Echo and the Bunnymen

Even by the drastically reduced standards of your typical reunion release, Echo and the Bunnymen's Evergreen is a patent disappointment -- if only for the fact that it didn't have to happen. Indeed, some might have thought this sort of retread option was beneath the group's integrity-minded leader, Ian McCulloch. But give a fading icon of '80s Brit-pop revisionism enough time to sit and stew, and sooner or later he's bound to find the urge to scare up something for the rest of us.

By most counts, Echo and the Bunnymen disbanded in 1988, when McCulloch left the fold to record on his own, though the rest of the group (minus drummer Pete De Freitas, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1989) did press on halfheartedly before disbanding in 1990. McCulloch, meanwhile, hasn't had a solo release since 1992, when -- right after foisting the horrid Mysterio upon loyal fans -- he publicly acknowledged that his creative tanks were in need of refueling. Gauging by the heft of the 12-song Evergreen, McCulloch's been woodshedding of late. Problem is, he's done little more than dredge up his own tired history, and the others in the band are more than happy to coax him along.

In a sense, Evergreen is a continuation of the posh-psychedelic, string-drenched experiments of 1984's Ocean Rain (still the Bunnymen's finest recording) -- except that now the regal melodies and plush orchestral textures of tunes such as "In My Time," "Nothing Lasts Forever" and "Just a Touch Away" seem to be turning in on themselves rather than expanding. The songs that aspire to rock out do so with the stiffness of a guitarist attempting windmill power chords in a starched tuxedo. What little forward progress there is on Evergreen is compromised by a numbing ennui emanating from McCulloch's vocals; it's almost as if he's crooning to an audience of none. And his impotent stabs at less-is-more poetic worth ("I wanna be like you / I wanna fly, fly, fly / Want you to take me to all of your sky") only compound the boredom.

If I'm being hard on the lads, forgive me. Maybe it's just my bitterness over realizing that the Bunnymen haven't resurfaced with the hardened resolve that could make us believe they're ready to show the Oasises of the world a thing or two. Then again, who am I kidding? Like everyone else, they've got bills to pay. (* 1/2)

-- Hobart Rowland

John Cale
Eat/Kiss: Music for the Films of Andy Warhol

Putting aside his legendary stint in the Velvet Underground and his prolific output in the punk era (recently revisited on The Island Years collection), John Cale is in the midst of the most consistently rewarding and inventive period of his career. Whether you want to credit a supportive home on Hannibal/Rykodisc, a spurt of age-defying energy as Cale approaches his 57th birthday or that long-running desire to one-up his old partner Lou Reed, there's simply no denying that Cale has been on a winning streak since 1992's Fragments of a Rainy Season, which kicked things off with inspired solo re-interpretations of 20 of his best songs to date.

In 1994, Cale released Last Day on Earth, a strange but fascinating collaboration with Bob Neuwirth, and he followed that up with last year's Walking on Locusts, an uncharacteristically cheerful pop effort. Now the Welsh maestro is back with what is essentially two original soundtracks, commissioned by the Warhol Museum for revivals of the underground classics Eat and Kiss, and first performed in Pittsburgh in 1994 with former Velvets Maureen Tucker and Sterling Morrison.

The music is, without a doubt, more interesting than Warhol's films, which depicted, at great length and with no particular flair, Factory hipsters indulging in the activities indicated in their titles. (If nothing else, Warhol certainly believed in truth in advertising.) Recorded live in Lille, France, with the Soldier String Quartet, guitarist B.J. Cole, Tucker and vocalists Tiy3/4 Giraurd and Jimmy Justice, Cale's film scores pay tribute not only to Warhol and Morrison (who died last year), but to the Velvet's original chanteuse, Christa Paeffgen, better known as Nico.

Cale includes Nico's haunting song "Frozen Warnings" from The Marble Index as the second movement in the music to Kiss. Elsewhere, Cole's pedal steel echoes Morrison's noisier guitar workouts, and Tucker pounds away on the toms in her trademark style. Invoking "The Gift," Cale delivers a somber reading of Swedenborg's "Melancthon" in the middle of the music to Eat.

In fact, just about the only Velvet-y touch that isn't expanded on is Cale's chaotic viola playing; sad to say, he stayed behind the keyboards throughout this performance. But given how prolific he's been of late, he's probably preparing another album where he rectifies that right now. (****)

-- Jim DeRogatis

Bottle Rockets
24 Hours a Day

One should remember that, in earlier times, the members of the Bottle Rockets comprised a crappy rock band, then a crappy country band. But somehow, as is clearly shown on 24 Hours a Day, their second major-label release, they managed to synthesize the two and become a damned competent and highly entertaining band, period.

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