Echo & the Bunnymen: Heaven Up Here

ON THIS DATE (31 YEARS AGO)
May 30, 1981 – Echo & the Bunnymen: Heaven Up Here is released
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 4/5
# Allmusic 4.5/5 stars
Heaven Up Here is the second album by Echo & the Bunnymen, released on 30 May 1981. In June 1981, Heaven Up Here became Echo & the Bunnymen’s first Top 10 release when it reached number 10 on the UK Albums Chart. It was also the band’s first entry into the United States albums charts when it reached number 184 of the Billboard 200. Heaven Up Here released the singles “A Promise” and “Over the Wall”.
Recorded at Rockfield Studios near Monmouth in Wales, Heaven Up Here was co-produced by Hugh Jones and the band. A generally well received album by fans in the United Kingdom and by critics, Heaven Up Here won the “Best Dressed LP” and “Best Album” awards at the 1981 NME Awards. The album has also been listed at number 471 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Though it yielded only one minor hit single in the band’s native England, Heaven Up Here is considered by many to be the ultimate Echo and the Bunnymen album. The album is drenched in an aura of mystery that is fueled by the swirling, epic sound of guitarist Will Sergeant and drummer Pete De Freitas. The music is so powerful that singer Ian McCulloch’s vague, almost nonsensical lyrics take on a profundity.
While tracks like “The Disease,” a desolate two-chord sound-poem based on a solitary rhythm guitar and a haunting recorder passage, do feature some incisive lyrics, most of McCulloch’s words seem intent on reinforcing the dark, brooding atmosphere of the music. The opening “Show of Strength,” a soaring song that is driven by one of Sergeant’s gripping guitar passages, sets the tone for the album, creating a heroic soundscape that crests with the majesty of “A Promise.” The latter is a hypnotic song in which drummer DeFritas showcases his explosive style and McCulloch provides one the most compelling vocal performances of his career. While Heaven Up Here may lack the hit singles that made the Bunnymen alternative-radio favorites throughout the ’80s, it is a classic rock album and arguably the Bunnymen’s finest hour.
REVIEW
~ Aaron Warshaw, allmusic
Following their more psychedelia-based debut, Crocodiles, and subsequent “Puppet” single, Echo & the Bunnymen returned in 1981 with the darkest and perhaps most experimental album of their career. Heaven Up Here lacks the signature hooks and melodies that would make the Bunnymen famous, showcasing instead a dirge-like songwriting approach built around the circular rhythms of bassist Les Pattinson and drummer Pete DeFreitas. In this setting, the band remarkably flourishes, although they would go on to greater heights by scaling back the album’s extremism. Heaven Up Here’s strength is the way in which the Bunnymen seamlessly work together to shape each song’s dynamics (the tension underlying the crescendo of “Turquoise Days” being a prime example). Ian McCulloch, having found his trademark confidence, sings with soaring abandon and passion throughout the album. Similarly, Will Sergeant’s guitar playing, notably freed from verse-chorus structure and pop riffs, is at its angular finest; his playing on “No Dark Things” is pure Andy Gill-esque skronk. The album’s opening troika of “Show of Strength,” “With a Hip,” and “Over the Wall” (the latter with its jarring, direct invocation of Del Shannon’s “Runaway”) are particularly effective, establishing the theme of distrust and restlessness which continues throughout the album. Indeed, even the album’s lone single, “A Promise,” is hardly light, pop material. But the message underneath that darkness, especially in McCulloch’s lyrics, is a call to overcome rather than wallow, as the album ends with the relatively euphoric “All I Want.” Sitting comfortably next to the pioneering work of contemporaries like Joy Division/New Order, and early Public Image Ltd. and Cure, this is a rather fine — and in the end, influential — example of atmospheric post-punk. Having reached the British Top Ten, Heaven Up Here is highly regarded among Echo & the Bunnymen’s fans precisely for the reasons which, on the surface, make it one of the least accessible albums in the band’s catalog.
TRACKS:
All tracks written by Will Sergeant, Ian McCulloch, Les Pattinson and Pete de Freitas.
Side one
“Show of Strength” – 4:50
“With a Hip” – 3:16
“Over the Wall” – 5:59
“It Was a Pleasure” – 3:12
“A Promise” – 4:08
Side two
“Heaven Up Here” – 3:45
“The Disease” – 2:28
“All My Colours” – 4:06
“No Dark Things” – 4:27
“Turquoise Days” – 3:51
“All I Want” – 4:09
2003 reissue bonus tracks
“Broke My Neck” (long version) – 7:22
“Show of Strength” (live) – 4:41
“The Disease” (live) – 1:53
“All I Want” (live) – 3:09
“Zimbo” (live) – 3:52

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