing mixture of 60's pop, late 60's psychedelia and experimentation, all with the angst of late 70's punk. The music centers around the astounding guitar playing of Will Sergeant. Approaching the music in a bit of a minimalistic fashion, he shines whilst using the lead guitar less forward in the mix, yet it is just as amazing as guitar players who forced their sound to be noticed. The rhythm section of Les Pattinson on bass and Pete de Freitas on drums remains one of the strongest rhythm sections ever. Again, going more for mood, as opposed to volume, they keep the musical textures smooth and rolling throughout Crocodiles. Pattinson's basswork is amazingly seductive, almost dancing with the other sounds, while Freitas plays different tempos throughout each song, while somehow keeping the central beat going perfectly. There are truly moments on the album when the resemblance to The Velvet Underground is uncanny, yet they are in no way "ripping off" their influences. It is simply that the music becomes so pure and raw, and the guitar tones so close, that the comparison is unavoidable. However, Echo & The Bunnymen have a far darker mood to their music, and though the songs are not slow in tempo, the mood remains clear and constant.

At the center of the music of Echo & The Bunnymen is the amazing vocal talent of Ian McCulloch. With an attitude that resembles Jim Morrison, and a simple sound behind him, the likeness to The Doors is also unavoidable. Singing lyrics that are often so mysterious that they are somewhat lost at times, it is his brilliant and alluring delivery that keeps listeners coming back for more. Whether he is bordering on spoken word delivery or letting loose and bring vocals that soar in awe-inspiring fashion, McCulloch uses Crocodiles to stake his claim as one of the most captivating frontmen of all time. Lyrically, Crocodiles overflows with tales of emotional bankruptcy, death, and loneliness. It is from these dark, somber lyrics where a majority of the mood of the songs are set. It is also where Echo & The Bunnymen separate themselves from their influences. While the music has tones of psychedelia, it is clearly less "druggy" in nature, and far more astute and haunting. In many ways, it can be seen as their influences thinking about death, while Echo & The Bunnymen are thinking suicide. Though often stark and chilling, the lyrics on Crocodiles are nonetheless captivating, and the sensational singing of Ian McCulloch remains one of the most enchanting singers in history.

Echo & The Bunnymen perfectly fuse the sound and style of The Velvet Underground and The Doors with the attitude of punk rock, make it all dark, and then blow listeners away. Easily one of the most important and influential groups to emerge in the fallout of the punk rock era, they set the stage and made the blueprint that countless bands have attempted to follow. Serving as the influence for bands from Sonic Youth to Smashing Pumpkins, their approach and innovation helped to push music forward, and even today, their sound remains fresh and original. With the stellar guitar of Will Sergeant and the enchanting vocals of Ian McCulloch, Echo & The Bunnymen had all of the elements necessary to be an undeniable success. Having the top notch rhythm section of Pattinson and Freitas only helped to push their sound over the top and cement them as music icons. The first four albums released by Echo & The Bunnymen are all exceptional, but their 1980 debut, Crocodiles, remains an absolute landmark in music history and is an essential for every music collection.

Standout tracks: "Going Up," "Pride," and "Villiers Terrace."

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