What you need to know before we start is this; me and The Bunnymen go back a long way. I first saw them live at the Liverpool Empire in Early 1981. The initial camo look had been abandoned, the Vietnam surroundings, the scrim netting the floodlights picking through from behind, all abandoned in favour of plain clothes (no overcoats on stage, plenty off it), a bare stage and bright white lights in front of the band - all stretched out in a line, all equals at the front of the stage - their shadows stretching, looming, playing on the plain white backdrop, the set leaning on the songs that would become the backbone of 'Heaven Up Here' (their best album, I don't care what you say).
Since then I've seen them in various forms at various times in various places at various stages of success; The Duchess of York in Leeds with Mac gone for a solo career, encoring with a cover of The KLF's 'What Time Is Love?', the same line up at a youth centre in Bootle with The KLF and the mighty, mighty Benny Profane supporting. The classic line up though? The Royal Court on nights that were religious in their intensity, The Crystal Day - a banana fight on a ferry and 3 sets in the grandeur of St George's Hall, KING George's Hall in Blackburn on a night when I threw a sickie from my job at the time to go on a road trip and we ended up before the gig - a gig where they were road testing the material that would be Ocean Rain - in a pub three feet away from Will, Les and Pete. The Royal Albert Hall with full orchestra for the anniversary celebrations of that same Ocean Rain album. I've seen them as a single man, I've seen them with my girlfriend who became my wife, I've seen them with our then 16 year old son. I've seen them live and loved them live long after I gave up any hope of them ever making another compelling, necessary album.
I adore the Bunnymen. Absolutely adore them. When Kurt Cobain died it had no effect on me, when Pete De Frietas (the greatest drummer of the last 30 years) was killed in a motorcycle accident I was heartbroken.
The Bunnymen have soundtracked more of my life than any other band.
And when their new album, 'Meteorites' arrived on my doorstep last Friday (a couple of days before release) I hated it. Absolutely hated it.
I'd had my fears. I'd heard snippets online - never a good way to judge an album but the snippets didn't sound good. The Guardian streamed the entire album on their website. I listened to it. Through the speakers on my Mac. Fine speakers but not an ideal way to listen to a new work. The album sounded exactly like the work that I'd been led to believe that it was; an Ian McCulloch solo album that Will Sergeant had been drafted in to add guitar to. The lack of the name Sergeant on the writing credits added credence to this.
The sound was muddy, the production sounded poor. There were hints of decent guitar work by Will but it was buried in this echoing mess that seemed to exist purely to bury Mac's vocals. There appeared to be very few actual songs. I was basically heartbroken.
The, bit by bit, slices of melody started to sink in. 'New Horizons' started to insist on itself as the epic closing track that it was intended as. 'Is This A Breakdown?' revealed itself as nigh on a Bunnymen classic but seemed to be missing that extra 'something' that would truly elevate it.
Then I hit on a (very minor) brainwave.
I cranked the album up. I blasted it out on the car stereo, I ramped up the speakers for the iPod, I pushed it to the limits. And I realised.
'Constantinople' acquired the Eastern grandeur that the title suggested, 'Market Town', so poor and nursery rhyme-esque on its preview as one of the lead tracks, became a quasi psychedelic wash of impressionism. Will's guitars leapt forward from the mix, instruments became distinct, invention became apparent, arrangement obvious. Mac's vocals suddenly crested above their backing, became obvious, strengthened in their despair and the themes that they carried became obvious; regret, age, addiction, loss, depression.
I played it. And I played it. And I played it. I'd never had to do this with a Bunnymen album. I'd never had to try, never had to work at it. But I worked at it. And I played it. And I played it. And I realised that I couldn't stop playing it. As soon as it ended, I started it again. This disparate collection of songs that I'd been so unimpressed with, that I'd been so disappointed with, became an album, became a coherent whole, became essential and I realised that, this time, the idea that the Bunnymen had recorded an album that could stand shoulder to shoulder in it's doomed, dark grandeur with Crocodiles and Porcupine and Heaven Up Here and Ocean Rain wasn't merely hyperbole.
Take my advice. Buy it. Play it. Love it. But make sure you play it loud.
Leave a comment