Monday, June 9, 2008

Lost Gem of the 80s #8: Ian McCulloch - "Candleland" (1989)

No question, Echo and the Bunnymen were one of the great bands of the 80s. Not quite punk and not quite goth, their sound was sinister, druggy, and black, but with a pop sheen that made it palatable for radio. Their Best Of package, Songs to Learn and Sing, remains a must have for any music fan, no matter how intense. You can’t go wrong with songs like "The Killing Moon" and "Bring On The Dancing Horses". In fact, Ian himself will tell you "Moon" is the greatest song ever written. He can be arrogant like that.

So, it’s weird that his first solo album would have the same pop sensibility and song structure, but incorporate an entirely new emotion: hope. There is a dreamy positivity to these songs that is totally alien to his persona, yet completely welcome and downright gorgeous. Never before would you have heard Ian sing words like “Choking on the wonder of it all” in "The Flickering Wall" or "Fingers crossed that there's a heaven" in "Horse's Head", both highlights. The Bunnymen seemed overcome by darkness, yet Ian expresses being taken aback by beauty. It’s a nice change.

Every song on the album has a catchy chorus and a powerful feel. “Proud To Fall” got some airplay back in the day and I remember not being all that impressed by it, especially when compared to the Bunnymen’s output. Time has taught me otherwise. It’s become one of my favorite songs to sing. In truth, I would probably pop this album in more often than almost any of Echo's catalog. It’s more consistent. Each track has its own personality. “Faith And Healing” sounds exactly like a lost New Order song. “Start Again” is totally Cocteau Twins.

That Cocteau Twins comparison is not only the most consistent for the whole album, it explains the album’s best song, the title track. On “Candleland”, Ian is joined by none other than Cocteau Twins lead singer, Elizabeth Fraser and it’s a match made it heaven. Her voice is angelic (as always) and brings a depth to Ian’s that would never have been unlocked otherwise.

I can’t stress enough what a joy it is to hear this side of Ian. It’s as though the power and depth of the Bunnymen was run through the Happy Ending Machine and what popped out is a wondrous fever dream of paradise. As he sings in “Proud To Fall”, “But from start to finish, I was proud to fall. And I fell so deep within it, I got lost inside it all.” Candleland will have a similar effect on you.

The Nugget – “Candleland”. Seriously, Ian and Liz missed a golden opportunity to be the Robert Plant and Allison Krauss of their day. It’s perfection.

1 comment:

McCrank said...

Thank you for this. about time someone noticed and wrote a solid bit about MAC! Thanks for this -- brings back memories.