Echo And The Bunnymen - Ocean Rain (1984, Sire)
All-Time Albums Series
This is the 19th in my All-Time Album weekly series and it has been one I have been really struggling with including.
Not because I have any problems with Ocean Rain. To be entirely honest, for most of my life, it has been my favorite album of all-time.
I suspect nobody can truly explain why one album, in particular, appeals to them more than any other. Maybe that is exactly the problem, I am not sure how to explain why this album moves me so much.
Post-Punk's Orchestral Majesty
"I'm at Sea again, and now your hurricanes have brought down this ocean rain, to bathe me again"
There is often a balance of opposing forces fighting but ultimately balanced in a great album or in great music. Echo and the Bunnymen were always (Will and Ian still record as E&B), in their best songs, riding the tensions between utter calm and total chaos. Ian McCulloch has a deep veritas in his tone, he seems entirely in control and precise (like a general inspiring his troops to proudly don the military camouflage E&TB fans wore back in the day). Pete de Freitas (RIP) also had an incredibly precise parade style to his drumming.
McCulloch also is a bit like a shaman, his words never seem to entirely make sense but he delivers them with such cold certainty, you almost are compelled to believe whatever it is that you think that he might be trying to say.
I think you could say McCulloch lyrics are often more evocative than literal. I think that is fair.
If there was a season for Echo and the Bunnymen's basic sound, lyrics, and song structure it was definitely winter.
But then you had Will Sergeant.
At his best moments, you could only consider Sergeants guitar solos spasmodic. In my younger years, his solos would actually make my lie on my beds twitching like an epileptic mid-seizure.
Sergeant was the person screaming in the darkness "this shit is COLD!" He was clapping his hands, stomping his feet, and trying to start a fire.
Pattinson, de Frietas, and McCulloch were "GOT White Walkers" - precise, dark, terrifying, mysterious, and full of strange menacing power and Sergeant was John Snow.
But the core of almost every Echo and the Bunnymen song always seemed somehow larger than life, almost orchestral in structure and intent but also full of hidden dangers. When listening to a song like "The Cutter" I often felt like I was listening to an audio recording of the most beautiful train in the world falling off a cliff into oblivion.
Then came Ocean Rain. Where they actually incorporated orchestral instruments into their dark, scary, and the often unpredictable musical universe. The effect was not unlike what I imagine entering an entirely new world would look and feel like. Nothing else sounds like it.
Nothing else has ever sounded like Killing Moon to me. Nothing else has ever sounded like Thorn Of Crowns, Seven Seas, or My Kingdom to me.
They had all the mystery and darkness of post-punk (only taken to a different level) combined with the rage and unpredictability of punk.
They were entirely unique, they were their own cold planet.
Who Are U2
Fate up against your will, through the thick and thin, you will wait until you give yourself to him.
Look, I have a great deal of respect for early U2. U2 are one of the biggest selling music acts of all time.
I mention this because for years everyone talked about a war between U2 and Echo and the Bunnymen for dominance in the 1980's. As much as it pains me, I will admit U2 won the war, but to me, the battle was more meaningful.
I care much more about the album Ocean Rain than I do about any U2 song or album.
I have owned Ocean Rain on vinyl multiple times, worn it out on cassette tape multiple times, lost and replaced the CD over and over, and yet I always purchase it again. Even in this age of ubiquitous streaming services I own a CD copy today.
I will even concede U2's songs might be more important to society, or to some cause or another that Bono supports, but I just have never felt I needed to hear U2. I sometimes feel like it would be nice to revisit some U2 classic albums, but I never feel compelled. I often feel like I NEED to hear Ocean Rain.
Maybe I was infected by Echo and the Bunnymen like as if I had been bitten by some Vampire or turned Werewolf, but decades later I still feel a need to listen to Ocean Rain on a regular basis.
I am pretty sure millions of people will buy, for instance, the new Ariana Grande album (I assume she has a new album since she was just on SNL last week) but I bet none of them will be able to remember what songs were on that album in a decade.
U2 is a more significant artist than AG (obviously she has decades to grow too) and millions of people love their music. I am really not trying to slag U2.
Ocean Rain never sold as many copies as popular artists like AG will, but I still remember every song, every bridge, and ever refrain thirty years later. It is fair to say I also remember a fair number of U2 songs, but I am nowhere near as moved by them now.
I think it is like being haunted, this being moved by music.
Something inside you cries out to hear that special moment that moved you before. It is trying to recreate lost love, reunite separated childhood friends, trying desperately to go home again.
Ocean Rain makes me cry in just this way.
Screaming From Beneath Your Waves.
All hands on deck at dawn, Sailing to sadder shores, Your port in my heavy storms, others the blackest thoughts.
Quick Tribute to Pete
I am a drummer.
Pete de Frietas died in a motorcycle accident not too many years after Ocean Rain was released (1989). He is and was one of my favorite drummers.
He had a shuffling jazz style that always kept him in the pocket. So often, drummers are rated by how theatrical they are and how good they are at producing monster fills.
I tend to judge drummers by how often their playing serves the song.
Pete was a great drummer!
Do you love this album too? What are your favorite moments on Ocean Rain? How do you feel about the U2 vs. Echo and the Bunnymen feud? I would love to hear your thoughts, leave a comment!