'You get pie in sky when you die'... Echo & the Bunnymen have always been, for me, the epitome of cool.
They had it all: hits and near- misses, the camo-look, the best LP covers, a definite mystique and electrifying live performances that could transport you beyond the venue's walls. They were my generations Doors, Velvets and Bowie wrapped up with the smart improvisational flair of charismatic front man Ian 'Mac' McColloch.
Together with guitarist- extraordinaire Will Sergeant, bassist Les Pattison and a drumbox named 'Echo' they began in Liverpool in 1978, enlisting drummer Pete DeFreitas two years later. During the eighties, the original 4 members recorded 5 LPs, and over a dozen singles.
Mac walked out in 1987 at the height of their U.S. commercial success while a year later DeFreitas died tragically. The remaining three regrouped in 1997 for Evergreen, their successful comeback record and tour, Pattinson exiting shortly thereafter.
The ups and downs are what you get as a Bunnymen fan. Still the loyal legion remains, Pavement and the Flaming Lips are among the bands devoted.
Rhino has enlisted the help of the band, aforementioned fans and their long-time publicist Mick Houghton to tell the band's stormy history in words, pictures and above all- music.
The ambitious 4 CD box set Crystal Days 1979-1999 scores high, a dark valentine for older and newer fans alike curious about the Bunnymen legend. A beautiful 64 page color booklet inside has lots of rare photos, insightful background and entertaining banter about every song and its creation by Ian and Will.
It's a first class collection, pulling out choice cuts from 7 LPs including over a dozen singles, all the non LP B-sides (many essential), rare live cuts, and many previously unreleased tracks including two from the John Peel sessions.
The chronological sequence allows one to witness the bands evolution from their first single The Pictures on My Wall (1979) thru Rust (1999). The rawer, edged material showcased on Disc One gives way to the more polished eighties production sheen on Disc Two.
By the third LP, the boys were charting hits: The Back of Love, The Cutter and The Killing Moon being three of the biggest. Lips like Sugar, the single that broke them in the states had two un-bunnymen elements: overly slick production and simplified lyrics, the beginning of their fall from grace.
Still, the non-lp B-sides are great to hear again, Broke my Neck, Angels and Devils and the jesus and mary chainish Over Your Shoulder are standout's. The original version of New Direction here is superior to the one that landed on the 5th self-titled album. Missing in action are Happy Death Man off Heaven Up Here and the Evergreen track Altamont.
As a longtime fan, I shelled out my 50 dollars primarily to hear three unreleased songs: No Hands, Watch Out Below, and Start Again.
The excellent No Hands is Porcupine-era angst with an ominous mood reminiscent of Nick Cave. The latter two songs are only passable. Two songs which should have remained unreleased are the sub-par Lover I love You and Satisfaction.
Two rarities that I'd love to see included are the unreleased My Heart is Overflowing and an alternate, tougher All My Life which have both shown up on bootlegs of Echo's 1985 sessions. Also, how about tossing on one early 80s live recording like the haunting No Dark Things.
The nice surprise here is the string of cover songs from a 1985 tour including the Velvets blistering Run, Run, Run and Will getting his teeth into The Litter's garagey Action Woman.
Overall, for the completest it doesn't get much better than this. All the tracks on Crystal Days have been remastered for superb sound, bouncing from the speakers with vibrancy. The Bunnymen's deep rich texture intact and altogether cool, hippety hop.