Echo & The Bunnymen - Crocodiles

by Kevin Orton Rating:10 Release Date:1981-06-07
Echo & The Bunnymen - Crocodiles
Echo & The Bunnymen - Crocodiles

Growing up in the 80’s, Echo & The Bunnymen had the coolest album covers. And that’s pretty much how I got into them. They soon became one of my favorite bands. They weren't too popular or trendy. They didn’t sound too “80’s” like Depeche Mode or Duran Duran. And they never blew up into the bloated behemoth of U2. Without a doubt, Ocean Rain is the album that will forever be synonymous with Echo & The Bunnymen. And deservedly so. It’s truly fantastic and stands the test of time. Next to that, Heaven Up Here gets all the critical acclaimHowever, their debut tends to be somewhat taken for granted. Yet, it’s here where all the ballyhoo began.

Crocodiles is the Bunnymen’s edgiest and grittiest album. Originally released in 1980, its influence on the English Post Punk scene can’t be underestimated. If you were a fan of Joy Division chances are you would soon stumble upon these Liverpool lads. Front man Ian McCulloch shared Ian Curtis’ deep baritone and abiding love of Bowie and Jim Morrison. Mac may have been “The Mouth” but on guitar, Will Sargeant's fingers did all the talking. Musically, he was coming from a different place than contemporaries like, Joy Division. There was more of a mantra like Psychedelic influence in his playing. Call it Neo Psychedelica, but it was refreshing and no one else was doing it at the time. Pete DeFreitas was a vast improvement on the band’s original drummer, Echo, an oft malfunctioning dual speed drum machine. In fact, DeFreitas can be credited for kicking life and vitality into the Bunnymen’s sound. As for Les Pattison (bass), he added just the right ominous touch of granite and mystery to the proceedings.  As spiky as they were, the Bunnymen had no fear of Pop. Titles like, ‘Happy Death Men’ feature a blast of Spanish style horns on top of the berserk ravings. Making for some truly epic listening. Taking all this into consideration, it’s no small wonder Crocodiles has aged well and remains a vital and enduring listen.

Despite a few daft lines, ‘Going Up’ kicks things off with a mission statement, if I ever heard one. “Don’t you see its going up, up, up? Let’s get the hell out of here.” Raising the immortal question: “D’ya wanna know what’s wrong with the world?” True to his customary swagger, McCulloch isn’t shy about answering, “Everywhere there’s people with no flowers in their hair”. If that were a bit gauche and insipid, it was intentional. From the start, these lads weren't about to take themselves too seriously. Thus, the band name. 

 ‘Stars Are Stars’ is about as haunting as it gets. A dour verse of, “the sky seems full when you’re in the cradle, the rain will fall and wash all your dreams.” Then a glimpse of sunlight with a defiantly melodic chorus, “I saw you climb, shadows on the trees, we lost some time, after things that never matter.” Haunting imagery to say the least. 

‘Pride’ captures the essence of the Bunnymen sound. A song about the refusal to succumb to the voices of ridicule. ‘Monkeys’ boasts what appears to be a cryptic chorus in, ‘Keymon, Keymon’. Took me forever to make out what the fuck he was saying. Of course, its just “monkey” ass backwards. Something which characterizes this band’s attitude like none other: ass backwards.

‘Crocodiles’ is pointed and furious, taking aim at the fads and trends of a burgeoning music scene. “I don’t wanna look back,” McCulloch snarls. ‘Rescue’ nips right on ‘Crocodiles’ heels and reveals a less self-assured attitude. “I’m jumbled up,” McCulloch confesses. Its infectious chorus, a surrender to helplessness. Going to show that behind all of McCulloch’s braggadocio, there’s also a self-deprecating insecurity that always picks up the tab.

One of their debut’s major standouts is the unforgettable, ‘Villiers Terrace’, a mix of naivete and disgust with drug culture. Before you have a chance to catch your breath, ‘Pictures On My Wall’ and ‘All That Jazz’ are the Bunnymen at their most direct and no nonsense. Here less is truly more, making the most of Rock’s basic elements. Slashing guitar, propulsive drums, thundering bass, McCulloch bellowing, “See you at the barricades”. As for the closing track, the Bunnymen never recorded anything quite like, ‘Happy Death Men’ again. Despite its spine chilling piano flourishes and blaring Spanish horns, lyrically, it’s as snide and nihilistic as anything off Never Mind The Bollocks. “Happy Death Men like to keep things dark. Here we go!”

No subsequent CD reissue is worth a spit without the inclusion of a couple of choice singles. Namely, ‘Do It Clean’ and ‘Read It In Books’. Two releases that capture the Bunnymen at the height of their ascent. The Rhino 2003 reissue also features a stellar B-side in ‘Simple Stuff’. A cut that harks back to the 13th Floor Elevators’ bubbling electric jug.  

Before they brought on the “Dancing Horses”, the Bunnymen's restlessness with the status quo spurned them on to explore uncharted territory. By 1987's self titled album however, they would sound more conventional as opposed to trendsetters. Soon after, Pete DeFreitas died in a motorcycle accident. After that, things were never the same. On a live version of ‘Crocodiles’ on the Rhino reissue, McCulloch can be heard chanting, “The pie in the sky when you die.” I can think of no more fitting a phrase to sum this gem up. Listening again, it's incredible to believe this was released nearly 40 years ago. Hasn’t lost a bit of its moody charm.

 

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