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Echo And The Bunnymen
Meteorites Ned Raggett , May 15th, 2014 03:01

Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant know that whatever else, they've got a hell of a legacy – and that may, still, be an unavoidable issue. It's a situation not unique to Echo And The Bunnymen by any means, but their white-hot 1980s heyday retreats further into the past, and even now they're as far away from the 1997 reunion album Evergreen as Evergreen was from Crocodiles. After Les Pattinson's post-Evergreen departure it's been McCulloch, Sergeant and a mix of rotating and regular sidemen since, and there's been plenty of albums on top of solo projects; a steady flow of work. Yet all these efforts specifically under the Echo banner since that reunion get a rush of attention and then seem to simply drift away once again, overshadowed by the deeper past, a supplement rather than a continuation. Meteorites continues in this vein with a set of full sounding songs, well produced by Youth and enjoyable in the moment. But beyond that?

To the band's credit, the slightly Frankensteinian approach to Meteorites is discussed in full in the accompanying press release: a burnt-out partnership between the two, McCulloch taking personal stock on a variety of issues in his life, McCulloch initially working with Youth directly on new songs for a solo release, Sergeant's guitar contributions coming via separate sessions after the fact. Again, not a new or unique situation to be in for a band – or even for Youth as a producer: just ask Urban Hymns-era Verve – and from start to finish it's a clearly polished rock album by accomplished performers with plenty of experience to draw on.  

Both McCulloch and Sergeant have embraced a genteel approach with their gifts over time – they may have toured their earlier albums in full in recent years but they're not interested in simply returning or reconstructing the era, and that is to their credit. There's a comfort (but not a laziness) evident, McCulloch in particular in light of his recent experiences sticking to a lyrically straightforward, almost confessional path that's often well away from many earlier, striking flights of fancy.

Combined with the evident ear for stately elegance and controlled energy throughout Meteorites, there's much to enjoy – the title song opens on the album on a strong suit, sounding just like a starting number should, from a quiet start to resplendent, string-swirled rising to the heights, psychedelic shimmer meets Las Vegas star turn. From there the album generally goes from one mini-pocket symphony to another, lots of big inspirational builds, calmly aching vocals from McCulloch and Sergeant's still-sharp ear for a crystalline guitar part all on display.

More than once, as on the stellar 'Constantinople', the latter lets fly with a lead melody and a solo that makes you remember just why he's still one of the best – and still one of the most underrated – performers on the instrument the UK's ever produced. 'Lovers On The Run' gives McCulloch a spotlight moment in turn, a slow rise and descend of a chorus that feels somewhere between Bond ballad and late night Leonard Cohen reflection.  

Yet the whole is not the sum of its parts, in the end. There's something just too exhausting and enervating about Meteorites, something that feels too big, too pat, and suffers for it – it could be all the vocal echo, it could be the overall arrangements coming across as awfully similar sounding over its length, despite the variety one can hear in the songs themselves. It could be the clear roots of it being a solo McCulloch project first and foremost and it could be something else again, even as simple as wishing the drumming wasn't, again, quite so unremarkable given the legacy of Pete de Freitas.

It's the core partnership of Echo still together in modified form, certainly, but it's as if Echo's year zero was actually Evergreen than the monumental and boundary-testing work beforehand, creating easy listening for a generation growing older with them in Britpop's self-coronating wake. Comparing something new to something listened to over years is a mug's game, but Meteorites is still, on initial blush, like all those other albums from Evergreen onward, "the new album from," a reliable entry but not a jawdropper. If such is the way of many bands over the years, it's still a source of regret to see it from a band that seemed to ring out from mountaintops.

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