Friday, October 17, 2014

A Crack in Everything: Ocean Rain

Welcome to A Crack in Everything, the thing I sometimes do where I point out everything that's bad about the albums I love. It's a positive process.

Telling everyone that your new record is "the greatest album ever made" is risky business. Sure, it gets our attention, but you're setting yourself up for quite the tumble - after all, there aren't many albums that could live up to that kind of hype.

It's to Echo & The Bunnymen's credit, then, that Ocean Rain was extremely well-received; given the hyperbolic marketing campaign, even a quite-good album would have been laughed out of town. But Ocean Rain was good enough that people could kind of see where McCulloch and Co were coming from. Even if it wasn't really The Greatest Album Ever Made, it was close enough that the rock world were prepared to let it slide. After all, it would be churlish to complain about the album that gave the world My Kingdom and Seven Seas and The Killing Moon.

Still, I'm nothing if not churlish, and in spite of its numerous merits, Ocean Rain still ain't perfect. For one thing, I never thought The Killing Moon was actually all that amazing - it's a nice, broody tune, sure, but it goes on for far too long, and the chorus is a bit of a ruiner for me. It sounds somehow lighter and less important than the rest of the track, and it makes the whole thing feel a bit mediocre, a bit 'meh'. Instead of waiting for the song to careen into another chorus, I find myself willing it to get the chorus over and done with so that we can have another verse. Ocean Rain has many big, brilliant choruses (see Crystal Days, Seven Seas, Silver, My Kingdom...) but "Fate up against your will" isn't one of them.

Another problem - and this observation will be far less controversial, I suspect - is the entire first half of the album, which simply isn't as good as the second. Now, I'm all for saving the best 'til last, and obviously this would be far more of a problem if it were the other way 'round, but it's hard to enjoy The Yo-Yo Man (a fairly ho-hum track even in the best of circumstances) when I know that it's delaying the arrival of the far superior stuff on Side 2. Even Crystal Days - a vastly underrated track, and one for which I will fight 'til my dying breath - feels like Football League fare in comparison to Premiership-standard tracks like Seven Seas and My Kingdom.

Crystal Days is like one of the fun side characters in a Saturday morning cartoon - great to have around, but hardly essential to the real action.

My third and final complaint concerns Thorn of Crowns, the album's towering, glowering centrepiece:

Now, there are people who would build this entire blog post around Thorn of Crowns - many consider it the album's weak link, the embarrassing blot on an otherwise pristine copybook. This is nonsense, of course, because a) Thorn of Crowns is great, and b) The Yo-Yo Man is easily the worst song on this album.

However, as much as I love Thorn of Crowns - the quiet but insistent drum work, the wordless yet explosive chorus - I do have one bone to pick with it, and that bone is wedged in Ian McCulloch's lyrics:

"You set my teeth on edge, you set my teeth on edge, you think you're a vegetable - never come out of the fridge! C-c-c-cucumber, c-c-c-cabbage, c-c-c-cauliflower..."

This, frankly, is silly, and it's a shame because I really like some of the other imagery on Ocean Rain. McCulloch kisses tortoise shells on Seven Seas and whispers of screaming ships on the title track, so why does he stoop to this bizarre vegetable-naming game here? The musical backdrop against which he's singing - dark, dank and mysterious - sounds like the aural equivalent of that cave on the front cover, and I think that, with a little more lyrical thought, the much-maligned Thorn of Crowns really could have been the record's defining moment.

Oh well. It's not like the album is short on nigh-perfect tracks.

Is there a classic album that you'd like to see torn apart on A Crack in Everything? Leave a comment and maybe I'll do it. Maybe.

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