For today’s bit of lunacy we set sail over the wide Atlantic until we reach the shores of North West England and the launching pad of Mersey Beat music. The Mersey Beat music of Liverpool would soon give way to the biggest band in history, The Beatles of course, but that didn’t mean that Liverpool was done exporting interesting music.
The list of non-Beatles who made their way onto the radios and record players of the world is an unusually long one for a city that had been long known more for it’s tradeing center and shipping than anything to do with pop music. But once the floodgates were opened, the music continued to run out for decades.
Cilla Black, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer, Billy Fury, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, A Flock of Seagulls, The Searchers, Ladytron and even Atomic Kitten all hail from Liverpool. From the list of Liverpudlians you can see that for the last fifty years and more, Liverpool has had a huge influence in a wide variety of musical styles. In the late 70′s when punk was rapidly being driven under by the first vestiges of New Wave, yet another Liverpool band would soon rise – nearly – up to the top of the charts. (At least in England and Europe anyways.)
One of the reasons that Echo & the Bunnymen never really made it in the United States should be fairly obvious. They are just plain too weird for most American music lovers. Either that or they were just not weird enough to gather the major album sales and concert draws that many of their contemporaries acquired.
They had the videos and the occasional MTV airplay but it never really happened for Echo & the Bunnymen in the states. That doesn’t mean they were a flop however. In the course of their first 14 year run they did manage to sell over four million albums which is an accomplishment in anyone book. The problem was that it took six albums to do it.
So, Echo & the Bunnymen are one of the quintessential cult bands on the 80′s and 90′s and even today with founding members Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant still at the helm.
During their brief stab at the MTV generation in the early 80′s they had minor hits with “The Back of Love” and “The Cutter.” While the singles did well in the UK, they never really made an impression in the States. The most successful video from the other boys from Liverpool was the dark and moody track “The Killing Moon.” (Dark and moody as a description for Echo & the Bunnymen admittedly is kind of like calling sunlight well, light.)
“Under blue moon I saw you
So soon you’ll take me,
Up in your arms
Too late to beg you or cancel it
Though I know it must be the killing time
Cheery stuff… Echo & the Bunnymen give Robert Smith and his band The Cure a run for the money on wallowing in pathos and nihilism. But Smith and The Cure were able to connect with American listeners in a way Echo never did.
Up against your will
Through the thick and thin
He will wait until
You give yourself to him.”
Now keep in mind that “The Killing Moon” is probably the most accessible song Echo & the Bunnymen ever did. It’s little wonder that “The Killing Moon” wound up in the movie Donnie Darko as well as The Howling: Reborn. It seems that Echo & the Bunnymen do well in psychopathic killer movies. And why not? Take a listen to it.
Howling winds followed by a brittle guitar and a spooky cello open things up followed by a bit of jangly piano and a bass sound that would be right at home on pretty much any REM record of the day. Not really what you expect after the intro…
Ian McCulloch’s vocals are direct and clear with oodles of attitude but no rage. The first verse is broken at the end by a nice and very un-subtle whammy bar guitar strum to get the message delivered that this is “the killing time.”
Once we’re off into the chorus we’re hit with nearly a major chord tease at musical happiness. The piano and guitar are staccato all over the place. For a second it sounds like it might actually be a little bit more on the cheery side, until you get the feeling that all the staccato notes sound a bit more like someone being stabbed repeatedly.
McCulloch is actually a bit flat on the last part of the chorus when he sings “you give yourself to him.” Quite intentional no doubt and it makes the line even more disturbing when he pulls the line up into pitch at the end.
Then we are treated to another whammy guitar as the prelude to a brief double tracked piano lead that’s all of two quick chords with one of the chords dramatically out of tune making it sound like one of those cheap toy pianos that are about eight by seven – inches – in size.
“In starlit nights I saw you
So cruelly you kissed me
Your lips a magic world
Your sky all hung with jewels.”
Is it really any wonder why Echo & the Bunnymen never really found a huge audience?
Now musically there were, and are, quite adventurous and innovative. Over the years they’ve become a very influential band inspiring even such luminaries as Paul McCartney himself on the song “Dance ‘Til We’re High” from one of his side projects, The Fireman with, appropriately enough former Killing Joke bassist Martin Glover, (himself formerly known as “Youth” back in the Killing Joke days.)
The real question for Echo & the Bunnymen is how much of this can one take? “The Killing Moon” is about as commercial as they ever got. And yes, it’s a good song. Quite powerful in it’s way and it does a wonderful job of selling you and bringing you into the story. Could I listen to a full hour of this without having delusions of Hannibal Lecter?
I don’t really want to find the answer to that question and apparently neither did too many other people – who weren’t watching Donnie Darko at the time.