Aims for an awkward middle ground between tested styles.
Mike Diver 2009-10-05
The Echo & the Bunnymen of the past decade may bear little similarity, beyond the presence of Ian McCulloch’s vocals and Will Sergeant on guitar, to the band that courted such acclaim with their first four albums – Crocodiles (1980), Heaven Up Here (1981), Porcupine (1983) and Ocean Rain (1984) – but line-up changes haven’t prevented the post-punk outfit from scoring critical hits. Their first record without founding bassist Les Pattinson, 1999’s What Are You Going to Do With Your Life?, picked up a 9/10 in the NME, and broadsheets took to 2005’s Siberia with all the enthusiasm that greeted their first wave of releases.
But while Siberia did an admirable job of conjuring a spirit comparable to the Liverpool band’s finest 1980s releases – it’s a closer cousin of Crocodiles than, say, the band’s 1997 reunion affair, Evergreen – The Fountain aims for an awkward middle ground between styles, failing to perfect that itchiness that made the Bunnymen so irresistible in their early days while also falling short in the Big Indie Anthem stakes. There’s no Nothing Lasts Forever here, however hard they’ve tried, and not even the presence of Coldplay’s Chris Martin on the title track can stir anything more than moderate interest.
Things begin bouncily enough, with Think I Need it Too riding a ripple of pristine guitar, the inevitable explosion of percussion arriving at the perfect moment to propel the piece towards a surging chorus. But while the song’s astutely arranged, it’s no more than you’d expect from a songwriting pair who’ve worked together since the late 1970s. It’s a safe bet, seemingly an auto-pilot affair that, while capable of ticking long-term fanboy boxes, is unlikely to attract fresh interest in a band now operating on the fringes of contemporary rock.
It’s McCulloch and Sergeant’s evident comfort on the sidelines that has led to a record like this. The Fountain never gets out of third gear, content to trundle when, in the past, its makers would have floored it for a few thrilling seconds, flying around blind bends far too fast. There are no surprises, a succession of songs blurring together to comprise a single mass of comparative mediocrity. If this was the work of a nervy new band you could forgive its hesitance; but knowing what these musicians are capable of, The Fountain can only be summarised as a wholly half-hearted affair.