ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN METEORITES
“For me, this is a whole new approach. It’s more edgy than anything I’ve ever done. I’m dealing with something on this record I didn’t want to deal with for a long time” Ian McCulloch
A year ago, Ian McCulloch found himself in a dark place. After leading Echo & The Bunnymen through 35 years of epic highs and turbulent lows, the singer realised it was time to take a break and look inwards. Although the group’s last album, 2009’s ‘The Fountain’, had been enthusiastically received, McCulloch’s songwriting partnership with Bunnymen guitarist Will Sergeant had virtually ground to a halt. What’s more, years of rock excess and running away from personal problems had left him feeling adrift and unsettled. “I wasn’t happy with a lot of stuff,” admits the singer. “Emotionally I was at a very low ebb.”
Yet from this slough of despond, ‘Meteorites’ unexpectedly began to take shape. Holed up in his Liverpool flat, mired in self-reflection, McCulloch started writing music on a bass guitar that was lying around, a process that instantly proved cathartic and fruitful. “Straight away I felt better for it,” he explains. “I had been thinking of taking five years off on an island, or whatever, but suddenly all these songs came from nowhere. It was really exciting and fresh. This record’s about my personal journey, my rebirth, even if it is a Bunnymen record.”
‘Meteorites’ - the group’s eleventh studio album released 26th May on 429 Records/Caroline - does, indeed, sound like an exhilarating renaissance, an intricately crafted work with a poetic brilliance and emotional grandeur that places it on a par with the Bunnymen’s greatest records from the ‘80s and ‘90s, notably pysch-pop debut ‘Crocodiles’ (1980), the majestic ‘Heaven Up Here’ (1981), orchestral-rock masterpiece ‘Ocean Rain’ (1984) and Britpop-era comeback ‘Evergreen’ (1997).
But for all the classic Bunnymen hallmarks – McCulloch’s aching, velvety tenor, Sergeant’s shimmering guitar work - the new album’s most striking feature is its unprecedented and startling lyrical candour. Deeply personal and subtly revelatory, it sees McCulloch finally facing up to his demons with an honesty that his previous records, however emotionally raw, have invariably shied away from. The singer was encouraged to confront his feelings by legendary producer Youth, who had worked on McCulloch’s 2012 live solo recording, ‘Holy Ghosts’, and who was drafted in to work on the nascent ‘Meteorites’ at his Attic studio in London.
“Youth said, ‘Your lyrics are brilliant, but you’ve got something to get out’ - about where I was at that time,” explains McCulloch. “So I followed his advice. I wrote from the soul, more so than the heart and the brain. It scares the hell out of me, and surprises me, how much I’ve been able to reveal without putting a veil over it. There were signs all through my life of what was down there inside me - [‘Crocodiles’ album track] ‘Rescue’ touched on it as an 18 or 19 year old. But maybe it was seeing the future more than what was happening at the time.”
Among McCulloch’s startling self-realisations was that his upbringing in Liverpool may have profoundly scarred him in ways he hadn’t comprehended – a subject he addresses on album closer ‘New Horizons’. “I realised the first word of the song was going to be ‘if’– ‘If I got distant, from all the gifts that heaven sent…’ It was me finally seeing what people close to me could see for so many years, like my wife, friends. I remember, [wife] Lorraine saying, ‘You think it hasn’t affected you, the way your dad was?’ – he was a compulsive gambler, everyone loved him, but they also thought he was fraught with deep problems. But I was like, ‘No, he wasn’t fucked up, he was my dad.’ Lorraine said, ‘You don’t see how much you are your dad.’ So instead of me going, ‘Fuck yeah, I’m a twat’, I wanted to write about it, and see where it gets me and takes me.”
There are other candid allusions on Grapes Upon The Vine to the singer losing himself in rock’n’roll excess and, on the funky blue-eyed soul of Is This A Breakdown (“I don’t think so.. I know”), to the attraction of oblivion. “I love Is This A Breakdown – the title alone is great,” he smiles. “It’s the kind of title Ronnie Spector might have sung in the ‘60s. That line - ‘What do I want? What do I need? What have you got, to make my eyes bleed?’ – I thought, ‘Will people get what I mean?’ But it just seems right, cos that’s basically all that’s left sometimes. Give me this, that or the other to get me there. Everybody knows about it anyway.”
Will Sergeant – the only other surviving Bunnyman from the original line-up that came together on the Liverpool post-punk scene in 1978 – was absent from the initial recording sessions of ‘Meteorites’, but a playback of several tracks at Youth’s house in London persuaded him to contribute guitar. Sergeant’s parts were recorded at his home near Liverpool as the deadline to finish the album rapidly approached. The results, reminiscent of his best and most inventive work with the group, underscored the feeling that ‘Meteorites’ wasn’t a McCulloch solo album, but a bona fide and worthy addition to the Bunnymen’s canon.
“When I heard the stuff Will did, I thought, ‘That’s it, that’s what he does,’” says the singer. “It has come from his soul as well. He’s expressing himself and you can hear it. A lot of the guitar lines were mine, but you can hear Will doing his Eastern thing on Constantinople, and that bit he does on Market Town, it just sounds like Echo & The Bunnymen.”
For McCulloch, ‘Meteorites’ has been a journey of self-discovery that’s resulted in a record he rightly believes to be up there with the Bunnymen’s best – only more truthful, lyrically powerful and spiritually cleansing. “It’s been a way of dealing with where you’re at, though it doesn’t necessarily stop the pain,” he explains. “As a friend of mine says, ‘You’re never out of the woods.’ But now I’m doing it properly, I’m writing soliloquies up there with Shakespeare. I need to be as good as him, not some dickhead in a rock band.”
Meteorites is released May 26th on 429 Records