Echo and the Bunnymen Crystal Days (1979-1999)

One of the best post-punk outfits to emerge from the UK at the beginning of the '80s, Echo and the Bunnymen created hook-filled and thrillingly intense dark pop inspired by the Doors, Velvet Underground and David Bowie. The band has always centred around the innovative guitar work of Will Seargent and the overtly dramatic vocals and obtuse lyrics of Ian McCulloch. The pair began their career with a drum machine (nicknamed Echo) and evolved into the band that soon featured real drummer Peter DeFreitas and bassist Les Pattinson. Seargent's textured, melodic riffing defined the band's sound, featuring a guitar style that was later expanded upon by folks like the Smith's Johnny Marr and U2's the Edge, while McColloch's tense and overwrought vocals, along with his hipster posing and haircut, gave the group their presence. The four-disc Crystal Days (1979-1999) appropriately focuses on the band's first incarnation in the '80s, with a smattering of tracks from the resurrected band in the '90s. Also included are rare singles, unreleased recordings and live material. The picture-filled book contains detailed notes from Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant, along with a great Bunny-fan confession from Pavement's Spiral Stairs. The only problem with this collection is the attempt to cover the 20 years noted in the title, as a more complete set should have focused on the band's heyday from '79-to-'87. Appropriately, all of the McCulloch's solo material, tracks from the McCulloch-less Bunnymen and the McCulloch/Seargent Electrafixion collaboration have been omitted, making the inclusion of the six tracks after the band's ten-year hiatus simply misplaced. In exchange, great tracks like "Going Up" and "Pride," from their debut, have been omitted, but on the other hand, this collection has plenty of great material. They were always a great singles band, with all the best found here, including "Rescue," "Do it Clean," "A Promise," "Never Stop," "Killing Moon" and "Seven Seas." Of the previously unavailable material, not all of it is stellar, hence its unreleased status, but there are great finds like "Watch Out Below," from an Ocean Rain-era Peel Session, an uncharacteristic take on "The Midnight Hour" and tracks from their aborted '86 album. As a band that released quite a few singles and EPs through their career, collecting together the B-sides and rarities is the box set's greatest strength, featuring tracks like "Simple Stuff" ('80), "Angels and Devils" ('84) and a WOMAD collaboration with the Royal Burundi Drummers on "Zimbo" ('82). Also included are some great covers from a '85 live set, including Television's "Friction," the Modern Lovers' "She Cracked" and Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." (Rhino)