Echo and the Bunnymen, Siberia

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 04.22.11 in Reviews


Echo and the Bunnymen

On the 5th Volume of The Director's Label DVD series, Anton Corbjin relates a story of how an angry Goth border guard nearly shut down his entire video shoot when he realized that man with the meticulous haircut was not, in fact, Robert Smith, but Ian McCulloch. McCulloch and his band have been dealing with mistaken-identity fiascos like these for the length of their career, with classic grim weepers like "The Killing Moon" getting attributed to Simple Minds by well-meaning file-swappers and mix-tape makers. Casual music listeners generally have trouble separating the Bunnies from the Furs, and most of those who can tend to have a passionate preference for one or the other.

Echo’s silvery arpeggios and yearning vocals make our heart go pitty-pat.

The bright news for that camp is this: Siberia is an alarmingly good record, one that comes off with grace and poise and dignity. Twenty-five years into their career, the group is keenly aware of what it does well, and doesn't do much to muck up the master plan. Which means Will Seargeant once again spins sterling silver arpeggios while McCulloch broods about bad luck and missed opportunities. Stylistically, it falls near U2's recent "return to form records" but is neither as rote nor as obvious. Siberia picks quiet consistency over big crescendos, and so while musically there are no great revelations (the opening gallop of "Parthenon Drive" is a straight echo of Ocean Rain's "Silver"), there are no great embarrassments, either. The songs are modestly melodic, in debt to nothing but the group's back catalog (though it's hard to ignore the similarity between "All Because of You Days" and "Makin 'Whoopie"). The years have weathered McCulloch's smooth croon, and he takes no pains to hide the cracks around its edges. Instead he uses his age as an asset, leaning heavy into knocked-out lyrics like "Is this how the end begins?" and letting his voice squeak and break to accentuate the negatives.

What stands out most, though, is the way Sargeant's patented latticework guitar patterns anticipated the current rash of feel-bad rock bands — from Interpol to the Stills to Stellastar* to every other band who generally gets compared to Joy Division. Figures — even when it comes to citing sources, Echo plays second fiddle.