The Waterboys, The Whole Of The Moon (1985)

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Artist: The Waterboys
Title: The Whole Of The Moon
Description: single; album track, This Is The Sea
Label: Chrysalis
Release date: 1985
First heard: 1985

Unicorns and cannonballs, palaces and piers …

Mike Scott had heard the Big Music, and he’d never be the same. I am loath to be so vague, but I don’t know who introduced me to the Waterboys during my college years. But their sizeable strain of rock moved me in a powerful way in the middle of a decade that was often characterised by scale. Drums went off like cannons in so much 80s music. Brass emphasised that which had already been expressed in foot-high capital letters. Male voices in particular strained hard for operatic grandeur. Producers stretched every overblown gesture to fill the widest screen.

Trumpets, towers and tenements, wide oceans full of tears …

Inadvertently or otherwise, the Waterboys coined the name of their own genre – The Big Music – on their second blood-stirring album, A Pagan Place. In characteristically arse-about-tit style, I got into their third album This Is The Sea first, then their second, then their first. So for me, their music got smaller, as This Is The Sea is the pinnacle of their bid for windswept magnitude. Ironically, they were never as big as their music sounded, and only got big when their music got more intimate. Arguably their signature tune, The Whole Of The Moon only managed number 26 on its first release (“too high, too far, too soon” indeed). Not that I cared as I attempted to apply the rubric of the song’s roof-raising lyric to whichever student relationship was falling apart around me at the time. It’s a pretty compelling device, with the narrator comparing his own feeble efforts at dealing with the complexities of the world around him with the cosmic equivalent of some estimable maiden. To whit: “I pictured a rainbow, you held it in your hands.” And again, “I had flashes, but you saw the plan.” And again, “I saw the crescent, you saw the whole of the moon.” Who wouldn’t insert themselves and their unmanageable partner into this plan? (Or which self-pitying man wouldn’t?)

Flags, rags, ferryboats, scimitars and scarves …

It seems dimwitted to say it, but this is the Big Music writ large. It’s not just session man Chris Whitten’s gloriously elephantine drums, or the heavenward, multi-tracked trumpet of Roddy Lorimer, or Anthony Thistlethwaite’s unapologetic sax, or Karl Wallinger’s synth, which hits a spot somewhere between the fairground and Van Halen, it’s the sentiment. Scott could be delivering this sermon from a mount. It’s not about some of the moon, no more than the album’s title track is about sea. I’m never sure how I feel about literal sound effects in serious songs, but when he testifies, possibly in a biblical hailstorm, “You climbed on a ladder, with the wind in your sails, you came like a comet …” the thundercrack of what we must assume is a comet proves pretty persuasive. (Naturally, as a young, romantically precarious twentysomething, the double entendre of a woman “coming like a comet” was not lost on me.)

Every precious dream and vision, underneath the stars …

And just when you’re getting the hang of this I’m-rubbish-you’re-amazing love declaration (“I saw the rain dirty valley, you saw Brigadoon”), the lyric dovetails into Gandalf’s shopping list. There’s something so fundamentally uncool about those scimitars and scarves, those unicorns and cannonballs (this was decades before Game Of Thrones), you’d have to have a heart of granite not to want to embark on a shopping spree.

It’s hard to think of a riper fruit than The Whole Of The Moon. I might once have argued you have to be in the mood for its overstatement and bombast, but this is a song that takes you by the lapels, orders you a drink and puts you in its mood. This erudite poet of the seas is so knocked out by the completion of the lunar object he gives up and just shouts, “Hey, yeah!” at one juncture. That Scott and fellow travellers put the brakes on after This Is The Sea and decamped to Spiddal to make Irish folk music – entering their “raggle-taggle” phase and lining up with the Hothouse Flowers et al – is a natural wind-down. Where can you fly to next when you’ve been to the whole of the moon on the back of a comet?

I didn’t know what Brigadoon was when I first entered this song in 1985-86 at the urging of someone I’ve misplaced. I subsequently found out and another jigsaw piece slotted into place.

 

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Echo & The Bunnymen, The Killing Moon (1984)

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Artist: Echo & The Bunnymen
Title: The Killing Moon
Description: single; album track, Ocean Rain
Label: Korova
Release date: 1984
First heard: 1984

Once a Bunnyman, always a Bunnyman. The thought of it sometimes reduces me to panic, but when I sing The Killing Moon I know there isn’t a band in the world who’s got a song anywhere near that.

Ian McCulloch, The Observer, 13 April 2003

Ian McCulloch famously believes that Ocean Rain, Echo & The Bunnymen’s fourth album, is their best. I would have to lay down my raincoat and respectfully disagree with him. I’d say their first album, Crocodiles, remains their best. But I’ll happily concede that The Killing Moon – which in January 1984 promised the moon on a stick from the forthcoming new LP in May – makes a passionate bid for their best song.

It’s interesting how elemental your love for a band can be in your late teens. My first real crossover with Echo & The Bunnymen was when it went around the fifth form at Weston Favell Upper School that one of the cool kids, Mick Monroe, who had a wedge haircut and everything, had thrown away all his records except for those by Echo & The Bunnymen, which can surely only have amounted to one LP and some singles at that decisive stage. (A decade later I worked for Mick when he was an art director at a Covent Garden design agency, although I never satisfactorily got to the bottom of whether or not this was a myth. I prefer to print the legend in any case.)

It was through a much closer friend Craig McKenna that I first heard the Bunnymen myself, by which time their resin-coated reputation was sealed – thanks in no small part to Mick Monroe, who also had pleated trousers and blue shoes, items I attempted to carry off myself in those formative years of 1981 and 1982. By 1983, the Bunnymen had gone overground and boys’ hair in the sixth form was uniformly sticking up and smelling of Boots Country Born, but to know their first two albums was still to mark yourself out from the herd. Among the cognoscenti, even in Northampton, long coats were worn and even danced in at discos. By the summer of ’83, our gang were sockless by default. A knot of us travelled all the way to London to see the Bunnymen play the Albert Hall that year and it was religious. (A single printed sheet of paper was left on every seat, imploring, “LAY DOWN THY RAINCOAT AND GROOVE.” We are talking the highest echelons of cool.)

The 12-inch of The Killing Moon – purchased sight unseen and sound unheard with another Bunnyboy, Kevin Pierce, from Our Price in January 1984, the first landmark release of the year – had a live version of Do It Clean on the b-side, recorded at the Albert Hall. We were there. It was all coming together. I thought I’d heard it all, but The Killing Moon, elegant, aromatic, sincere, torrid, spooky, luxurious, deep, wide and long, was a new day dawning. Lush with strings, hushed with brushes, luminous with muted tones, this self-produced mini adventure knows how good it is.

“In starlit nights I saw you,” coos McCulloch, “So cruelly you kissed me.” It is, of course, his own lips that are “a magic world”, and the sky in the sleeve photo that’s “all hung with jewels.” Self-belief is never left in the dressing room with the Bunnymen in their pomp. It’s not always becoming when a band declares itself the best in the world, but that arrogant sense of entitlement can be intoxicating when embedded in the music – and far more palatable from Liverpudlians, I’d argue. It’s like the Bunnymen owned the road.

The nine-minute Up All Night Mix on the 12-inch never outstays its welcome. But the five-minute single version, which bursts at the seams with minor-chord grandeur and lunar melodrama, is more than enough. Kevin and I played it again, and again, and again. And I’m still playing it. Other songs of theirs – songs to learn and sing – are rougher and readier, sexier, rockier and drugsier, and more demanding of the casual listener (Stars Are Stars, Zimbo, The Puppet, Villiers Terrace), but The Killing Moon is an underground band hitting the big time and playing to the stalls, not just the Gods.

The airtight bass of Les Pattinson, those shards of distorted guitar pouring out of Will Sergeant, the late Pete de Freitas’ tribal exactitude, McCulloch’s possessed incantations and killing croon: for the best part of five years, heaven was down here.

I’ll get me coat.