Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Echo & the Bunnymen, "The Cutter" (1983)


As with many of the non-charting songs I have picked to write about these last couple years (though it turned out a few actually had crossed the rubicon into the top 40, d'oh!), "The Cutter" is here mostly representing the album it comes from, in this case the third Echo & the Bunnymen album Porcupine, which is fine. In fact, all of their first four albums start at worthwhile and move toward essential. The general appeal is most often characterized as shades of neo-psychedelia in a postpunk frame. Wikipedia, for example, is quick to drag in the obligatory Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles on the matter of the thickly textured strings in this song. Fair enough, but I also want to call attention to Ian McCulloch's vocal, which had always displayed enough twitchy anxiety to get over on New Wave terms. For me, I had to hear the Bunnymen covers of Doors and Velvet Underground songs found on the box set to clarify just how good (and how ambitious) McCulloch always was. There is also the deceptively easy and unpretentious way the band has of packing in so much drama to so many of their songs. The stakes always feel high and so it is with "The Cutter." It thrums with a bottom vibrating at deepest levels even as the keyboard hooks elegantly stair-step across scales at the song's highest pitch, holding in place for its greatest effects. It's dread and atmosphere and yet light and frolicsome even, and always propulsive. It starts on a high note and builds to a glorious crescendo, like death and then heaven. I'm not even sure what it is exactly, let alone what it is about. And I don't know who or what "the cutter" is supposed to be but I don't think I want any part of it either.

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