Today is a bit of an odd choice for me. I generally review something out of my music library here but my choices today were Janet Jackson’s Control and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, both released on February 4. The former, I like, but I wasn’t in the mood for that sort of mid-’80s Jam & Lewis production. And the latter? Well, it’s been done to death, hasn’t it? I don’t know – maybe I’ll have something to say about it at some point but today didn’t feel like the day.
So I thought I’d branch out and listen to an album I’ve never heard by a band I’ve always respected but never really dug into. Growing up in the U.S. in the 80s, I was introduced to Echo & The Bunnymen by way of their covering The Doors’s “People Are Strange” on the soundtrack to The Lost Boys. Somewhere along the line (probably due to the sadly defunct WFNX out of Boston), I got turned onto “The Game” and “Lips Like Sugar” from their self-titled 1987 album and liked those songs enough to buy the record, but I never went further than that.
Porcupinewas released on February 4, 1983 and never even pinged my radar. So I pulled it up online and listened to it two or three times. Most of the records I talk about here are albums that I grew up with and have been listening to for years, with which I’m intimately familiar. With Porcupine, I’m writing about a first date.
On first impressions, it’s a damn good record and one which, if I’d heard it upon its release thirty-five years ago, would have grown into a favorite over the course of my impressionable teen years. As it is now, I’m picking out bits and pieces of lyrics here and there and the songs carry no emotional landmines or nostalgic backlash for me. But the music is captivating and Ian McCulloch‘s voice is in prime form. I was hooked from the opening strings of “The Cutter” and became more enthralled throughout the length of Side One which includes the stunning “Clay” and the somber title track.
One thing that strikes me listening to this is how alien it sounds. It’s not that I haven’t heard my share of Echo & The Bunnymen songs over the past twenty-five or so years; my point is that it sounds nothing like the US Top 40 radio that I grew up with. I can hear and appreciate the music, recognize its excellence, but it is still so at odds with what I was listening to at the time and the influences that did end up informing my musical tastes.
On the other hand, a part of me likes and appreciates the fact that this band never had that breakthrough US hit that lent itself to the kind of overexposure that inevitably leads to disdain. I love The Cure and Depeche Mode, for example, but if I never hear “Friday I’m In Love” or “People Are People” again, it will be too soon. Echo & The Bunnymen didn’t suffer that fate – they received little enough exposure on the roads I traveled that everything I hear by them (even songs that I do know better like “The Game” or “People Are Strange”) still sounds fresh and new.
I watched a couple of old videos from this era while getting ready to write this article and I’m astounded by how young the band is. McCulloch was only 23 or 24 when this was recorded but I cannot get over his voice on this record. At times his delivery is just a drone, well-suited to the mood of the song or passage therein. But at other times, it positively soars and there is so much power and confidence behind that sound.
Side Two follows in line with the first side. After listening to the album three or four times now, the whole thing is really of one piece, better suited to CDs or streaming than having its continuity broken up by flipping over a record or a cassette midway through. I have a feeling that this album is going to wind up in semi-regular rotation; it will be interesting to revisit it on, say, its fortieth anniversary, and see how my impressions of it have changed. Early impressions are that it’s very good, bordering on truly excellent. It has the feel of an album that will become as comfortable and familiar as a worn sweater over time.
So, definitely a second or third date… too early to say if there will be an engagement, but it could happen.