Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Echo & The Bunnymen

Released 1980 on Korova/Warner
Reviewed by Le Samourai, 18/07/2000ce

Music Critics and normal people usually comment that the biggest
“guitar hero” UK Alternative Rock produced during the 1980’s is
really a toss up between Johnny Marr of the Smiths & The Edge of
U2. Sure, both their styles are unique and have been xeroxed
numerous times by other artists since they began. But I’m writing
this piece to make my case for Will Sergeant, guitarist for Echo
& The Bunnymen. Exhibit A will be the still cooler than an
iceberg in winter debut of The Bunnymen, Crocodiles.

To be fair, Marr, The Edge & Sergeant steal their styles a bit
from Tom Verlaine & Richard Lloyd from Television (who in turn
stole their styles from Reed & Morrison from The Velvet
Underground and Erikson & Sutherland from The 13th Floor
Elevators.) But it’s the “minimal moody menace” Sergeant coaxes
from his guitar that to me makes him stand tall. It’s not how
many notes he crams in a passage, it’s how he plays them, how he
sustains them and how they decay. Will’s sound is heavy and
bluesy yet never really journeys into the Hendrix/Page area of
blues rock riffing with feedback like The Edge has. He also never
makes the melodies into the buoyant 60’s Folk/Pop Rock
territories the way Johnny Marr has. No, Sergeant’s guitar stays
in a dark, cool place and works that mood to death.

“Going Up” opens up with what sounds like a psychedelic police
siren then breaks into varieties of a moody jangle for the rest
of the song and ends with fractured, piercing notes. From there
Sergeant’s weird, wired wailing guitar work NEVER lets up in
energy or creativity for the rest of the album. Plus the rhythm
section of Les Pattinson and the well missed Pete DeFreitas never
let the tempos drag for a minute. Most of the slower tunes on
Crocodiles (“Stars Are Stars”, “Pictures On My Wall”) glide
instead of crawl by. Pattinson & DeFreitas’s playing are some of
the most sparkling in Rock - swaying, undulating, throbbing,
pulsing right along with Sergeant’s 6 string voodoo playing in
perfect and extremely moody harmony.

So where does that leave lead singer Ian McCulloch? Even if I
didn’t read Head On (which I did and enjoyed immensely) and about
his relationship with The Drude I’d still wonder if he had any
friends at all after listening to Crocodiles. Poor Ian can’t
enjoy anything! He’s so tightly wound up, so uptight, so tense,
so paranoid about everything that even when he sings about
whatever fun he’s trying to have (like getting drunk on “Do It
Clean”) you’re left pondering if he even enjoyed it at all.
That’s why he’s such a great frontman for Sergeant’s guitar
playing. His persona on the mic is “dark, cool” and still all
over the place! Ian’s constant begging for help in “Rescue” is
sympathetic but even that and his attempts at humor on “Monkeys”
(“Sister says “you mind if I laugh at you?”) never detracts from
that fact that McCulloch is on the verge of a nervous

The best Rock N’ Roll singers and the best Rock N’ Roll (whether
it’s Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, The
Beatles, T. Rex, Love, The Doors, The Sex Pistols, Can, Neu, The
Smiths, Julian Cope, you name it) have always been about release
and venting one’s spleen. McCulloch borrows heavily from Jim
Morrison and David Bowie’s singing styles to vent his. Also like
those 2 icons, by being completely caught up in his own paranoia,
he became a romantic figure. Yet McCulloch is still original.
McCulloch works the dark, cool frenzy area of music for all it’s
worth right along with Sergeant, Pattinson & DeFreitas.
They all go over the edge together with no regrets.

All of this makes for one of the most remarkable debuts of the
1980’s. Egos aside, the edgy spark of this album (and CD) still
catches fire.

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