Echo and the Bunnymen Cream, Liverpool

It's hard to remember now how much Echo and the Bunnymen meant. Fourteen years ago, they were crowned Kings of Rock, each album was greeted with religious fervour. They were silhouettes in long coats which shadowed the early Eighties, students of psychedelia with few peers. Nine years ago they vanished, to indifference, in a cloud of rancour typical of the incendiary Liverpool scene they once ruled. The death of their drummer Pete DeFreitas in 1989 seemed to nail the lid on an era. But now, here they were again, with a new album, back in the town where it began. Why ? "Because," said singer Ian McCulloch. It should have been an event, a drama. But it felt like a gallery opening. Almost all the crowd were thirtyish, the grown-up remnant of teenage fanatics. The mood wasn't expectant, it was one of mild happiness. The Bunnymen are back. That's nice.

McCulloch sensed something was missing. The charismatic frontman of legend looked drained, shrunken tentative. In his home town, all the risks of coming back seemed to rocket through his brain, his old arrogance seemed to freeze in his mouth. The Bunnymen stood firm behind him, but they too teetered on the edge of disappointment. The music they made, rooted in melodies and psychedelic echoes, like nothing else in the Eighties, had become commonplace since.

But as they played on, the rust almost visibly crumbling, the memories of who they were slowly clearing, the feeling of anticlimax fell away, too. The Bunnymen cut between past and present songs till the gulf between them shivered to irrelevance. The hits worked their spell, but the realisation dawned: some of the new songs sounded better. It was as if the last decade had never happened, as if the Bunnymen had always been with us. And were on the point of releasing their best work in years.

It was this conviction which finally freed McCulloch from his cares. Closing his eyes, exhaling with relief, he began the new single, "Nothing Lasts Forever". In this first hour back in the public eye, this moment of attempted, fumbling resurrection, it was the only song that seemed to step to one side, to peer at what the Bunnymen, nearing middle-age, were trying. "I want it back," McCulloch sang, never opening his eyes. "I want it all, I want it now." The melody soared up on synth-horns and strings. When it was over, he said: "That's the best song we've ever written," and it almost was. It had been an understated evening, a careful stretch back into life. But by its end, against all odds, Echo and the Bunnymen's crown was back in reach Nick Hasted

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