Echo and the Bunnymen
istening to Porcupine straight through is a little like having a burly man gradually squeeze your head. Every track ups the pressure a notch, pressing those clammy fingertips harder against your temples. The burly man also sings as he works. He sings like the demonic lovechild of Robert Smith and Morrissey. Which is, fortunately, something of a personal fantasy of mine. Uh... not the burly man part. That was just a weak metaphor. The only part of Ian Mcculloch which could really be described as “burly” is his hair.
Anyhow, the relative cheerfulness of “The Cutter” and “The Back of Love” half-volley us off to a flying start. Two singles; yay! One’s about... um... some kind of terrifying torture equipment (maybe) and the other concerns itself with passionate misadventure (perhaps). They’re pretty miserable and pretentious, of course. Which I find deliciously enjoyable—hurrah! “The Back of Love” is particularly scrumptious, raging and wallowing in equal measure over a terrific wobbly bed of a bassline with bonus Psycho-shower-scene noises. Stab-tacular.
So far, so grim. Things take an additionally schizophrenic turn from “My White Devil” onwards (track 3, for those keeping count). Songs twist and fragment in strange and slightly disorientating ways; the title track in particular giving the impression of being constructed from at least three sections of other tunes, roughly glued together with musical paste. During the first few listens everything feels rather bewildering, as if there’s nothing to really hold on to save the near crushing weight of the record as a whole. Persistence does bring considerable reward, though; the fragments begin to weave as they should and a picture gradually drifts through the mists to take up residence at the forefront of your mind.
A picture by Hieronymus Bosch, naturally.
But it’s the panoramic white spaces of Iceland which adorn much of this album’s packaging. They’re, of course, cheekily misleading; for such expansive images of gorgeous, clear space house an album of undiluted claustrophobic gloom. Even the welcome addition of Indian-esque strings to the Bunnyman repertoire manages to come off sounding somewhat oppressive in the heavy atmosphere. Warner’s reissue adds a few extra dabs of darkness. And a disco track.
The extra tracks are like a couple of pages from old sketchbooks to pore over. Early, unreleased versions of tracks ahoy! For anyone who knows the album backwards, forwards and upside-down, such things are probably akin to Mcculloch popping around for a bit of a sing-a-long and some cakes. For me, and countless others, they’re not massively interesting. Yet.
I’d much rather talk about the pseudo-disco antics of “Never Stop (discotheque)”, a cheerful stomp at the end of an hour long dirgy waltz. Suddenly the strings sound sprightly and joyful, guitar chords clang in and out, Echo calls the tempo and our beloved Bunnymen emerge from their recording burrow, blink at the sunlight and plough onwards.
At first, terrible. Later, passable. Later still, great.