Pop: Live: B is for Bunnymen... and Bacharach NEWCASTLE

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THE NEW Echo & The Bunnymen album is a brave move forward, a disavowal of the band's grand past for simple statements of ageing and regret. Unfortunately, they have also abandoned rock'n'roll in favour of pretty but unthrilling Bacharachian pop that suits the singer Ian McCulloch's increasing desire to croon like Sinatra. But it ignores his band's greatest achievement in their unlikely comeback two years ago - their honing of songs old and new during relentless touring, till the Bunnymen who blinked back into the spotlight at Cream in 1997 had achieved a force and majesty live which few could equal. The difference between a drunk McCulloch debuting the new album's title song, "What Are You Going to Do with Your Life?", as a taunting accusation to his thirtysomething crowd at their last headline show a year ago, and its mood of middle-aged acceptance on record, tells a disappointing story. The quiet re-retirement of the bassist Les Pattinson between tours, leaving only McCulloch and Will Sergeant, invites a further question. Are Echo & The Bunnymen really still a band - or the name that ritually validates McCulloch, the Voice?

When they take to the stage, cruising on the crowd's good humour after the Newcastle FA Cup semi-final win earlier, such worries at first seem ill-founded. McCulloch swaggers into view from a swirl of dry ice, with ash hanging delicately from a cigarette, swathed in shiny black leather, more the perfect rock star than he's ever been before. Will Sergeant strums on his left, hidden by his fringe, and who cares? Snake-dancing and sneaking drinks from the crowd, McCulloch's recent claim that he is the Bunnymen seems less a boast than a lucky fact.

He homes in on established hits. The crowd, almost all old enough to remember the Bunnymen's heyday, danced the way they are supposed to, and watch the band do their memories justice. By "Bring On the Dancing Horses", the crowd are hurling the lyrics back, rolling back the years. The potency of the old songs seems freeze-dried. But of course, for any man who believes in his future, that can never be enough.

The crunch for McCulloch comes when "The Back of Love" is followed by that crucial new song, "What Are You Going To Do With Your Life?". He sings the old song with a voice deliberately raked ragged, bringing one of his firmest hits into his new, soft-focused world. For "What Are You Going To Do...", as when he first sang it so angrily, the audience's age should make it resonate. But somehow, the transition to this brave new Bunnymen's world falls short.