Spin Art/Cooking Vinyl
By: Eric Greenwood
Flowers is the third respectable installment in the resurrected Echo And The Bunnymen"s second act. The band ended the 1980"s with a whimper, having besmirched its reputation somewhat with a lackluster self-titled album in 1987. A decade later the three original Bunnymen picked up where 1984"s glorious Ocean Rain left off. Older, wiser, and conspicuously mellower, Evergreen saw Ian McCulloch singing the usual trenchcoated blues in a set of solid-though-not-groundbreaking pop songs. The full reunion was short-lived as bassist Les Pattison departed (original drummer Pet DeFreitas died in a motorcycle accident in 1989), leaving the duo of McCulloch and Will Sergeant to carry the once legendary name.
1999"s What Are You Going To Do With Your Life? sounded like a McCulloch solo album with slow, acoustic-driven ballads that allowed Mac to wax middle age. But despite the absence of Pattison"s patented beguiling bass lines and Sergeant"s psychedelic guitar work, What Are You Going To Do With Your Life? was beautifully arranged and executed. It held its own as the brash Brit-pop of the 1990"s came to a close, proving that the Bunnymen still had the magic even if the public didn"t roll out the red carpet for them. Relegated to the respectable indie label, Cooking Vinyl, after a dispute with London Records, The Bunnymen have stepped up the tempo a bit on Flowers but still fail to fill the gap left by their masterworks of the early 1980"s.
Don"t go writing them off as has-beens just yet. It"s true that Flowers is a pale imitation of a truly great band, but it"s exactly what you"d want your 1980"s idols to sound like twenty years on. No embarrassing attempts to sound modern. No back up singers. No daft lyrics. Flowers is a laid back paean to the glory days- reflective and nostalgic but not overly sentimental. Tight, punchy choruses that make you sing along have always been a trademark for the band, and Flowers delivers them in droves. McCulloch"s just got a voice that never gets old- like Bono"s lower register without all the histrionics. The man smokes like a freak but still sounds fantastic. His arrogance has not wavered a bit even though it must be humbling to be faced with the mid-priced section of the record bin.
"King Of Kings" is a low-key opener, but it re-introduces Will Sergeant"s sixties-obsessed guitar lines, which underscore McCulloch"s dark, raspy vocals perfectly. The band has also re-instated Pattison"s pulsing bass style in his absence. Unlike What Are You Going To Do With Your Life?, Sergeant"s guitar is the star here. He shades tones so sparingly, using catchy melodic runs in place of typical chords. He"s always been a master of underplaying, and his less-is-more style has never sounded so accomplished. McCulloch feeds off the resulting empty space and fills it with his resonating voice. It"s an amazing partnership where glimpses of former greatness abound.
The fiery passion that made albums like Crocodiles and Porcupine stand out so uniquely against the new wave fluff in the early 1980"s has morphed into a muted serenity, where melodies and hooks rule the day. The Doors influence that has trailed the band since its inception looms large here. "Hide & Seek" hints at spooky sixties psychedelia with organs and noisy effects before it launches into a playful yet rocking chorus. "Make Me Shine" is just pure pop, as it briefly shakes off the band"s post-punk core and gloomy exterior. McCulloch"s voice soars over top Sergeant"s Byrd"s-esque picking. Chalk up another infectious, although, uncharacteristically upbeat chorus.
Sergeant"s lofty, textured guitar melody on "Buried Alive" shimmers amidst the dingy Velvet Underground foundation. At times too bogged down in retro effects, Flowers sounds like an album caught in a time capsule. Insular and blissfully ignorant of current trends, The Bunnymen march forward doing what they do best: creating moody, atmospheric pop. The haunting keyboards in the title track recall the eerie spaciousness of "The Killing Moon" while "Everybody Knows" sounds like a throwback to the band"s punk origins. Flowers may not inspire McCulloch to proclaim his band the "greatest on Earth" anymore, but it should instill enough confidence in the fact that he and Sergeant are living up to the Bunnymen legend.