ALBUM (1980)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 January, 2009, 12:00am

Echo & the Bunnymen



Bands from northern England regularly make headlines for the outspoken arrogance of their frontmen. The Mancunian Gallagher brothers of Oasis are currently the most obnoxiously entertaining. John Lennon once claimed the Beatles to be bigger than Jesus, and Ian Brown, of the long-defunct Stones Roses, has told of a recurring dream in which he wears a gold crown, and lions rest at his feet.

The avatar of cocksure rock swagger in the 1980s, however, was Ian McCulloch, frontman of Liverpool combo Echo & the Bunnymen. By 1984, with four acclaimed albums and top-10 singles such as the goose bump-inducing The Cutter in the bag, 'Mac the Mouth' was the undisputed master of the controversial soundbite. Impressed and always obsessed with his own appearance and persona, a pouting McCulloch proclaimed: 'I've got great lips. I've got a great face. It's not my fault,' and 'The only inferiority complex I've got is about other people being inferior'.

He wore dark-dark sunglasses and oversized overcoats, his pineapple-like coiffure always teased into studied disarray, and had a penchant for clouds of dry ice and harsh back-lighting on stage - all the better through which to appear in silhouette as a neurotic Jim Morrison-like rock god. McCulloch, (second from left), fixated on Ziggy-era David Bowie since the age of 13 and heavily influenced by art-rock outfits like the Velvet Underground and Television, was his own charisma-sweating invention writ large.

The transformation of the young McCulloch from a skinny, shy and myopic scouser - always fiercely driven, by his own admission, to become famous - into an unlikely icon began with Crocodiles. Though the Bunnymen's dark, brooding and occasionally paranoid debut is not considered their best album (McCulloch cites 1984's Ocean Rain as the band's creative zenith), some regard it as a post-punk epoch-defining 35 minutes.

Significantly less dense or lush than the Bunnymen's later works, Crocodiles has McCulloch's soaring trademark wail, liberally interspersed with a legion of Bowie-esque vocal tics, taking sonic shape for the first time. Though his lyrics are immediately nonsensical, they are clearly scattered with troubling themes of fear and despair. Will Sergeant's raw, jagged and expressive guitar work defines the neo-psychedelic Bunnymen sound, particularly on classics-to-be such as Rescue and the title track Crocodiles, while Les Pattinson on bass and drummer Pete de Freitas (a new addition to the lineup, taking over from the band's drum machine - the original 'Echo') provide a firm if understated backbone to the whole.

Though McCulloch never looked back once he achieved the cult status he had longed for, he has since suggested that Crocodiles, with its lyrical doubts and demons, might have revealed the real, more self-effacing McCulloch before big-mouthed Mac took over. 'Even when I decided I looked like the best pop star in the world,' he said in 1990, 'I would always worry that something wasn't quite right ... Like me hair.'