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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Echo & the Bunnymen -- Porcupine


A Porcupine is a pretty tough thing to get close to, and so is the Echo and the Bunnymen album of the same  name. After an enduringly prolific period, the Bunnymen suddenly found writing new material torturous, and indeed some of the songs on Porcupine sound like they were recorded in a torture chamber.

Of course, it's the coolest torture chamber ever devised. Though almost every second of Porcupine is full of noise, the material sounds as if it was crushed from the band. In all, though, the album isn't dark because of this, just difficult. On top of that, the strings produced by Indian artist, Shankar, ordered at the behest of the label to make the album more commercial, only add to Porcupine's thick prison of sound.
The first side is some of the best work the Bunnymen have ever recorded. Dual singles, "The Cutter" and "The Back of Love" contain rapturous outbursts of sound that could almost be mistaken for joy, but the melancholy undercurrents are clear enough. "My White Devil" is a sign of the coming second half of the album. "Clay" contains one of the Bunnymen's most desperate choruses, and a great sort of 80's timelessness. I've linked to "Porcupine" above, and it is emblematic of much of the album it is titled for. It starts off huge, looming boulders swinging overhead, then takes a completely unexpected turn 3:16 in, into a more conventional, straightforward song with some odd, Halloween-esque noises mixed in. That's pretty much how the album goes, as the next three tracks follow similar tempos and don't deviate much. They're good, but also kind of run in place until "Gods Will Be Gods" brings some hopeful urgency, and "In Bluer Skies" fulfills it's promise. Thus ends not the Bunnymen's best, but a Bunnymen album none the less.
What U2 Were Doing At the Time: While the Bunnymen were undergoing some writer's block, U2 were experiencing violent creativity. The very month that Porcupine was released, U2's militant War hit shelves, showcasing several new sides of the band, and thrusting them into the international spotlight. Of course, Ian McCulloch could still make fun of Bono's hair, and he did.
2003 Edition Bonus Tracks: "Fuel" is an oddly subdued but enjoyable Bunnymen song, even more weird due to the fact that it is led by a marimba and features no drums. After "Fuel" are five "Alternate Versions" of certain Porcupine tracks before the strings and final tinkerings were added. "The Cutter" is definitely less in its earlier form, though "My White Devil" sounds a little more urgent. "Porcupine"'s early form omits the surprise second half, and becomes simply a really cool passing movement. "Ripeness" benefits from its rowdier, rawer sound. "Gods Will Be Gods" is faster and more furious, possibly better than the album version. Overall, the alternate versions are a tossup. The Bunnymen's original cut of the album may have had a little more energy, but might not have necessarily been better. After the alternate takes is, "Never Stop (Discoteque)," an ill-advised trip down the lane of popular taste the Bunnymen didn't take often...then again, it isn't on the original LP, so I guess it doesn't really count. For what it's worth, the bridge is a nice callback to "Over the Wall."

1983 Korova/Sire/WEA
1. The Cutter 3:56
2. The Back of Love 3:14
3. My White Devil 4:41
4. Clay 4:15
5. Porcupine 6:01
6. Heads Will Roll 3:33
7. Ripeness 4:50
8. Higher Hell 5:01
9. Gods Will Be Gods 5:25
10. In Bluer Skies 4:33
2003 Edition Bonus Tracks
11. Fuel 4:09
12. The Cutter (Alternate Version) 4:10
13. My White Devil (Alternate Version) 5:02
14. Porcupine (Alternate Version) 4:04
15. Ripeness (Alternate Version) 4:43
16. Gods Will Be Gods (Alternate Version) 5:31
17. Never Stop (Discotheque) 4:45

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