It has become one of the laziest arguments whenever music and decades are discussed to casually opine "oh, the music in the '80s was terrible". Really? Sure there were some abominable atrocities perpetrated -- every decade you'd care to mention is littered with those -- but this was also the period which gifted us Dexy's, The Go-Betweens, Aztec Camera, New Order, Prince, ABC, The Blue Nile, Prefab Sprout, The Triffids, Something Happens! and The Smiths to name but a handful.
With REM announcing their break-up during the week, thoughts naturally turned to that period in 1983 and into 1984. My copy of Murmur was worn thin by the time Reckoning came out in the spring of '84, the same month that Echo & the Bunnymen released Ocean Rain.
Yeah, the '80s were brutal altogether.
By the time they released their fourth album the Bunnymen were critically unassailable in the UK, having already made one of the defining records of the post-punk period with their second album Heaven Up Here and sailed into broader commercial waters with the patchy but glossy Porcupine.
Lead singer Ian McCulloch was God's gift to the media, combining pop star good looks with a burning intelligence -- and he was a gobby Scouser to boot. Unafraid to tackle any subject in interviews, the merest mention of U2 and their growing success in America was akin to suggesting that he might be a closet Man United fan. Mac wasn't slow in broadcasting the fact that Ocean Rain would be "the greatest album ever made".
They didn't quite get that far, but they gave it a good go. Although string-drenched and brimming with guitarist Will Sergeant's spiky, psychedelic flourishes the sound that characterises Ocean Rain is that of ambition, of a band reaching for the stars, and unafraid to admit that they're doing so. The Bunnymen didn't do the self-pitying Indie shuffle, they were bold and brave and contemptuous of the very concept of the safety net.
The lead single The Killing Moon perfectly encapsulates the mood and sound of the band in this, their greatest pomp. Romantic yet somehow doomy, beautifully melodic yet with an undercurrent of musical tension, this was the Bunnymen in a nutshell. The album itself offers variations on these themes, most of which work successfully.
Certainly the Bunnymen were arrogant, but that was born of a confidence in knowing just how bloody good they were. And if you need reminding, then dig out Ocean Rain and remind yourself of a time when bands were aiming for the heavens.
> George Byrne
Echo & the Bunnymen, accompanied by a string section, will perform Ocean Rain in its entirety at the Olympia tonight