Revisiting old hits in a ‘new’ manner is an increasingly familiar way of older acts justifying the reeling out of their best-known songs for the umpteenth time. While these records can sometimes turn a new light on to lesser known tracks from an artist’s back catalogue (like Paul Simon’s recent In The Blue Light), the Bunnymen have elected to wheel out thirteen classics (with a couple of newbies) on latest outing The Stars, The Oceans & The Moon.
Opener ‘Bring On The Dancing Horses’ manages to somehow be more uniquely eighties than its 1985 original: its drum machines, washy synths and scratchy guitar are pure New Order. It’s a strange choice and not one that really works. Ian McCullough’s melodramatic croon has developed an endearing husk over the years, and it lends an earthy charm to the campfire reimagining of late 90s hit ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’, adding an extra sense of poignancy to the elegiac track.
It’s one of the better rearrangements on the album, unfortunately. Others aren’t so good. ‘Lips Like Sugar’ is so faithful to the original, one wonders what the point or re-recording it was. Likewise, ‘Bedbugs and Ballyhoo’ and ‘Rescue’, whose overproduced arrangements only succeed in robbing the songs of their post-punk vitality.
Things work a little better when the band take the opportunity to slow things down a notch. ‘Seven Seas’ jangly guitars are replaced by an accordion, turning the song into the left-field sea shanty that it always threatened to be. ‘Ocean Rain’, the title track of their 1984 opus, is given a similar treatment. While not radically different from its original state, the manner in which it builds from piano to sweeping strings is just as powerful this time around, and a reminder of just how magnificent the Bunnymen were at their peak.
The two new songs are guitar-driven pieces, giving guitarist Will Sergeant a welcome workout. The first, ‘The Somnambulist’, is an instantly forgettable mid-tempo latter day Funnymen number, yet ‘How Far?’ is one of the album’s real highlights. Sergeant’s glistening guitar recaptures the band at their brightest and most accessible, while McCullough brings the vocals to match, singing with a boyish optimism that we haven’t heard in years.
Of course, no discussion of Echo & The Bunnymen would be complete without their calling card, ‘The Killing Moon’, knowingly placed at the end of the record. McCulloch famously believes that his most enduring work is the greatest song ever written, and the version on The Stars, The Oceans & The Moon is more personal than ever. With just a shimmering piano for company, McCulloch’s voice sores over the old lyrics with as much passion as ever. While the synths and shards of brittle guitar that made the original the brooding, darkly romantic classic it became are missing, it’s a song that will always find a captive audience, no matter what the arrangement.
The Bunnymen’s ‘latest’ is an odd exercise, to say the least. While being another reminder of how the moody Scousers have one of the greatest songbooks in British indie, there’s nothing here (beyond the surprisingly great ‘How Far?’) that fans can’t gain from revisiting one of their many ‘best ofs’ instead.