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Sunday 26 March 2017

Here comes the Rain again . . . hooray!

Together again: Echo and Bunnymen's Will Sergeant and Ian McCulloch play 'Ocean Rain' in the Olympia next Friday
Together again: Echo and Bunnymen's Will Sergeant and Ian McCulloch play 'Ocean Rain' in the Olympia next Friday

The prospect of seeing Echo And The Bunnymen perform their 1984 masterpiece Ocean Rain in its entirety with a full string section seems like heaven to Nick Kelly.

Whenever I feel nostalgic about a particular classic rock album, it is always accompanied with a twinge of guilt. I start taking myself to task for failing to be always forward-looking. Should I not be relishing the here and now, rather than eulogising the been and gone?

The journalist Simon Reynolds calls this fatal attraction to the pull of the past 'retromania', arguing that the defining characteristic of popular culture in the 2010s is an obsession with regurgitating and fetishising that which came before.

Beginning with the 1960s, each successive decade has been shrink-wrapped and repackaged as if it were a cultural protein pill.

One manifestation of this is the rock gig where a band plays a classic album from start to finish.

Now on one level, the removal of spontaneity from the evening seems to go against the very spirit of rock'n'roll -- and yet the prospect of seeing Echo And The Bunnymen perform their 1984 masterpiece Ocean Rain in its entirety with a full string section seems like heaven from here.

You know that there's not going to be any prolonged detours where you have to suffer their 'difficult' new direction; you know that the show is not going to consist of their as-yet-unreleased concept album about an eco-warrior family living in the suburbs of California (yes, we're looking at you, Neil Young). Rather, quality is ring-fenced; a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

In the Bunnymen's case, this means that evergreen, glorious songs such as 'Silver', 'Seven Seas', 'Thorn Of Crowns', 'The Killing Moon' and, sigh, 'Ocean Rain' itself will all appear with the precision of Swiss clockwork -- and with the added allure of some orchestral manoeuvres for a lark.

Time and tide dictates that not everything will be as was when the record came out in 1984: sadly, drummer Pete de Freitas lost his life in a motorcycle crash in 1989, while Les Pattinson hung up his bass long ago. But, happily, Will Sergeant, one of the finest rock guitarists of all time, will be coaxing those mysterious, Eastern-inflected chords from his rickety Rickenbacker, and Ian McCulloch -- a man once described as being a cross between Lou Reed and Oliver Reed -- will be doing what he does best: being Ian McCulloch.

There are those who write off his lyrics as nonsense on toast. But I always loved their non-linear playfulness; clearly he belongs in the tradition of Edward Lear and his fellow Liverpudlian who gave the world 'I Am The Walrus'.

To me, there was always something grand and enigmatic about the album Ocean Rain; recorded in Paris, the stately violins and cellos gave it a grandeur that lifted it out of the indie ghetto, like a balloon soaring over the earthbound rooftops. But the glorious strings never obscured its true genius as one of the great guitar albums of the 1980s. And the crocodiles and porcupines on the street could see that it had stiff competition.

There was no such thing as the Mercury Prize back in 1984 but if there had been, the jury would have had one hell of a headache choosing between the Bunnymen's piece de resistance; The Smiths' epochal debut; Cocteau Twins' magical third album Treasure; This Mortal Coil's magnificently multi-pronged It'll End In Tears (featuring 'Song To The Siren' and some spine-chilling Big Star covers to boot); Lloyd Cole & The Commotions's timeless debut Rattlesnakes; Dead Can Dance's ethereal, stately self-titled first album; Madness's fifth LP Keep Moving, which spawned singles like 'One Better Day' and 'Michael Caine'; The Fall's Wonderful And Frightening World Of The Fall; Billy Bragg's masterful Brewing Up With...; U2's The Unforgettable Fire ... you can probably come up with half a dozen more of your own. (Alas, REM's peerless second album Reckoning, being American, would be inelegible.)

Having that lot in a room together in their prime playing live one after the other at a prize-giving ceremony is a mind-blowing fantasy, but this little wallow in nostalgia just proves what a magnetic pull it exerts.

Maybe 30 years hence, today's wide-eyed, open-eared teenager will get misty-eyed over Laura Marling's new album, or PJ Harvey's Let England Shake or The Horror's current record, or Wild Beasts' new one, or Jape's latest jolly. . . I suspect the umbilical c(h)ord that ties a music-lover to their favourite band or album at a formative stage in their life will always leave a trace.

But retracing your steps doesn't necessarily mean you're going to arrive back at the same place where you started from. You're a different person now to the one who first heard Will Sergeant's major/minor chord changes on 'The Killing Moon' in 1984 -- with a different musical perspective and wider palette.

As one philosopher almost put it, you can't step in the same ocean twice.

Together again: Echo and Bunnymen's Will Sergeant and Ian McCulloch play 'Ocean Rain' in the Olympia next Friday









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