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What Are You Going to Do With Your LIfe?

music reviewmusic reviewmusic reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: What Are You Going to Do With Your LIfe?

Artist: Echo and the Bunnymen
Genre: Rock/Pop
Release Date: June 1999

Review by MarkR
4 stars out of 4

The class of ’80 was an auspicious one: After the fallout of Britain’s 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, Dublin’s U2 and Liverpool’s Echo and the Bunnymen, two quartets driven by loquaciously minimalist guitar stylists and passionate, if precious, frontmen. One group’s wishes were answered; but no real comparison would stick after each band’s debut albums, U2’s Boy, of course, and the Bunnymen’s jarring Crocodiles. Bono’s boys would soon play the political card for the better part of a decade, while Ian McCulloch’s opted for poetic existentialism. That’s 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 Morrison’s concepts of dark and light, poetry and obsession. And even when he couldn’t be bothered to craft a decent lyric, the music never disappointed, swirlie pop dirges and rave-ups fueled by Will Sergeant’s genius one-string guitar melodies. An early highlight was ‘84’s Ocean Rain, a string-drenched orchestral pop opus the first of its kind, and which featured the band’s best single, “The Killing Moon.”

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 aren’t 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 Bunnymen’s quite-fine-actually ’87 self-titled album, McCulloch quit for a solo career that didn’t 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 1997’s 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, Mac’s response to the titular question that he’s gonna “Be me.” Other lyrics lend evidence that McCulloch’s reached a Zen-like reconciliation between his youthful ideals and the man he’s come to be. That he’s comfortable with the fact that he’s 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 celebrity’s 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 I’ll come flaking back to you”). Yet they just make his apologies all the more poignant. If you’re not buying that, then go for Sergeant’s 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 McCulloch’s done something he couldn’t have then, which is make a record that means something. Let’s see U2 do that.



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