- by Kevin Orton Rating:8 Release Date:2019-09-06 Label: Rhino
I’m so glad Echo & The Bunnymen never got as big as U2. The simple fact is, they were too obstinate for that ever to happen. For a variety of reasons, none of which were intentional, they have managed to retain their hip cult status. While they made sell-out moves as they progressed, they wisely broke up before the U2 tipping point. Though I strongly suspect it had more to do with Ian McColluch’s desire for solo stardom than for reasons of artistic integrity. In addition to Mac's departure, they also unexpectedly lost Pete de Freitas to a tragic motorcycle accident. Drummers like de Freitas can’t simply be replaced. He was one of a kind and as instrumental to their sound as Will Sargeant’s guitar or Mac's big mouth. That hasn’t stopped them from reuniting and touring and recording. And while they’ve cut some subsequent albums of note, it's not the same band that cut Heaven Up Here and Ocean Rain. And that’s not to knock Crocodiles or Porcupine. I can’t get enough of them. And while I’m at it, the Grey album is none too shabby either.
In case you haven’t guessed, the Bunnymen are one of my favorite bands from the 80’s. They played an integral part in the soundtrack of my youth along with The Smiths and Joy Division. Ocean Rain remains an unsurpassed masterpiece and an album I compulsively come back to time and time again. Suffice it to say, this fan was tickled to learn these Bunnies finally got around to releasing their legendary Peel Sessions. Question is, why did it take so long? There’s nothing to be ashamed of here. In fact, for Bunny men like me, they’re a bit of a revelation. Recorded between 1979-83, they capture a raw, edgy snapshot of the band in their heyday.
‘Read It In Books’, ‘Stars Are Stars’ and ‘Villiers Terrace’ have more grit and nerve than their studio counterparts on Crocodiles. For someone who never saw them live, I suspect this is a fair representation of what they sounded like on the road. Those expecting ‘I Bagsy Yours’ to be a lost Bunnymen number will discover it’s a fantastic rough version of ‘All That Jazz’. Speaking of which, there’s also a fiery more confident version on offer later on.
Heaven Up Here is amply on display with incendiary renditions of ‘Over The Wall’, ‘All My Colours’ and ‘Turquoise Days’. Not to mention, the album’s title track. ‘That Golden Smile’ may not be a title fans recognize but from the first note one can recognize it as ‘Show Of Strength’. Elsewhere, ‘Taking Advantage’ is a stunning early version of Porcupine’s ‘Back Of Love’.
That’s not to say these Peel sessions don’t have their share of rare gems. If ‘An Equation’ sounds unfamiliar its because it never appeared on record in any form. ‘No Hands’ is another dark gem fans might have a hard time placing on any official Bunnymen release.
Ocean Rain might be the Bunnymen’s most polished studio effort, so it's interesting to hear a few of its gems in the rough. ‘Killing Moon’ sounds doomier and more ragged but doesn’t quite reach the soaring heights of its studio counterpart. ‘Silver’ however, goes to show how well this song holds up in any format. I also didn’t expect ‘Seven Seas’ to fare so well in a Peel session format. The xylophone solo has a real charm to boot.
‘Watch Out Below’ is a really early version of ‘Yo Yo Man’ complete with different lyrics. While it sounds a little half- baked and lacking in confidence, it makes you appreciate how great the eventual incarnation turned out to be. A nice window into the band working things out for themselves. Even more notable is a warped version of ‘Nocturnal Me’.
The set concludes with solid workings of ‘Ocean Rain’ and ‘Kingdom Come’. While they don’t outdo the album versions, they capture the band at an inspired moment. Which is how best to approach this release. A fly on the wall's view of the band working behind the gloss and sheen of their studio recordings. Without a doubt, this one is for the fans. Though a touch shy on unreleased rarities, it should more than satisfy any Bunnymen completists.
As you say, why has it taken so long for this to come out? Three of the tracks appeared on the Crystal Days boxset but why they've been keeping the rest from us is anyone's guess. You can never have too many versions of these songs.
Only explanation can be, they're a bunch of tightwads...Hehehe....