Echo and the Bunnymen dropped the so-called "Grey Album" right at the moment I was graduating from high school (indifferently and anonymously, of couse) and it has been with me since that summer. Oh, sure. There were times when I was down on the Bunnymen. Were they down on themselves? Retired? Abandoned? Who knows?
The Grey Album is a masterpiece, but a flawed one that was "overcooked" and designed to put a cap on the first four Echo and the Bunnymen albums. Each and every one of the first four will get a full treatment here. I hope I can do justice to this one before I try to tackle those monsters.
And they are monsters. Each Echo and the Bunnymen album is a different headed monster, towering over music in ways most people don't understand. They are devouring things, brilliant examples of how you're supposed to write, record, and play music. A monster is a wonderful thing, when you think about it. A monster keeps the bland crap at bay and whenever you find yourself tired of the predictable, find a monster that runs wild with abandon and follow it.
Released during the summer of U2, this album couldn't elevate the Bunnymen to the level of arenas and football stadiums. It was, and is, a record that has stood up well over time.
The Grey Album is a song sequence that hammers you into submission. The brilliant opening track, The Game, is world weary and full of warmth. It's off to the races with Over You and the exquisite bounce of Bedbugs and Ballyhoo. Before you know it, you're caught in the masterpiece single Lips Like Sugar. Then it was (in the old days) on to Side Two, and Side Two of any Bunnymen album is where the ideas roam and where the feet stomp on pretension and indifference. In the span of a few tracks, the ideas rummage around and blossom. There are more subtle changes and shifts on a Bunnymen album than can be contemplated in just a few listens. I have always marveled at how, even years and years later, each listen to the whole album hits me with things I didn't remember were there. If you're not careful, songs like Blue Blue Ocean will have you confused as to why you're stunned by the results. The closer, All My Life, takes the weary threads and walks them home, and if you were to find yourself wandering back to start The Game all over again, then you're a friend of mine.
This is the slip-cover adorned deluxe package. This is where the extending mix of Bring on the Dancing Horses becomes the perfect closing track. Few throwaway singles have ever been as brilliant. What soundtrack? The Bunnymen don't need lame teenage movies to sell singles.
Nothing tops the package, however. The artistic expression of the Grey Album is evidenced by the minimalistic tones of the cover. Would it have worked in day-glo colors? Probably not. I love the shadow figures on the back cover. In fact, I might have flipped them--put the band photo on the back and run with the "monster" created by the four posing figures. Who knows?
I can't say enough about this album. I waited to put it here, and now I'll probably come back from time to time and expand upon this essay. I remember hearing Lips Like Sugar for the first time, and I thought it sounded otherworldly and wonderful. It is one of the great singles of my life.