Echo and The Bunnymen
1001 Recordings to Hear Before You Die
A theme that we've seen plenty of already, and will continue to see as we progress through both of my books, is that adding orchestral elements to a band's music can revitalize its sound (and often gain critical acclaim). So far, we've seen it with hip, indie rockers (Joanna Newsom) and with huge rock bands (Metallica). English cult-favorites Echo and The Bunnymen jump on the bandwagon with "Ocean Rain," arguably its biggest album.
An interesting trend when incorporating symphonic influences is that it tends to add a somber feeling, even if it's not in a minor key. Spiritualized was not exactly optimistic on "Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space" and Metallica is, of course, bleak on "S&M." The extreme genre of black metal frequently uses symphonic backing behind the shrieks.
"Ocean Rain," however, was The Bunnymen's happiest record to date. The lively strings that carry album opener and second single "Silver" make the presence of the guitar and bass almost irrelevant. The instrumentation adds a swelling sensation to "Seven Seas," and creates an epic bridge for the otherwise straightforward "The Yo-Yo Man." Drummer Pete de Freitas complements the gentle orchestral elements by relying heavily on brushes (as opposed to louder and more typical drumsticks), creating gentle rhythms.
Guitarist Will Seargent isn't a moot point for the entire album, however. Many tracks don't feature the symphonic elements throughout, and some don't feature any whatsoever. Particularly noteworthy is first single "The Killing Moon," which revolves around Sergeants's layered riffs.
Another point that 1001 Albums writer Mark Blacklock homes in on is that vocalist and songwriter Ian McCulloch's lyrics are less ethereal than the band's prior work. This is true, but McCulloch is still far being straightforward. Consider "Silver," where the chorus declares "You're living proof of my fingertips," or "Thorn of Crowns," where he stutters "Cucumber, cabbage, cauliflower" in that order. The Bunnymen could be considered a "cult" band, and it just wouldn't be right if the lyrics were that easy to figure out.
All in all, Echo and The Bunnymen is a cult favorite that you can listen to without worrying about coming away from it either confused or depressed. I would compare them to The Blue Nile, who we looked at a while ago. Is "Ocean Rain" as good as the band's classic "Porcupine?" I'm withholding judgement on that for now.
INTERESTING FACT: The album art features the band in a row boat in a subterranean lake. The lake is part of Carnglaze Caverns, a man-made series of caves in Cornwall that is sometimes used as a music venue.