Echo and The Bunnymen - Heaven Up Here (Cover Artwork)

Echo and The Bunnymen

Heaven Up Here (1981)


Picking one album from the first five by Echo & The Bunnymen isn’t a challenge. Crocodiles was a great start, but with a bit more scabbiness in the musicianship. Third album Porcupine is more like a bridge gap to the popular fourth album Ocean Rain. And at the end there’s Echo & The Bunny Men, also known as the grey album or just self-titled. What it really comes down to though is their second album, Heaven Up Here and the almost hazy majestic beauty that oozes from the cracks. That’s perhaps the best one to pick first...

Heaven Up Here was made with soul music in mind, but also a dose of The Velvet Underground as an influence. Don’t let that make you think this album holds the same style as VU in the mix though. Really the band is simply inspired by VU’s dramatic portrayal, but also their honesty in lyrics. Lead singer Ian McCulloch cites Lou Reed as an idol as well as Bowie. His voice is more of a painful wail than an Ian Curtis drone. Think of Robert Smith but way better.

The band started to transition into a full force when this album dropped back in 1981. Other contemporaries like U2, The Psychedelic Furs, and the Human League all released their sophomore albums to great success, and each band rode the waves into MTV land, but the one who stayed behind in the shadows was Echo & The Bunnymen.

What you end up getting is an album more complex, more sophisticated, and tightly focused. This wasn’t really reaching for the charts (it did become the bands highest at the time), and it wasn’t trying to fit into a mold. No, the band seemed to stretch out more and ended up making a weighted record with depth. There’s a lot to digest and the epic quality of the music is a testament to that.

Guitarist Will Sergeant is major player in the Post-Punk scene and highly underrated. His work on the bands early catalogue is very strong and he should be mentioned in the same conversations as Keith Levene, Bernard Sumner, Andy Gill, The Edge, and Vini Reilly. Listen to opening track “Show of Strength” and hear those chords! It’s like a cat’s meow stretched over dub grooves clanging against a metal shed. Very nice, very quiet, but also very loud.

Second track "With a Hip" is another example of Sergeant’s angular playing. He’s not just whipping strokes, but instead playing with a purpose. The song meshes together with the other member’s forming a solid track of Post-Punk perfection. This is all a result of the many rehearsals they did beforehand and how it helped to develop "language" in the rhythm as stated by bassist Les Pattinson.

Each track feels like a sequestered piece, evoking the depressing lyrics to a T. They feel cold and wet, lonely and dead (the album cover is another example). What springs up from it is that hazy majestic beauty mentioned earlier. There’s a complex machinery of melodies which somehow transcend the boundaries of rubbish and end up sounding otherworldly. This doesn’t sound try-hard either which makes it unique. This is what U2 did later with their most well received albums. They took what sounded like angelic tones and expanded on them making a trademark. Echo & The Bunnymen did that on their second album. It’s just that few noticed…

Fifth track “A Promise” was released as the albums only single and it’s a standout. Just to hit on the lyrics a bit you have lines like: “You said something will change / We were all dressed up / Somewhere to go / No sign of rain / But something will change / You promised”. Reviewers were right when saying that the album feels grey and evokes emotions like “detachment”, “Betrayal”, and “Hypocrisy”.

It’s fitting in some kind of weird way, that the band’s name starts with the word “echo”. Not mentioning the tons of vocal multi-tracking on the album, but more in the sense of loneliness and yelling out loud to perhaps no one but yourself. What do you get in the echo back? The exact same thing… “You said nothing will change / We were almost near / Almost far / Down came the rain / But nothing will change / You promised”.

Echo & The Bunnymen tried to expand on their sound a bit more with Ocean Rain, what with it being recorded with a 35-piece orchestra, and it did help usher them into the mainstream at the time and also into the new millennium with the now cult classic film Donnie Darko playing that one track everyone knows about. But that album shouldn’t be the starting point! No, Heaven Up Here needs to be. This is a shining example of a great band perfecting their sound. This was no sophomore slump because they didn’t have to impress anyone else but instead meet their own interests. They seemed to have done that this time. Heaven Up Here is one of the deep cuts of the 80’s and those in the know understand it’s status. This is one for the curious and the dedicated. Dig it…