Review by MarkR|
4 stars out of 4
The class of 80 was an auspicious one: After the fallout of
Britains Sex Pistols-fired punk rock explosion, bands scrambled
to make sense of the new landscape and put lessons learned to use. It
marked ground zero for contemporary rock music, and it was high time
somebody started making some money off this new introspective
anti-establishmentarianism. Their respective labels were counting on
two bands from the north, Dublins U2 and Liverpools Echo and
the Bunnymen, two quartets driven by loquaciously minimalist guitar
stylists and passionate, if precious, frontmen. One groups wishes
were answered; but no real comparison would stick after each bands
debut albums, U2s Boy, of course, and the Bunnymens jarring
Crocodiles. Bonos boys would soon play the political card for the
better part of a decade, while Ian McCullochs opted for poetic
existentialism. Thats not even a difficult call on paper, though
the times certainly contributed to the opportune ascendancy of the Irish
contingent. Yet the Bunnymen released a most consistent string of compelling
records through the mid 80s, Mac toying with Jim Morrisons
concepts of dark and light, poetry and obsession. And even when he
couldnt be bothered to craft a decent lyric, the music never
disappointed, swirlie pop dirges and rave-ups fueled by Will Sergeants
genius one-string guitar melodies. An early highlight was 84s
Ocean Rain, a string-drenched orchestral pop opus the first of its kind,
and which featured the bands best single, The Killing
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE? is being touted by handlers as
RETURN TO OCEAN RAIN, and the London Metropolitan Orchestra is in the
house and representing. But a lot of things have changed since 84.
First of all, orchestral rock records arent exactly unique anymore.
Every band with a budget makes at least one, so the Bunnymen better have
a good reason for renting the tuxedos. Second, after deploring Echo and
the Bunnymens quite-fine-actually 87 self-titled album,
McCulloch quit for a solo career that didnt materialize, before
re-teaming with Sergeant for the Electrafixion project and, eventually,
another Bunnymen record. Not exactly indication of a house in order.
Luckily, one thing has stayed the same: The vast majority of music out
today is utter crap and deserves to be exposed as such. But where
1997s EVERGREEN remained predominantly an upbeat affair, WHAT ARE
YOU GOING TO DO? goes a more contemplative route. Instead of pop songs
arranged for strings, these tracks seem to have been written with the
orchestra in mind, sounding more integrated for it.
The album begins with the wordy bummer of a title track, Macs
response to the titular question that hes gonna Be me.
Other lyrics lend evidence that McCullochs reached a Zen-like
reconciliation between his youthful ideals and the man hes come
to be. That hes comfortable with the fact that hes an
arrogant, drunken rock star no one really cares about makes his
soul-wrangling all the more endearing, actually. The flawed-Everyman
thing works better when celebritys not among the baggage.
McCulloch displays those flaws unrepentantly on tracks like Morning
Sun (that ultra-romantic solipsistic depression) and Rust
(Give me one more try / And Ill come flaking back to you).
Yet they just make his apologies all the more poignant. If youre
not buying that, then go for Sergeants arabesque melodies -- which
he seems able to pull out of his ass at will -- as often as not lent to
the L.M.O. I defy anyone to find a more essential french horn part in
rock and roll than the one in Get in the Car.
The biggest difference between now and 15 years ago is that
McCullochs done something he couldnt have then, which is make
a record that means something. Lets see U2 do that.