As you’d expect from any rock band that has been around for over 35 years, Echo and the Bunnymen have had a colourful career full of ups and downs. Their eleventh studio album Meteorites sees them turn around some of the downs, and face the music.
Forming in Liverpool in 1978, the original Bunnymen line-up consisted of vocalist Ian McCulloch, guitarist Will Sergeant, bassist Les Pattinson and a drum machine, until Pete de Freitas humanised the percussion in 1980. Their first several albums were met with critical acclaim, including their debut Crocodiles, 1981’s Heaven Up Here as well as what became their landmark album, Ocean Rain. In 1987 they released a self-titled album before McCulloch departed to pursue a solo career. The following year, de Freitas was killed in a motorbike accident, the catalyst for line-up changes that included a configuration without McCulloch.
For the last few albums, McCulloch and Sergeant have continued to release under the Bunnymen name, and on Meteorites they return to create something “more edgy” than anything they’ve done, dealing with personal issues McCullloch had avoided for a long time. Feeling adrift after so many years of rock and roll excess and running from problems, he started writing cathartic songs of self-reflection, resulting in an album about “my personal journey, my rebirth”.
Slow, pensive guitar and strings open the album on the title track. It climbs into a more inspiring melody for each chorus, whilst the verses remain slower with typically layered velvety vocals. Holy Moses exhibits a more uplifting feel throughout, with driving guitars and similarly echoey vocals. Constantinople is an instantly harder rocker, with an eastern twinge to the lead guitar, and shredding riff to the back end. Is This a Breakdown is a more obvious expression of McCulloch’s past, exploring the attraction of drug-induced oblivion. He asks “What do I want? / What do I need? / What have you got / To make my eyes bleed”. It’s a strangely upbeat depiction of such dangerous desires, built on jangly guitars.
This contrasting of instrumentation and subject matter continues on Grapes on the Vine, another buoyant vibe about losing himself in the rock lifestyle. Burn It Down is a slower, dreamy track led by acoustic guitar before escalating to twangy electric. The operatic Market Town exhibits the best and most inventive of Sergeants shimmering guitar work, proving his worth and cementing Meteorites as a Bunnymen record rather than a solo effort; pouring from his own soul as much as the lyrics. The album closes with New Horizons, which returns to the pondering mood of the opener. McCulloch reveals another shocking self-realisation that his upbringing may have scarred him in ways he hadn’t realised. However, as the final lyrics ring out, he is reassuring, informing all that “it’s getting better”.
Meteorites has truly proven a journey of deeply personal self discovery for the frontman, whilst remaining a Echo and the Bunnymen project through and through. McCulloch believes the result is one of their best, only more truthful, lyrically powerful and spiritually cleansing. How did it become so poetic and emotionally intense? “I wrote from the soul, more so than the heart and the brain”.