Thursday, October 27, 2005

CD Review: Echo And The Bunnymen - Siberia

The front cover of the latest Echo And The Bunnymen album, Siberia, is a non-descript photo of pincipals Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant peering from what appears to be an abandoned building. The inside cover shows the word "verboten" written in red paint on the structure which left me wondering what the connection between a German word and Siberia would be. Trying to match an album cover up with the music inside may seem a bit much to some, but Echo is a band that always seemed to me to be wrapped up in symbols and mythology. They were more than a rock band during their halcyon days when they wore military anoraks to the stage and the promise of youth seemed eternal.

An album like Porcupine lived up to its cover with music suggestively prickly and cold. Ocean Rain looked to be wondrous and enchanting and it was. Siberia's cover is prosaic with the only promise perhaps one of haunting echoes. The appearance of Hugh Jones as producer is notable. He co-produced Heaven Up Here. Another echo from the past. Which could be a very good thing. Since Ian and Will have revived the Bunnymen name each succeeding release has been a pale imitation of past greatness heavy on ballads and rockers that sound more of mid 90's Britrock than classic Bunnymen. Those albums were all of decent quality, but they all seemed to miss the mark. Where was the serpentine shards of guitar and the propulsive bass? The dynamic pauses had all been shunted aside for some seamless weld that held no spark.

Siberia makes attempts at reconciling the old with the new making it the best release since Will and Ian decided to take Peaches and Herb's advice. McCulloch's vocals have long since transcended the days when they regarded as aping Jim Morrison. They possess a burnished sublime beauty all his own well showcased on "All Because Of You Days"; a slow burner of sentimentality given a real ache by Ian. "Parthenon Drive" is being touted as the song most like the past and it does have the muted slippy drive of old giving it a recoil and snap I wish they would embrace more often. Hints of the old dynamic tension surface fleetingly on "In The Margins"; a good example that it's the notes you don't play that sometimes makes a song.

McCulloch also has a way with those "in between" songs; those tunes that are neither ballad nor rocker. "Of A Life" is the best of this sort. A mild Madchester bass lopes under the title track reminding me that Echo never got the proper credit they deserved for helping to inspire the "baggy" scene. Some hard rock flourishes show up in "Sideways Eight" and get full blown on "Scissors In The Sand" which manages to meld The Who, Joy Division, and Echo And The Bunnymen into one monolithic screamer. The album tumbles back down to a fitting soul searching end for "What If We Are?" where even the sappiest of questions deserves an answer.

Siberia is less I'll meet you halfway there as it is taking a few steps back before going forward. We'll just have to accept that they sound more like "Bring On The Dancing Horses" than "The Cutter". The promise of youth may not be eternal, but McCulloch and Sergeant are aging gracefully without tarnishing their past. I bet they would still look cool in military garb though. Echo And The Bunnymen will begin a North American Tour in November.

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