Rock: Mac is back, grandeur intact

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
The Byrds, Talking Heads, the Jam, the Clash ... that's about it. The stock of well-loved bands of yesteryear who haven't resumed trade in the Nineties has almost run out. And so far, of all those recidivists who have answered the call of their fans and their bank managers, Echo & the Bunnymen are the only ones whose reunion has been deemed a reasonably good idea.

To be fair on the the Beatles, the Sex Pistols and, of course, the Monkees, no one has acknowledged that this is hardly a relevant comparison. Echo & the Bunnymen are not a legendary unit with a perfect back catalogue who have shocked the world by signing a truce after 20 years of acrimony. Will Sergeant, their guitarist, and Les Pattinson, their bassist, were still working together under the name of Echo & the Bunnymen until 1992, and Sergeant and Ian McCulloch got together as Electrafixion in 1995. The Bunnymen barely broke up at all, then: they just took a sabbatical in order to by-pass their mid-career flounder. How the Cure must be wishing that they'd done the same thing.

If any more evidence were needed that this is more a continuation than a reunion, it's provided by McCulloch, who lives up to the name of the band's new album, Evergreen (London). His eyelashes, cheekbones, blossoming lips and backcombed hair are all roughly where they were nearly two decades ago - not that one could tell at London's Hanover Grand on Tuesday. At one of the sweatiest gigs of the year, the spotlights were pointed at the audience instead of the band (appropriate perhaps, as Eddie Izzard and Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie were just two of the celebs enduring the sauna). All that was visible on stage was a blueish silhouette in a coat, presumably McCulloch, and two portly silhouettes beside him, presumably Sergeant and Pattinson. There were a couple of extra silhouettes on guitar and keyboards, and a drummer whose long hair was a souvenir of his days working with another comeback combo, Page and Plant. (The group's original drummer, Pete De Freitas, was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1989.)

The Evergreen material mixed well with the evergreen likes of "The Cutter"and "Lips Like Sugar". The Bunnymen's achievement is to sound as if they're picking up from where they left off in the Eighties, at the same time as sounding as if they'd sit comfortably on the same bill as Oasis, Radiohead, Spiritualized and James - albeit towards the bottom of that bill. Deciding, perhaps, that you can no longer base a career on teen-angst when you're pushing 40, they've produced a straightforward Britpop-rock album, with more than a whiff of Merseybeat jangle. The grandeur is intact, but with less of the doomy pomposity that once went with it. They're getting too long in the tooth to wear long black coats all the time.

So, yes, as a bunch of hasbeens topping up their pension funds, they're terrific. But McCulloch, true to form, has devoted the past few weeks to informing anyone who'll listen that the Bunnymen are the greatest band in the world ever, and that he has the sweetest voice imaginable. That's asking for trouble. The album hardly stretches the group's capabilities, splendid though it is, and McCulloch knows it. "If you want cutting edge, join the Territorial Army," he scowled on Tuesday. No, I haven't a clue what that's supposed to mean, either.

The show was hampered by the sweetest voice imaginable slipping into a flat, croaky drawl. Plus, the silhouettes were so certain that they could wipe the floor with every other band without trying that they didn't try. It was still a good gig, though. Sergeant's guitar lines glimmered like a tangle of polished barbed wire, and the rest of the band whipped up a deep, psychedelic fog. No more was needed to make you glad their sabbatical is over.

If you're lucky, the ability to step aside as the years roll past can result in your looking timelessly cool. If you're less lucky, it means that you end up looking out-of-date and a bit sad. Step forward Del Amitri, Scottish journeymen, who are much the same as they were 10 years ago, for all their personnel changes. Not for them the makeover which has served Texas so well. By God, no. Justin Currie, singer/bassist, is going to stick with his sideburns even if it kills him; and Iain Harvie, the lead guitarist, is going to stick with his haircut even if it makes him look like the moustachioed one from Hale and Pace in a heavy-metal wig. They've even called their latest single "Not Where It's At", in the mistaken belief that they're as young and charismatic as Jarvis Cocker, and therefore able to play the so-untrendy-we're-trendy card.

It's a shame, because their last album, Twisted, suggested that they might be about to break their mould. However, the follow-up, Some Other Sucker's Parade (A&M), sees them returning to business as usual: well- crafted, mid-tempo, country-soul-pop; lighter-waving earnestness; Currie's love-life still not making him happy. On Thursday, they opened their show at the Hammersmith Palais with the title track, and all I could think of was that it would make a fine theme tune for an eight o'clock sitcom.

Ah well. Currie is an amicable fellow, he leads his band through a lively show, and I suppose someone has to cater for those people who go to only one gig a year. Besides, Del Amitri notch up enviable sales on both sides of the Atlantic, so why should I worry about their not being spectacular? Maybe it's because they're so frustratingly close. On a few tracks the melodies rise above average, and the evocative, wistful lyrics hit the emotional mark dead on. If they could only write some more songs like that, they might not have to write any more like "Not Where It's At".

Comments