ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN – Ocean Rain (1984)

Review by: Alexander Shatkevich
Edited by: Dina Levina
Album assigned by: Jonathan Moss

I think it’s symbolic that my first review will be about an album that was released in the year of my birth, 1984. The first thing that came to mind at the first listen – the album didn’t get old in any way. It’s like all those synthetic apples from supermarkets that always are red and fresh. But in a difference from apples, Ocean Rain is nowhere near to the famous synthetic and drum-machine sound of the 80’s that I hate so much.

Ocean Rain is still very fresh, and from the very first sounds it hooks you by the arse and holds you up until the very end. The mood and the atmosphere create a whole new world that you explore with Echo and the Bunnymen. On the cover of the album, the band members are knowingly pictured in a boat making their way through an underground cave. When I listen to Ocean Rain, I can’t get away from imagining them sailing in that boat and singing all the songs, though I wonder where the 35-piece orchestra is hiding. But all the musicians are there, believe me, and their sound is reflecting from the cave walls and fulfills the album with lush and charm.  

Actually, in spite of all of these cave allusions, it’s only the background on the cover – the main thing is the boat. Ocean Rain is a journey album, full of ordeals, gloomy experiences and courage. From the very beginning you’re sailing away with the band and not on a boat but on a large ancient ship. Uncertainty and storms are waiting for you, but maybe in the end you will find your Shangri-La nevertheless.

The album opens with bombastic violins and cellos, followed by the whole 35-piece orchestra and the band. The name of the opening song is Silver, just like the name of the famous pirate from The Treasure Island. Silver is filled with the mood reminiscent of great discoveries and something unexpected. The ship swings on waves, the captain gives the last orders on the bridge, ladies on the pier look at the rising sails with admiration. What’s waiting for us ahead? Silver is the kind of a song you always want to return to from time to time; and when you do, you can’t keep yourself from listening to the next one and then the whole album. It’s like with a good film, when you know the ending, but want to live thru the whole story with these characters once again. An excellent beginning, it gives a tone to the whole album.

Nocturnal Me begins where Silver ends. The orchestra is there, and it’s way more heroic and decisive. The ship had sailed away and it’s now ready to face the uncertainty. It’s a beautiful and atmospheric composition, full of concerns and fatalism. “Do or die. What’s done is done. True beauty lies on the blue horizon”. Powerful drums beat out the march and lead the song. After a while, the affected bravado set by Silver fades away, the pier and the admiring ladies are long gone, and you’re digging into fears and doubts. As the song continues, the fears are growing bigger and bigger. “Take me internally forever yours nocturnal me”. Now, you almost don’t hear the march, but only the gloomy orchestra and the melancholic voice of Ian McCulloch. It’s like the sound of doom that the sailors of Captain Magellan felt when they were leaving Portugal. Will they find the way to India or the end of the world? Generally, they had more chances to face the end of the world and terrible death than reach other lands. How can you reach India sailing away from it? Round the Earth? Ah, bullshit!

But after a dark night there’s always dawn. The sun is rising and rays of light are playing on the waves, and it seems there is still hope. It’s Crystal Days. For me this song is a little bit weaker in comparison with the first two. Maybe because of its light and optimistic atmosphere. But actually this lightweight feeling and hope are illusive. In the visible simplicity of Crystal Days hides the same dense sound and dim feeling of anxiety. I am not a fan of this song but it’s in its place here, and it gives a small emotional break before the new tests befall our sailors.

These tests are already there. On The Yo Yo Man we hear another dense and gloomy march. The sound of drums is so great on this album! Pete de Freitas is doing a fantastic job here and it’s a real joy to listen to him. The Yo Yo Man is wonderful and it’s one of those déjà vu feelings, when you listen to the song and you think “wait a minute, I think I’ve been knowing it for a very long time”. It’s like when you’re meeting with someone and after an hour of talking you feel like you’ve known each other for ages. Beautiful arrangement, hooks and twists are all there. It is a great song!

And after The Yo Yo Man there goes Thorn Of Crowns. It begins with eastern motives and is then followed by drum beat even more powerful than before. The drums here are not eastern, but very solid and distressing, bringing the feeling of anxiety. Drums set the mainline of the song and submit everything else around them to themselves. Thorn Of Crowns has really weird lyrics, and that’s the case when I don’t like it a lot. Stuttering McCulloch singing about cucumber, cabbage and cauliflower, what the fuck does he mean? Nah, I don’t wanna know. But on the sound scale it’s a great song. It sounds almost like The Doors. McCulloch shouts out the words just like Morrison and I always imagine him dancing one of those shamanistic Jim dances. The first side of the album ends on a mystic note and leaves us in confusion. What’s going to happen next? What will be the end of this journey?

The second side begins with a huge hit – The Killing Moon. It continues the basic theme of the album – fate, choice, predeterminancy. It’s a beautiful, melancholic song, and here the orchestra is shining once again. Grim violins and cellos bring a very dramatic and heroic sound to it. So even if the hero cannot fight fate, it sounds like he can. That’s the ideal way to continue our journey if you ask me.

The next song, Seven Seas, brings a little optimistic break to the record, as Crystal Days did on the first side. It is the poppiest song on the album, too simple for me and for this album. It’s no surprise that it was chosen as a single after all. I didn’t find any hooks or interesting bits going on here, Seven Seas is a rather plain and forgettable tune, especially after such great song as The Killing Moon. The only plus of Seven Seas is less orchestra so you can hear more guitars than strings. But as they’re not very interesting, there’s no real benefit from that, too. 

So let’s move forward to the next song immediately ‘cos it’s much better. My Kingdom has not much orchestra as well, but there are some great guitar work by Will Sergeant and light heroic vocals by Ian. The drums are powerful as usual. And as opposed to Thorn Of Crowds, here the stutter is okay. All those B-b-b-burn the skin and k-k-k-k-k-kingdom are very energetic and bring the drive to the not so very fast album. I like this song and I like the lyrics, too: “I’ve lost and I’ve gained and while I was thinking You cut off my hands when I wanted to twist”. And, thank you very much, now I know what the hell Boney Moroney is, the campaign against illiteracy is in action.

After the dynamic My Kingdom here comes Ocean Rain, the final song that gives its name to the album. It’s the end of our journey, peaceful and melancholic. When you listen to it you churn to the beginning. The blame is on the violins and cellos which are back, and they step forward once again. But if on Silver and Nocturnal Me they were powerful and broke out of the speakers, now they’re floating quietly like a river. And if in the beginning the strings were the sign of future ordeals, now they’re rays of hope that spills on the melancholic atmosphere of the song. Listening to Ocean Rain you may think that our bad feelings about the journey came true and we didn’t succeed, but the strings give hope that there’ll be another day and we’ll find our Shangri-La. I think it’s a really optimistic ending and I like this song very much.    

Ocean Rain is a beautiful album. Great arrangements, atmosphere, vocals, lyrics (exc. cucumber and cabbage, yuk). It’s very equable, which is both its strength and its weakness. Dialectic as would say Moss… or Hegel. The songs are so equable by their atmosphere, sound and rhythm, that I would say I’d like to hear some more variety. But on the other hand it has some light numbers such as Seven Seas or Crystal Days. The problem is, I don’t like them that much. My Kingdom is good, but the best songs here are melancholy and gloomy. Maybe I need the light numbers to be on the same level as Nocturnal Me, I don’t know. Even the light numbers have the same atmosphere and the viscous sound. In any case, it’s not a big problem at all. I like the concept of the album and I like that all songs are submitted to it. Anyway, almost every album has its ups and downs. And the downs of Ocean Rain are not very deep at all. Honestly, I can say that it has no weak song at all.

Ocean Rain is a great album from any side. When it was released it was marketed as “the greatest album ever made”. Of course it was not, but I think Echo and the Bunnymen had all the rights to say the opposite. It’s a truly great album and it doesn’t disappoint rock lovers even after thirty years had passed. It’s not the greatest album of all times, but it certainly deserves your attention. You don’t believe in advertising after all, huh? I don’t advise you to believe me, so if you’ve never listened to it, grab your legs and go find yourself a copy. Have a good listening!
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Author: tomymostalas

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