When Ian McCulloch left Echo & the Bunnymen in 1988 for a solo career, no one really expected the rest of the band to carry on without him, much less attempt to replace him. McCulloch was such a singular rock presence, mixing Jim Morrison brooding with goth attitude (before there was such a thing), that any attempt to slot a new singer in his spot was nearly unthinkable. But the Bunnymen did, in fact, soldier on, and the results were surprisingly good — maybe even better than McCulloch’s glossier solo debut.
While Ian chose to continue the mainstream sound of the Bunnymen’s self-titled 1987 album, the new Echo & the Bunnymen, with St. Vitus Dance vocalist Noel Burke, touring keyboardist Jake Brockman, and drummer Damon Reece (piling on the bad news, original Echo drummer Pete de Freitas was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1989) moved back to the earlier psychedelia of Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here with 1990’s Reverberation. Luckily, the band was poised to catch the zeitgeist of the Manchester baggy sound of the time with tracks like the first single, “Enlighten Me” (download), a trippy mix of sitars, baggy beats and guitarist Will Sergeant’s distinctive guitar riffs. New singer Burke wisely chose not to try to imitate McCulloch’s singing style and the results were catchy and appealing.
While the single was a huge flop in the UK (leading Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr to dub the band “Echo & the Bogusmen”), it was a surprise hit on U.S. radio, reaching the top ten of the Modern Rock chart. Unfortunately, most Bunnymen fans were simply unwilling to give the new Bunnymen a chance, even if songs like “Gone, Gone, Gone” (download) recalled the band’s best days with a “Lips Like Sugar” guitar line and beat. And dare I say Burke’s lyrics were a little better than McCulloch’s sometimes nonsensical ramblings?
The obviously major blunder the new Bunnymen made was trying to keep the Echo brand alive instead of moving on with a new name and treating the project as an entirely new band, which it essentially was. If they’d had a new name, Reverberation and its collection of fine alt-psychedlia like “Devilment” (download) may have won over some new fans and maybe even some of the Bunnymen hardcores that rejected them outright. As it was, the band were dropped by Warner Brothers, but managed to squeak out two more indie singles before ending things in 1992.
Sergeant and original Bunny bassist Les Pattinson reconciled with McCulloch in 1997, and after a brief stint under the name Electrafixion, Echo & the Bunnymen were born anew. Sadly, all traces of Reverberation have since been wiped from Bunnymen history — none of the subsequent singles compilations have shown any trace of the album, and even the comprehensive Rhino box set Crystal Days snubbed the disc. Perhaps Big Mac was incensed that the band not only thought they could go on without him but could create decent music as well.
“Enlighten Me” peaked at #8 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart in 1990.
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