Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Mighty Lemon Drops - World Without End

The Mighty Lemon Drops
World Without End


Released 1988 on Chrysalis
Reviewed by welbourn TEKH, 29/11/2004ce


About ten years ago, ‘The Independent’ Saturday supplement featured a regular ‘my hero’ article. Each week, a chosen journalist would wax lyrical about someone who had made an impression on his or her life. A writer, whose name escapes me, once cited Charlie Cook – the Scottish international footballer who played for Chelsea in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as being a boyhood hero. When asked by a careers teacher, what he wanted to be when he grew up, the writer replied, “I want to be Charlie Cook”. The teacher replied. “You mean you want to be like Charlie Cook”. “No” replied the writer, “I want to be Charlie Cook!” It could be said, that Wolverhampton’s The Mighty Lemon Drops were similar in mind to our journalist friend, for they too didn’t want to emulate their heroes - they simply wanted to be them.

It has been said many times, and I’m sure if I was one of the members of The Mighty Lemon Drops, I’d be sick of this comparison, but for many years, they were regarded as a poor man’s Echo and the Bunnymen. The UNSUNG website, is of course not here for us to condemn bands or their recordings, on the contrary, so I therefore take this opportunity to champion an album that for many, was regarded as ‘not worthy’ by those who cited the Echo and the Bunnymen legacy as untouchable.

I first became aware of The Mighty Lemon Drops in 1988 when I spotted them on kids’ pop television programme, miming to their new single ‘Inside Out’. With their unpretentious apparel of black jeans and bomber jackets, they resembled Julian Cope’s WSYM-era band. Not since hearing The Smiths ‘This Charming Man’ in similar circumstances, had I been drawn to a new band that portrayed such vibrancy. That afternoon was spent in town, hunting down the CD that featured the single and on first playing, I was stunned by their remarkable similarity to Echo and the Bunnymen, but for me, this comparison was never a problem.

The previous year, the ‘Bunnymen’ had released their fifth and eponymous album, which was considered by many, to be their weakest to date. The album was a far cry from the psychedelic urgency of ‘Crocodiles’ and the grandiose splendour of ‘Ocean Rain’. The Mighty Lemon Drops appeared on the scene and were immediately exposed by the music press as Bunnymen ‘copyists’, but their attempts to use their mentor’s sound as a vehicle for their own songs was, for me, quite forgivable in the circumstances. Let me explain.

The disappointment of ‘Echo and The Bunnymen’ was still with me when I first heard ‘World Without End’ and I somehow felt that The Mighty Lemon Drops filled a void that the underachieving Bunnymen had created. If ‘World Without End’ had been released when the Bunnymen were focused and achieving, the album would undoubtedly, have fallen on deaf ears and no one would have given it the time of day, but at the time of release, Echo and The Bunnymen’s flag was becalmed on a windless day. Four pretenders from the Midlands had now hoisted their own flag and setting aside their Bunnymen credentials, had produced an album of ten(1) classic tracks, one of which, ‘Inside Out’ had ‘hit’ written all over it.

Somehow, ‘World Without End’ captures the intensity of ‘the Bunnymen sound’ in a stripped down, garage-band style. The recordings appear uncluttered and free of gimmicky effects and it is the strength of the songs upon which the album relies. If you could imagine the Bunnymen returning to the studio after ‘Ocean Rain’, ridding themselves of the pomp and with a view to capturing the essence of ‘Crocodiles’, but in a stripped-down form, you have the essence of ‘World Without End’.

INSIDE OUT: The slow fade-in of ‘Inside Out’ is radio-friendly and leads into the snappiest song you’ll ever here this side of a Blondie’s Greatest Hits LP! Direct and punchy, the guitars’ chime their way through to the hook. A thick acoustic guitar rears up at crucial epochs in the song’s progression and adds a reassuring ‘heaviness’ to the proceedings that underlines Paul Marsh’s urgent vocal delivery.

ONE BY ONE: From an intro worthy of The Comsat Angels, ‘One by One’ kicks into a desperate, but confident ‘McCulloch-like’ discourse. Keith Rowley stamps his credentials all over the track with a tripping, on-beat. This track is SO Bunnymen that one begins to wonder what part producer Tim Palmer played in the proceedings.

IN EVERYTHING YOU DO: A pensive ballad that is underpinned by Tony Lineham’s deep bass-lines that steers the song through the verse into a low altitude chorus. Dark chanting in the background gives the song a discerning edge that intentionally undermines the positive sentiment of the lyric.

HEAR ME CALL: The Mighty Lemon Drops understood the importance of space. David Newton's guitar often gives way to leave vocals, drums and bass isolated. ‘Hear Me Call’ relies on this technique for its dynamics. When they do reappear, the guitars are lush and varied and the strength of their ‘middle eights’ reveal themselves to be a key part to the vitality of the Newton/Lineham writing partnership.

NO BOUNDS: Bass and drums and reluctant guitars combine to create a backdrop for a lyric that relies on surprise. Smashing bottles reminiscent of Joy Division’s ‘I Remember Nothing’ add to the drama that lurks beneath.

FALL DOWN (LIKE THE RAIN): The second, but less obvious single, for me is the most passionate song on the album. Intense and fervent it epitomises the spirit of the recording. The song is constructed like a stepladder or steady gear-change, that leads us to the punch line, delivered with a slight backward reverb that de-stabalises the alleviated track. The integrity of the band shines through here and any misgivings about ‘cribbing’ are forgiven by this stage as we are led out of the song by a beautiful, isolated guitar.

CRYSTAL CLEAR: Possibly the weakest track on the album, it never reaches cruising height and lacks the dynamism of the previous tracks.

HOLLOW INSIDE: A portentous piano creates an “I’ve heard this before somewhere” scenario for the listener. By now you get the impression that all these riffs are steals from Bunnymen albums, but you try finding ‘em on any Bunnymen recording. It is as if The Mighty Lemon Drops have created a ‘painting by numbers’ blueprint for these recordings. Their art is such that their familiarity is the key to their originality.

CLOSER TO YOU: Joy Division’s ‘Atmospheres’ springs to mind here, but again, after a few plays, the ‘contrived’ sound soon becomes synonymous with the band. In a way, The Mighty Lemon Drops have created a musical platform for themselves, by borrowing the best bits from post-punk albums recorded between the years 1979 – 1982.

BREAKING DOWN: The last track on the vinyl and cassette versions is a killer. It appears as almost a steal from a Doors track, but again which one? Once again we are in no-man’s land, for the track is quintessentially a ‘Lemon Drops’ song. The track ends in chaos and was obviously intended as the concluding track on the album.

SHINE: It would be easy to say that these last two tracks were ‘tagged’ onto the end of the recordings for the CD format, but for me they compliment and enhance the recordings here. There is a world-weariness about 'Shine’ that is tinged with an ethereal easterness. Almost contemplative, it provides an insight into the fact The Mighty Lemon Drops, although not considered as the brainiest kids in the class, had done the homework and the copycat tag is finally put to bed through this fine tune.

OUT OF HAND: Produced by the band and Pete Brown, ‘Out of Hand’ is thin in comparison to the Tim Palmer tracks, but still retains the band’s previous dynamics, providing us with a clue to who led the musical direction(2).

At the time of writing, fifteen years have elapsed since the release of ‘World Without End’ and this distance enables us, with the benefit of hindsight, to set aside prejudices we may have experienced at the time and reflect on a classic pop album. A band that wore its influence blatantly on its sleeve were, at the time, condemned for being purely copyists and this vision perhaps clouded the appreciation of the fine set of songs that exists here. Imitation is often considered a sign of flattery and The Mighty Lemon Drops certainly owe the inspiration behind this album to Echo and the Bunnymen. But in my opinion, it is an album that the Bunnymen were never capable of writing themselves. Their unfocussed, Morrison/Doors obsessed ramblings of the time, prevented the application and clarity that we all desired from them. In their naivety, The Mighty Lemon Drops for one moment in time, fulfilled that role(3) for us. Even today, Starsailor and Coldplay proudly wear their Bunnymen influences on their sleeves and are often acclaimed for this association, not only by the music press, but even by Mac himself. Surely it is about time to revisit ‘World Without End’ and celebrate it, not on its influences, but on its own merits. Indeed, a mighty album of its time.

Notes:
1. The vinyl LP and cassette versions featured X10 tracks the CD version included X2 extra tracks; ‘Shine’ and ‘Out of Hand’.

2. The Mighty Lemon Drops recorded a version of The Rolling Stones’ ‘Paint it Black’, a song also covered by Echo and The Bunnymen. The idea of covering a song already covered by a band you are accused of plagiarising was a magnificent/crazy move. The criticisms that followed were of course predictable.

3. By the time the band produced their follow up to ‘World Without End’ – ‘Laughter’, they had listened and taken onboard, the advice dished out to them by the music media. By dropping the Bunnymanesque mantle and developing their own style, they somehow appeared ordinary and ethereal. The cover photo depicting their leather bomber jackets hanging over microphone stands, appeared metaphorical of this transition.


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