I feel a little weird scoring Echo & the Bunnymen, since obviously, their reputation precedes them: they’re complete indie rock legends, covered by Pavement and grossly underrated all these years I believe, as I’ve always vastly preferred them to their counterparts Joy Division.
Appropriately enough, 2009’s romping classic The Fountain went criminally overlooked, to the point where by The Stars, the Oceans & the Moon (which I promise isn’t a Modest Mouse covers album), they had no real reason to alter their m.o. at all away from continuing to bolster the Britpop canon. And indeed, on this new 2018 soiree, the influences do sound fresh and enlivening.
But dangerously, Ian McCulloch often sounds tired, sort of like the physical fatigue fully materialized once only hinted at on plangent odes like The Fountain’s “Drive Time.” Like a more psychedelic, Beatles-influenced Van Morrison, he’s been doing this stuff a while, this bequeathing to the world his visions of it which are then its to accept and reject, and problematically, the latter has been a little slow to accept many of them, or a little affectively luke warm in its acceptance thereof.
So as far as what changes about The Stars, the Oceans & the Moon in comparison to The Fountain goes, I do notice some new influences taking off: “Rescue” apes that Coldplay song that opens with Chris Martin going “Hooowwww loooonnnngg”, and at another point I noticed a keen replication of Green Day’s “21 Guns.” At other points, McCulloch’s voice sounds like Bono’s, sometimes nauseatingly so, before, refreshingly, we get back to that damaged nasal quality which you can never tell is from smoking too many cigarettes or just crying too many nights away over lost loves. It could be both.
But these are bunnymen, not funnymen, and melancholy is their bread and butter, this new LP in my opinion pushing their overall catalogue just past The Stones Roses’ in terms of canonical stature, each band ultimately valuable and underrated in forging a new sort of pop sense that’s like Beatles-ier than thou, which Oasis would then tap for their melodic constructions, to their own credit too, as it were. “Rescue,” which I mention earlier, begins like that mopey Coldplay crap, before morphing robustly into a sort of XTC type romper, with some elite, world-class sounding guitar and reggae stabs all over this rhythmically busy album centerpiece. “The Somnambulist” is sad pop as we know and love EBM, somewhat like Fables of the Reconstruction-era R.E.M. covering Bends-era Radiohead. After the failure that is “Lips Like Sugar,” “Rescue” comes in and does just that, like I said, with some help from Chris Martin and the gang, and then “Rust” begins, appropriately enough, with a Neil Young-like, melancholic piano groundwork before finding its skis on reflective major-chord balladry, McCulloch’s creative sense of rhythm and sort of hugging the next bar vocally, luckily in tow.
Echo & the Bunnymen have chosen to do something very interesting on this album, which is provide what is basically a cover of their own most famous song, “Killing Moon,” in ballad piano-and-vox form, to echo the synthy midtempo ’80s rock in which it had initially appeared. This is a song that was covered by Pavement in that band’s own late era and to be honest, even sounds like a Pavement song, with its humanistic, sympathetic lyrics and its clever way of drawing itself from verse to chorus without any awkwardness or unnecessary bombast. “Killing Moon” (The Stars, the Oceans & the Moon) is a showstopper without any question, what even with its album closeur positioning and everything, but again, hardly works wonders for the listener’s sense that this band has too many more albums up its sleeve, related again to how weary and entirely broken, though still inspired and emotionally piqued, their singer is all over this project.