“All the shadows and the pain are coming to you…”
I’m holidaying, as I write, in Calpe, Spain. Before I flew I spent a short while updating selections on my iPod. Said gizmo stores up to 8GB of music; a mere fraction of what’s on my (dying?) desktop at home. So from time to time I go through my iTunes and refresh the tune-age on my iPod for portable listening purposes; sometimes with new purchases but also with older favourites that I haven’t heard in a while. As I scrolled through iTunes, I stumbled upon Echo and the Bunnymen’s Nothing Lasts Forever, the first song of theirs that I ever heard. I had a quick listen but elected not to pop the song onto the iPod. Clearly I didn’t know then that I would be writing about it now! Instead I chose two stellar tunes from earlier in the group’s career: Never Stop and Ocean Rain.
The Bunnymen formed in Liverpool in 1978, and released five albums in their original incarnation: frontman Ian McCulloch, Will Sergeant on guitar, bassist Les Pattinson and Pete De Freitas on drums. They were both critically acclaimed and commercially successful, and the music they made helped inspire plenty of other groups (including some who went on to considerable commercial success: Coldplay, Radiohead, the Verve). Nothing Lasts Forever was the group’s 1997 comeback single, their first new release with McCulloch in a decade or so. It reached number 8 in the UK singles chart upon release in June 1997.* Sadly it did not feature De Freitas’ distinctive drumming. He died in a motorcycle accident in 1989.
Stylistically Nothing Lasts Forever is quite different from the Bunnymen’s 1980s output. Although the band were never strangers to stately, string-laden balladry, Nothing Lasts Forever is more classicist than, say, Seven Seas or Silver. It’s clearly a song written by McCulloch on acoustic guitar and built up from there. Whereas most, if not all, of their earlier work is audibly the work of a band writing together; more riff-based, with McCulloch singing over the top of repetitive chord sequences, often leaping up an octave for the chorus to try to find somewhere different to go melodically. Lyrically Nothing Lasts Forever is also considerably more direct.
The record begins inauspiciously, with a strummed acoustic guitar (well, probably two guitars being presented as one) jumping unnecessarily from one side of the stereo spectrum to the other, and then a typically mid-1990s (and rather lumpen) introductory drum fill from session player Michael Lee. Surely a more delicate opening was called for; but perhaps then they wouldn’t have had a top ten hit on their hands. In any case, things soon improve.
Sergeant’s tone is lovely and his playing understated, and Lee’s drum performance is more sympathetic as the song builds; his push from the first bridge into the second verse is particularly nice. Adam Peters’ orchestral arrangement is perhaps not as idiosyncratic as some of his work on Ocean Rain, but it is perfectly fit for purpose. McCulloch’s vocals are as strong and assured as ever, albeit now gruffer and less (Heroes-style) declamatory (I, for one, love his peculiar pronunciation of the word ‘pain’ in the coda). And Liam Gallagher, oddly, is on hand to snarl some backing vocals which probably shouldn’t work, but just about do.
Nothing Lasts Forever wasn’t quite up there with the Bunnymen’s highest highs (The Killing Moon, My Kingdom, The Cutter) but it was a great return. However the song’s parent album, Evergreen, wasn’t in the same league as its lead single. Too many of the songs were workaday, and it didn’t rock as hard as it thought it did (rather like mid 90s Paul Weller). Only Just A Touch Away and Forgiven were in the same league as Nothing Lasts Forever. Pattinson left the group before the release of the band’s next album What Are You Going To Do With Your Life? Here McCulloch seemed more at ease with his middle-aged musings, and although the record made less of a splash commercially, I certainly thought it was a better album overall.
* If memory serves it charted the same week as The Verve’s comeback single Bittersweet Symphony – but the release dates listed for the two singles on Wikipedia look a little awry, one being 16th June and one 20th June, so I’m not sure….