Echo & the Bunnymen: too many strings attached

You’re never much more than a year away from an Echo and the Bunnymen gig in Ireland, but this time they’ve probably got a lot more to prove as they hit Dublin tonight.

Their last proper studio album of new material was 2014’s Meteorites, and they’ve probably wrung all they can out of that, considering their fans are really going to relive the post-punk psychedelia of their early days.

Still, frontman Ian McCulloch reckoned Meteorites was their best since Ocean Rain – the band’s definitive record that ran with the PR campaign that it was “the greatest album ever made”, a claim the singer has stood by over the years.

McCulloch has a thousand quotes as good as that one, and wrote the book on how to be a gobby rock star, way before the Gallaghers had ever been near a stage.

EchoIt’s odd then, that for such a perfect album – according to McCulloch, critics and fans – the Bunnymen have decided to reimagine the iconic tracks The Killing Moon, Ocean Rain and Seven Seas as part of a new career overview with “strings and things”, The Stars, the Ocean and the Moon.

McCulloch and chief co-Bunnyman Will Sergeant have “transformed” 13 classics from the vaults along with two new songs  – either to add an extra depth to songs they’ve been playing for decades, or if you’re being more cynical, to give them an excuse to go on tour with no new album in four years.

The strings attached treatment has been a big feature on the heritage gig trail in the last five years – notably DJ + orchestra showcases such as Pete Tong’s Ibiza Proms, Hacienda Classical and closer to home, Jenny Greene’s continuing team-up with the RTE Concert Orchestra playing more commercial 90s chart dance classics.

But with the dance tracks, there’s an element of DJs seeking approval or validation after years being told techno and house wasn’t real music.

Echo and the Bunnymen are rightfully held as one of the greatest bands of the 30-odd years, with nothing much to prove. The live orchestration would’ve been enough – they’ve used string sections extensively on albums and albums anyway.

Leaving aside the new transformations on the new record, the Bunnymen had a run of near flawless albums in the 80s, with McCulloch channelling Bowie, Jim Morrison and Scott Walker, and musical director Will Sergeant’s glittering guitar and orchestration.

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Back in the early 80s, the odds were even between U2, Simple Minds and Echo & the Bunnymen on who would become the biggest rock band in the world.

We know how that panned out, but the most rock’n’roll thing about Echo & the Bunnymen is that McCulloch has always acted like he’s leading the world’s greatest band.

Former manager and future KLF leader Bill Drummond was even convinced the Bunnymen had a sort of cosmic and spiritual power that transcended the regular praise given to bands in a scene.

It was mortifying when Liam Gallagher used to swagger around the stage with his delusions about Oasis, but at least McCulloch was on to something – and plenty of times over the last few decades he wouldn’t have been that far off the mark.

  • Echo & the Bunnymen play Dublin’s Olympia tomorrow, Friday (SOLD OUT)