The last truly great record they made.
Chris Jones 2008-10-22
Following the commercial breakthrough of 1983's Porcupine, Ocean Rain was both a consolidation and point of disintegration for the Bunnymen: the point where the cracks began to show, but were masked with such beauty as to hardly matter. Here you sense a pull in two directions. McCullogh's theatrics beg for widescreen setting yet Will Sergeant's fierce, jagged guitar pays homage to every proto-psych garage band that appeared on the Pebbles and Nuggets compilations that wormed their way through the record collections of a myriad music geeks in the late 70s. As a result Ocean Rain represents Liverpudlian psych at its absolute peak.
Both the album and the wondrous live bonus disc - recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in 1983 - represent a glorious blend of vaulting ambition and limited ability. The Donny Darko-assisted ubiquity of The Killing Moon may have blunted its impact, but it's still a gorgeous sweeping romantic gesture. Likewise second single, Seven Seas. But Thorn Of Crowns, pushed the shamanic Jim Morrisonisms a little too far. And while the use of a 35-piece orchestra allows the songs like Nocturnal Me (brooding with Eastern European sang froid) and the title track to set sail, in other cases (The Yo Yo Man) songs can flounder under the weight of intrusive arrangements. Also the sheen obscures the thiness of opener, Silver; a song that, if closely examined, shows signs of the band covering old ground.
In retrospect it sounds as though their garage roots were withering in the harsh glare of success. Unlike, say U2, who could reinvent themselves as world citizens, the Bunnymen would always be a very English institution. Only Pete de Freitas, whose performance on the live disc is a testament to his place at the very heart of the band, sounds like an utterly confident world-beater.
Such misplaced self-importance was to prove their undoing. And while Ocean Rain remains one of their finest albums it's also the last truly great record they made.