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Echo Bounces Back

Ian McCulloch on the surprisingly welcome return of Echo and the Bunnymen.

At one point or another during the first half of the Nineties, virtually every minor band that had a lightweight MTV hit ten years earlier reunited--and for the most part, I didn't care. Book of Love, Suicidal Tendencies: Sure, I liked them, but it was just as satisfying to sit home and listen to my old, scratched-up vinyl as it was to go to a gig and watch them attempt to clone the stuff live. Of course, I would have made an exception for Echo and the Bunnymen; they were one of my favorites. But I figured that I'd have to learn to live without more of their exceptional tunes, progressive videos and adumbrative haircuts. After all, the act's 1988 breakup was extremely caustic: When singer Ian McCulloch went solo, bassist Les Pattinson, guitarist Will Sergeant and drummer Pete De Freitas named innocent bystander Noel Burke as the act's new vocalist and attempted to carry on as if nothing had happened, to the disgust of McCulloch and many true believers. The death of De Freitas in a motorcycle accident the following year clinched it. I was as positive that the Bunnymen were through as I was that the Sex Pistols would never tour again and that the Beatles would not be releasing any new material.

Just goes to show how little I know. With this summer's London Records release of Evergreen, McCulloch, Sergeant and Pattinson are playing together again under their familiar moniker. And McCulloch, a man with absolutely no doubt about his talents, suddenly acts as if their reconciliation was inevitable.

"Even though I know I can write music without the Bunnymen, it doesn't make sense, really," he says. "Somehow, the Bunnymen is where I belong. I haven't gotten to that stage where I can live without it. It's epicentral to who I am." About the reunion, he concedes, "I never thought it would happen. But predestiny had other plans. That's what 'The Killing Moon' was all about: predestiny and the fact that even when you think you've made a choice, it was the one that you were always going to make."

"The Killing Moon," from the 1984 Bunnymen LP Ocean Rain, is only one of the group's classics. "The Cutter," "Rescue" and "Silver," culled from 1980's Crocodiles, 1981's Heaven Up Here and 1983's Porcupine, were just as good. Critics defined these tunes as neo-psychedelic, but the Bunnymen were too experimental to be so easily pegged. Belonging neither to the synthesizer-and-drum-machine camp nor the angry, guitar-banging-misfits crowd, they relied on flourishing melodies, complex instrumentation and strange lyrics whose acoustic values often took precedence over logic. For example, "Seven Seas" hovers around the lines "Seven seas/Swimming them so well/Glad to see/My face among them/Kissing the tortoise shell," and "Ocean Rain" finds McCulloch singing variations of, "I'm at sea again/Now your hurricane/Has brought down this ocean rain/To bathe me again."

Why are there so many aquatic references in the Bunnymen oeuvre? "Well, all the nice girls love a sailor, as the saying goes--though I'm no sailor," McCulloch answers slyly. More seriously, he notes, "I used to love taking the ferry to Europe instead of flying. I find that whenever I'm near water, it's just, I suppose, calming. And I totally refuse to sing about mountains. I always thought that was a U2 and Simple Minds attitude."

The rivalry between Echo and the aforementioned bands was a heated one: During the mid-Eighties, around the time that U2 released The Unforgettable Fire and Simple Minds was traveling the States in support of Once Upon a Time, McCulloch and company struck back with Songs to Learn and Sing, a compilation of previously issued tracks featuring "Bring on the Dancing Horses," a smash from the soundtrack to the John Hughes flick Pretty in Pink. Shortly thereafter, the Bunnymen began to wind down, but they went out with class: Their 1987 swan song, a self-titled effort known to fans as "the Gray Album," included "Bedbugs and Ballyhoo," the appropriately moist "Blue Blue Ocean," and "Lips Like Sugar," which could be either a romantic ode to an adored woman or McCulloch's valentine to himself. The singer, whose delicate, tousled appearance has a feminine aspect to it, provides an argument for the latter theory while relating a comment made to him during a recent appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman.

"Some woman told my manager that I'm the best-looking man on the planet," he announces. "I disagree. There are a lot of better-looking people out there. But they're generally really boring, and they've got not only crap singing voices, but crap speaking voices." As for himself, he continues, "I look different. I know I look like no one else, and that's part of the trick. I've got two of the finest lips of any man on the planet. I've got confidence, and I love making people laugh, which is a sexy trait."

McCulloch's sense of humor, which only rarely pops up in his music, is self-aware and purposefully provocative. "The other night in a hotel in Aberdeen, I was in my room and I thought, 'This is so boring, I'm gonna get the Holy Bible out of my drawer,'" he says. "And I flipped it open. I forget what sodding chapter it was, but I must have seen what looked like about a hundred different names on one page that I was supposed to take in. And they were all in some mad language. Who knows what anyone was saying? And you're supposed to read that crap and believe it? I think it's wrong." Because religion is another of his recurring themes, "people think I'm religious," he acknowledges, laughing. "But I think that if Jesus is in all of us, then I am Jesus--and that's good. So I don't have to pray to him, because I am him. You know what I mean?"

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