‘Horses head found in a bed’ – An appreciation of ‘Candleland’, Ian McCulloch's first solo album.

‘The Greatest Album Ever Made’. So ran the PR for Echo and The Bunnymen’s fourth album, ‘Ocean Rain’ (1984), which peaked at no.4 in the UK charts. The statement should have run on with the words ‘by Echo and The Bunnymen’ because it is surely the bands best album, but certainly not the best album ever. Despite lacking a lot of the visceral edginess of earlier Bunnymen albums, it is their best, most consistent album of songs, but they couldn’t follow it up. In fact only one more album by the full original line up followed, three years later, ‘Echo and the Bunnymen (The Grey Album)’ which had some decent tracks and also reached no.4.  The reformed band had a few more hits a decade or so later and are still active today, but former glories have not been reached.
And now, deluxe re-issue kings Edsel have re-released the first three solo McCulloch albums, of which ‘Candleland’ is the only one that could be considered anything like essential. I’ve probably not listened to this album since the year of its release in 1990 (though single b-side, ‘The Circle Game’ has found its way to my speakers numerous times over the years).

Thankfully it stands up to the test of time some 22 years later very well, even the occasional eighties style drum machine beats raising a smile more than a wince. There was no recapturing the energy of the Bunnymen’s formative years (that would be left to Electrafixion, McCulloch’s and Sergeant’s pre reformed Bunnymen project, though they did forget to include any tunes), however the mellow mood was informed by the deaths of Pete DeFreitas (the Bunnymen’s drummer) and Mac’s father, lending it greater warmth and feeling than ‘The Grey Album’ whilst not departing massively from the Bunnymen sound.  In ‘Proud To Fall’ the album had a track to be proud of (well a chorus anyway) and the title track tempted the Cocteau Twins Elizabeth Fraser in to provide backing vocals, as good a commendation of quality as you could get at the time.

Another telling pointer was the quality of the single releases associated b-sides, though remixes were beginning to rear their ugly heads. The aforementioned ‘The Circle Game’, a Joni Mitchell cover being for me an era highlight.

The re-issue also includes 1984’s debut solo single release, ‘September Song/Cockles & Mussels’, with Mac toying with idea of entering the crooner market, and it still sounds great today. I may not have returned to this album much back in the day, but I think this re-issue will find its way to my hi-fi occasionally in the coming months. I don’t want to sound to dismissive of subsequent Mac/Bunnymen releases either, they have included some high points over the years, and Mac still has the gift of the gab, massively over praising the decent in places 2012 solo album ‘Pro Patria Mori’ in the build up to its release, referring to tracks ‘Different Trees’, ‘Pro Patria Mori’ and ‘Raindrops On The Sun’ as the ‘equi-greatest Holy Trinity of songs ever written’! For me the re-issue of ‘Candleland’ establishes it as the last essential Mac featuring release, though I do remain of course an Ian McCulloch fan.

Thames Delta World Service #10 - 16/09/2012

Here's TDWS #10. The usual mix, featuring ... Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Alexi Murdoch, Pure Love, Radical Face, crying at INXS, John Fogerty, Kristeen Young with David Bowie, REM, Villagers, Beck, [Strangers], Oasis, Martha Wainwright, Small Faces, Mylo, Ryan Adams, Yngve & The Innocent and John Fogerty.

You can download it here.........

You can play it here..........

'On the floating, shapeless oceans, I did all my best to smile'