Sunday, August 23, 2009
Typer At The Gates Of Dawn
...and away we go!
A brand new feature here at Trip Inside This House: "Typer At The Gates Of Dawn." The concept is to gather together some of my favorite fans of psychedelic music, those I have had great conversations with or have read their reviews, etc., and invite them to share thoughts on whatever they want as regards psychedelia.
I'll publish this once every month, (and we've enough "typers" to go on for some time.) Here now, in the debut of TATGOD is great friend and thinker of great thoughts: SR-71, "the Blackbird." Hailing from Ohio and working as a Teen Librarian at one of the Greater Cleveland Area Public Library branches, it's comforting to know he's influencing young minds to the fullness of the possibilities when it comes to the printed page. (And music, too!) So, let's on with it:
Friend VALIS told me that for the TatGoD feature I could write about a favorite psych band or record, but I decided to obsess for a little while on one of my favorite band’s legendary streak of four golden psychedelic albums. Echo & the Bunnymen don’t get nearly enough respect, particularly compared to Julian Cope and the Teardrop Explodes, which always blows my mind. While I find Cope’s work as a music scholar to be fascinating and in depth, his musical output has always left me cold. Not so with the Bunnymen, whose work toes the line admirably between the cerebral and the physical. The band’s first four albums, in particular, strike me as being flawless in a way few, if any, artists have managed to achieve. Other artists have certainly put out four records in a row that were all excellent, but not with the same type of exponential growth between releases in such a short period of time. Witness: 1980’s Crocodiles, an almost Nuggets-like condensation of all that is glorious about stripped down garage psych morphs into 1981’s Heaven Up Here, abandoning the tight song structure of the former for mood, atmosphere, and a near rejection of song entirely. 1983’s Porcupine shows the band largely avoiding rock tropes entirely as they embrace new sounds and make an album that owes more of a debt to eastern music and folk music. Finally there is 1984’s Ocean Rain, a timeless epic so perfect that to this day I would argue it has yet to be equaled. Later projects by the Bunnymen, including solo efforts, would frequently have their charm and magic, but it is these first four psychedelic masterpieces that form the real legacy of the band.
I tend to like my psych on the darker side. Although happy trips are more fun than bad ones, they aren’t always more illuminating or more interesting. Thus I’ll always take the Rain Parade over the Three O’Clock, the Beatles’ self-titled album over Sgt. Pepper. It is this tendency towards the dark side that fuels my admiration for the first four volumes of the Bunnymen saga. Who else could sing a line like ‘all my colours turn to clouds’ and give it such a sinister edge? I mean, after all, isn’t the death the final trip? Is there a more chilling and powerful way of confronting it than the Killing Moon? You can have your Keats and Yeats, Morrissey, I’ll take Mac the Mouth as long as he can churn out lines like ‘Fate/Up against your will/Through the thick and thin/He will wait until/You give yourself to him’. It’s no coincidence, I think, that the Bunnymen covered People Are Strange or that Ray Manzarek played keyboards on their Bedbugs and Ballyhoo; the Bunnymen courted the same sort of dark muse as the Doors, perhaps more successfully on a consistent basis. Ian McCulloch’s voice & lyrics aren’t, however, the only draw to the band. The rhythm section of Les Pattison and Pete DeFreitas holds things down in a tribal Velvet Underground style that makes Mac’s vocal vamping possible. And then there is the guitar artistry of Mr. Will Sergeant. From the epic spaghetti western riff of the Killing Moon to the buzzsaw chording of Do It Clean, Sergeant has the knack of being exactly the right guitarist for every song. I think it was Johnny Ramone who once said that the best guitarist of all time was George Harrison because every note he played in the Beatles was essential, none was wasted. Maybe it is a Liverpool trait, because that describes Sergeant as well, just listen to the searing yet succinct solo on My Kingdom.
If you are a fan of psychedelic music and have yet to truly delve into early Echo and the Bunnymen, you are in for a treat of the highest order. I actually envy you, that shiver you’ll feel the first time you hear Going Up, the first track on Crocodiles, the bittersweet beauty of hearing the title track of Ocean Rain. Will you, like me, become obsessed enough with the band to read the Jacobean revenge tragedy that was the inspiration for Porcupine’s My White Devil? Probably not, but I guarantee you’ll no longer simply associate this band with Lips Like Sugar and John Hughes’ movies. Just as goth pioneers Bauhaus were in actually much more than a gothic stereotype, Echo and the Bunnymen were a post punk band that imbibed a brew more heavily psych than anything new wave or post punk. Forget the hair gel, these dudes were freaks of the highest order. Here’s hoping their new album this October grabs a little bit of the glory of these first four triumphant recordings.
The Blackbird points the way.