December 22, 2017 Echo & the Bunnymen – Evergreen 20 Years Later
Apparently one of the greatest bands to have emerged during the so-called Post-Punk era (1978–1984) of Alternative Rock music, Echo & the Bunnymen has led a rather rocky road since its formation in 1978, in Liverpool, England.
Despite the band’s popularity and a string of well-crafted albums—from 1980’s Crocodiles to 1987’s self-titled—Frontman Ian McCulloch (vocals, guitar) left the band in 1988 to pursue a solo career. Resulting in significant developments thereafter, McCulloch’s releasing two solo albums, 1989’s Candleland and 1992’s Mysterio, respectively; the tragic demise of Pete de Freitas (drums, percussion) in 1989 due to a vehicular accident; and the remaining Bunnymen Lead Guitarist Will Sergeant and Bassist Les Pattinson’s decision to soldier on with newly recruited members, which gave birth to 1990’s Reverberation, with a new vocalist at the helm. However, the effort’s commercial failure prompted the two Bunnymen to lay the band’s name to rest for good.
Fortunately, in spite of everything that happened (Such is the power of music to heal wounds), McCulloch, Sergeant, and Pattinson re-formed Echo & the Bunnymen in 1997 and unleashed their much-anticipated comeback album, Evergreen.
Released on July 14, 1997, Echo & the Bunnymen’s lucky seventh was certainly another pièce de résistance, bringing forth once again what was best about the band’s music—McCulloch’s brooding yet self-assured drawls; Sergeant’s trademark jangly, melodic, Psychedelic-tinged, and New Wave-rooted guitar patchwork; and Pattinson’s basslines that galloped and danced like horses—all these interwoven complementarily into a backdrop of a well-conducted string orchestra.
Evergreen opened with the charismatic allure of the multi-layered Guitar Pop heaven “Don’t Let It Get You Down,” in which McCulloch was, lyrically, in his most spiritual predisposition, and most likely singing rather to himself on the mirror-like river, reflected also on which were the killing moon and the band’s past glory that he was obviously adamant to reclaim at that point. The mood shifted a notch higher with the ensuing “In My Time,” paddling the listener further to an ocean of lush orchestration, catchy vocal harmonies, and ringing guitar exploration, splashing sonic trickles and echoes of McCulloch’s “Proud to Fall” and Rumblefish’s “What You Do to Me.”
Stretching the vigor and vibrance of the reformation furthermore, the dribbling rhythm of “I Want to Be There (When You Come)” and the jam-feel, subtly funky attack of the title track sped up the journey some more. The blast of pounding drumbeats and Grunge-inspired distorted guitar and feedback were obvious remnants of Electrafixion (“Who’s Been Sleeping in My Head?”) – McCulloch and Sergeant’s short-lived, pre-Evergreen collaboration—signifying the returning Bunnymen’s eagerness to catch up with the then flourishing Britpop/Alternative Rock scene.
The Bunnymen relaxed the ambience for a bit with the plucked guitar–led “I’ll Fly Tonight,” whose rhythm slowly soared with its sparse, string-and-synth-drenched instrumentation. Following next, draped in the same New Romantic sensibility, was the midtempo ballad “Nothing Lasts Forever,” featuring Oasis’ Liam Gallagher on backing vocals. The upbeat and melodic “Baseball Bill” and “Altamont” returned the listener to the stadium, making him sweat his brows again; faint Hindustani influences reverberated in these two tracks—must be Sergeant’s clever doing, right under McCulloch’s nose (or mouth for that matter).
As the vibrant Evergreen approached its end, the Bunnymen aptly unleashed “Just a Touch Away,” whose cinematic flare darkened the aural vibes into something haunting and ominous, almost doomy and Gothic in contemplation but full of hope and optimism on the outset: “Gonna live forever / Live forever / Shadows in the fog are moving in / From the world outside / To my world within.” (Gallagher would have fit in here so much better. Go figure!)
The gloominess carried on with “Empire State Halo,” whose slashing guitar and lyrical poignancy loomed over the attentive listener’s clouded consciousness, only to be revived by another surge of defiance as the melodic “Too Young to Kneel” came pouring in like ocean rain. Finally, the Bunnymen trio drew down the green curtain appropriately with the melancholic sentiments of the album’s closing song, the slow ballad “Forgiven,” in which the ever enigmatic McCulloch lamented, “A blinding light, a blackest night / They’re both inside of me.”
To many fans and critics of Echo & the Bunnymen, 1984’s Ocean Rain was the usually regarded pinnacle of the English band’s creativity. However, this claim is often fueled by the mainstream-mentality tendencies of such music enthusiasts, who are often afflicted with what may be termed as ‘short attention-span syndrome.’ For, looking at these albums with fairness, open-mindedness, and precise objectivity, the often dismissed and maligned triumvirate of Echo & the Bunnymen, Reverberation, and Evergreen are as potent as, if not more brilliant than, their oft-lauded predecessors.
In fact, Evergreen was the first leaf of the new tree of life of the then reborn Echo & the Bunnymen, and this sense of rebirth and vitality still emanates, two decades later, from the songs that comprised it. It is for this reason that Evergreen deserves rediscovery and a proper re-assessment, especially by those who are claiming to be not only fans of Echo & the Bunnymen but also followers of the entire Post-Punk movement.