Sunday, June 19, 2011

June 19: Echo And The Bunnymen, "Pictures On My Wall"

Artist: Echo And The Bunnymen
Song: "Pictures On My Wall"
Album: Crocodiles
Year: 1979

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (Original Single Version) (will open in new tab)

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (Crocodiles Version) (will open in new tab)

Though most people live under the assumption that by the time disco began to take hold of the world, the psychedelic sound was a thing of the past, the fact of the matter is, one can hear strong representations of hat sound well into the 1980's.  While it may have gone through a few slight changes, when one steps back from many of these records, there is no denying the strong connection between them and the "classic" psychedelic sounds of the late 1960's.  It was due to this sonic proximity that many began using the term "neo-psychedelic," and there were few groups that better represented this wild transition in music than Echo And The Bunnymen.  Without question one of the most sonically diverse bands in history, the group was able to be as dark and moody as any of their peers, as well as pulling off a punk attitude if they so desired.  However, it was the way with which the band crafted their often unnerving, gloomy 1979 debut, Crocodiles, that showed the band at their creative height and proved that with enough talent, any style could be merged with another.  Standing as a sharp contrast to a majority of the music coming out of the UK at the time, the record also served as one of the earliest blueprints for what would become the "new wave" and "post punk" sounds, and there are few songs that show the raw talent and exceptional mood that defines Echo And The Bunnymen than what one can experience on their 1979 single, "Pictures On My Wall."

Truth be told, the version of "Pictures On My Wall" found on Crocodiles is actually a re-recording of a single the group had released before they were signed to a major label.  While the arrangement and lyrics are the same on both, the earlier version is based on an acoustic guitar, while the latter has an electric backing.  Though the original is certainly moody and moving, it is the more full and sonically complete second version that is superior.  It is the way that the lone guitar of Will Sergeant opens "Pictures On My Wall" that immediately sets the mood, as there is a stark, almost bleak feeling within his playing that holds throughout the entire track.  The lone rhythmic tone that counts off the beat during this opening section only heightens the almost desolate feeling, and one cannot help but compare it to some of the darker and moodier songs in The Doors catalog.  When the rhythm section of drummer Pete de Freitas and bassist Lee Pattinson drop in, all comparisons stop, as this is a band that is clearly blazing new sonic territory.  There is an aggressive, almost biting tone and approach from this duo, and it is in their performance where the link to the punk sound resides.  The final element is the synthesizers that wind in around "Pictures On My Wall," and while they would become cliché in the years that followed, the execution here is absolutely perfect.  Their presence gives an almost mid-evil or gothic feel to the song at parts, and the combined playing of all of the band members remains one of the most wonderfully tortured and disturbed sounds ever captured on tape.

While one cannot overlook the almost enchanting draw of the musical arrangement, the overall mood of the song is cemented into place by the unmistakable voice and performance from Ian McCulloch.  Seamlessly switching between a more spoken sound and some of the most inspired singing ever recorded, the level of emotion in McCulloch's performance is second to none, and one cannot help but make a second comparison to the music and mood of The Doors.  It is the passion within the vocal presentation that makes this link apparent, as there is a certain sense of dramatic that McCullouch executes perfectly.  Furthermore, it is this element that draws the listener deeper into the song, and he also gives "Pictures On My Wall" a unique spinning sensation.  In many ways, the song becomes the epitome of "gloom pop," and thorough McCulloch's singing, one can hear the blueprint for countless bands that would rise to fame throughout the 1980's.  However, it is also the almost beat-style lyrics which McCulloch sings that make "Pictures On My Wall" such a unique musical achievement, and the way in which the words flow heighten the scattered, almost nervous feel the song retains.  With each short verse, the feeling of spiraling downward into chaos becomes stronger, and there is a distinctive feeling of paranoia when he sings the line, "...faces burning, hearts beating, nowhere left for us to run..."  It is the masterful way that Ian McCullouch gives "Pictures On My Wall" a sense of the dramatic that serves as the ideal finishing touch to an already brilliant musical work.

As the decades have passed, Echo And The Bunnymen have garnered a fervent, almost cult-like following, and it is largely due to the pioneering and unique musical style they present that have made this possible.  Though they would find greater commercial success with a number of later songs, "Pictures On My Wall" represents the early vision of the group at its apex.  Furthermore, one can hear many of the pieces that would be the basis for their later masterpieces, and yet it is the raw and direct nature of the song that sets "Pictures On My Wall" aside from the rest of their catalog.  The lasting significance of the song can also be seen in the fact that the original single was reissued a few times since, as there has been a steady demand for this groundbreaking recording.  While the original certainly shows an amazing "indie" effort, it is the version found on Crocodiles that remains the template for many darker styles of music, and yet Echo And The Bunnymen strike such a perfect balance that the song avoids being pigeon-holed into a single category.  The influences from the psychedelic movement are impossible to ignore, and there are few songs that present a more ideal fusion of this genre with the rising use of synthesizers.  In many ways, one can cite "Pictures On My Wall" as the bridge between the counter-culture of the 1960's and 1980's, and yet even today, the song remains an unrivaled musical achievement.  Bringing an attitude and completely enthralling sense of the dramatic, one can quickly understand why Echo And The Bunnymen remain such music icons by experiencing their magnificent 1979 single, "Pictures On My Wall."

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