Melody Maker 17th April 1999
Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow?
Echo & The Bunnymen / PJ Harvey
Improv Theatre, London
Despite the fact she's supporting with only John Parish to accompany her, touts outside the venue yell. 'Tickets for PJ Harvey, buy or sell'. Hopefully none of the Bunnymen crowd are around to hear them. Inside Polly sinks into 'Dry' which remains one of the most startling, exhilaration songs about the messy business of sexual politics...but then so is 'Mansize' (I'll Calculate my birthright' - bruising, tumescent) or '50ft Queenie'. When she goofs during 'Send His Love To Me' ('Oh Lord I've forgotten the words / I'll make them up as I go along'), it's not quite the searing blues we expect, but it's endearing nonetheless. 'Rid Of Me' is extraordinary, thrilling, though; a reminder why we fell in love in the first place, if one were needed. It's a torrent of defiance, it leaves us breathless and the applause, rightly, is rapturous. Somehow, her brutal intimacies and righteous savagery seem to smart like never before on this form, it's impossible to think of anyone who could match her. She is - as Ian McCulloch is about to find out - a hard act to follow.
The deal on the new Bunnymen album is this: finally, having made a career of tireless self-promotion and general gobshitery, Mac has realised he is fallible, human even. Which is fine if you're prepared to indulge a mid-life epiphany on the strength of someone's back catalogue, but less so if you feel 20 years is too long to hang around waiting for any man to admit their vulnerability.
Mac and Will Sergeant are not the sole survivors of the original line-up, which conjures unpleasant memories of short-lived, pre-reformation horror, Electrafixion. If anything, though, this is worse. Previously Mac was merely pissing away his talent, aping others when he might have been leading the pack. Tonight he's gravitated to desecrating old songs, his voice a rasp stretched to breaking point, the drumming relentless and leaden throughout. 'Is this blues I'm singing? he asks in 'Rescue'. No, but it ought to be. Variously, the new songs sound like REM's 'Find The River', country classic 'Everybody's Talking', Glen Campbell's 'Galveston' and Whitney Houston's 'One Moment In Time'. Despite this, they might as well be the same song, one long bleary mumble. 'This is what it's all about, d'you know what I mean?' he asks after one unintelligible between-song blether, no doubt evincing the 'insouciant cool' for which he is famed. Well, no Mac, we don't. Another song plods by and it becomes harder to care, even when 'The Cutter' is pummelled into pub rock oblivion.
'Give me one more try / And I'll come flaking back to you' he sings in 'Rust'. We do, he does. But tonight, as a summation of the problems inherent in any domestic relationship, 'He hits me but I love him' would be as apt and as pointlessly self-defeating. 'What Are You Going To Do With Your Life?' he asks. Hey Mac, anyone who watches Jerry Springer can tell you that: move on.