Crocodiles – “Crimes of Passion”

Echo & the Bunnymen’s last record, 2009’s The Fountain, honked, but until then I thought their post-reformation albums were all respectively solid, if not bursting with fresh potential hits. In a perfect world, this new one would change that. It’s the sound of the group (which has for a considerable time been down to vocalist Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant as the only remaining original members) reclaiming their mid-80s commercial peak with a vigor, swagger and confidence worthy of blokes half their age. If I didn’t know better, I’d assume this was some buried-in-the-vaults lost recording session from 1985 that somehow – due to legal complications, bad blood or what have you – never saw the light of day ‘til now. Saying it’s the best Echo album since Ocean Rain might not mean much to anyone who hasn’t heard any of the others, aside from the crappy one with “Lips Like Sugar” on it. But trust me – it’s excellent!

”Crimes of Passion” (the quotation marks seem to be an intentional part of the title) doesn’t indulge in the lush orchestration of Ocean Rain, but instead delights in the more pop-oriented tendencies of the group. So “I Like It in the Dark” bursts out of the opening gate like some reboot of “Bring On the Dancing Horses,” primed ‘n’ ready for the next John Hughes soundtrack (yeah, yeah, I know he’s dead – I’m not clueless!) “Marquis De Sade” (from which the album derives its title) is even catchier, with McCulloch declaring, “I know you’re not mine/ But I’ll be yours tonight, tonight…” in his chain-smoking, disaffected Liverpool whine. The sound toughens up somewhat for “Cockroach” and “Teardrop Guitar,” giving Mr. Sergeant a spotlight in which to shine, without losing that chewy-candy core. (I have to wonder if the latter song is a sly reference to McCulloch’s early collaborator Julian Cope’s group the Teardrop Explodes.) Weirdly, the cool, stealthy “Me and My Machine Gun” includes the sound of far-off gunfire, but not machine gun fire! Don’t they know what machine guns sound like? Maybe they don’t have those in Liverpool. Still a great song!

You know what else is weird? The album cover looks like something some Bowie/T-Rex-worshipping glam-rockers woulda put out in 1974, all pink and purple with some guy (I think it’s a guy!) that may or may not be a drag queen wearing lipstick and eye shadow and looking like he just did a bunch of heroin and had sex with another man. What?? When I think of Echo & the Bunnymen, I picture ’em all in long, dark trenchcoats crouching amongst the ferns in a dewy forest, or on a little rowboat in a foggy bog, perhaps we’d just see their mysterious silhouettes – but not this! They didn’t even put the band’s name on the cover, so anyone who didn’t know better might mistake this for the work of some newer indie band that nobody cares about.

Other than that minor objection, this is one of the best Echo & the Bunnymen albums ever! I sure hope they tour again, I’d love to hear these new songs live!!

“Crimes of Passion”