Bring on the Newer Messiah: Echo & The Bunnymen Return

On The Stars, The Oceans & The Moon, 40-year post-punk scousers Echo & the Bunnymen have transformed their greatest hits.

Echo and the Bunnymen. Photo by Just Loomis

Will Sergeant, the guitarist for Echo & the Bunnymen, has seen Donnie Darko.

“I didn’t really give it a lot of time,” he says of Richard Kelly’s quasi-impenetrable 2001 cult film about a teenager played by Jake Gyllenhaal who’s suffering strange hallucinations and maybe traveling through time. “I was preoccupied with making a cup of tea.”

The film, set during the 1988 presidential election, includes a seemingly malevolent and possibly-hallucinated rabbit creature named Frank — and it may have singlehandedly introduced an entire generation to Echo & the Bunnymen’s 1984 hit “The Killing Moon,” if not the band itself. The song is in the opening sequence, in the original version at least.

“Then they changed it in the director’s cut, and they put INXS[’s ‘Never Tear Us Apart’] in the beginning. I couldn’t understand that,” Sergeant says.

“You should never say no to anybody,” he adds. “We just saw that it was an independent, small film — but we would have agreed to it anyway. I thought the creature looked a bit like our bunny creature.”

The resemblance is hard to deny. But the band, a post-punk act with psychedelic overtones, is arguably as tied to Donnie Darko as it is to Pretty in Pink, which included “Bring on the Dancing Horses” on its soundtrack. Although one of many British groups that charted successfully in the U.K. only to cultivate a niche following stateside, Echo & the Bunnymen occupy a unique position in the pantheon. Too broody to be New Wave, too catchy to be disaffected art-pop, they have endured in spite of losing two members to motorcycle or scooter accidents over the years.

Upon celebrating their 40th anniversary, Echo & the Bunnymen have released The Stars, The Oceans & The Moon, a cosmic exploration of their greatest hits, only fuller and “transformed” (in the band’s own parlance, or at least that of their marketing materials). Classics like “Rescue,” “Lips Like Sugar,” and “The Cutter” feel beautifully expanded in four dimensions, and then there’s “The Somnambulist,” labeled as a “future classic” — and very clearly a song that will cause most listeners to pause, wondering if they heard it three decades ago. The harp on “Bring on the Dancing Horses” feels truncated, but the record is a careful, loving reimagining of a back catalogue without a trace of cynicism. A certain haunting, minor-key-heavy approach to songwriting has largely vanished from the scene, but Echo & the Bunnymen aren’t apt to let it go entirely. The Liverpudlians play the Masonic on Monday, Dec. 3.

The selection of the 13 songs on The Stars, The Oceans & The Moon was almost predetermined, Sergeant says.

“There was no discussion,” he says, as bandmate and founder Ian McCulloch ”chooses all that stuff.”

It’s not very democratic, in other words. So would he have made different choices?

“Not really. I think it was meant to be,” he says drily. “Our hits — you cant put other weird ones on there. What can you do?”

Live, Echo & the Bunnymen typically play the classic versions, and when pressed about how he sees his band’s legacy, Sergeant aims respectably high.

“Where I wish it to be, it seems like we’re a classic rock act — like the Who or something. That’s what I want it to be. Whether it’s that or not, I don’t know. It’s difficult to say when you’re inside,” he says. “That’s all I wanted to be ever, to be seen as a band that’s kind of timeless. A classic rock band that was good live.”

Echo & The Bunnymen, Monday, Dec. 3, 7:30 p.m., at The Masonic, 1111 California St. $27-$55; sfmasonic.com

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