Ocean Rain

Suspended somewhere 'twixt heaven and hell, Echo and the Bunnymen take an oddly visceral pleasure in their spiritual limbo, evoking a vast, white, arctic expanse that's silent, unbroken and pure — but also deadly. The band's fourth full-length LP is too often a monochromatic dirge of banal existential imagery cloaked around the mere skeleton of a musical idea. Even the livelier songs — e.g., "Silver," "My Kingdom" — tend to beat a formula into the ground.

The typical Echo and the Bunnymen number calls for a percussively strummed acoustic; a forsaken, tuneless chant of a vocal, steeped in cavernous echo; and a snippet of a theme, played on guitar and counterpointed by a choppy string arrangement. Sometimes the songs kick in on the choruses, but even there, guitarist Will Sergeant tends to wander around in a fog whenever he assays a solo.

The album's low point is "Thorn of Crowns," wherein singer Ian McCulloch — besides inverting a Biblical image and rendering it incoherent — attempts a Jim Morrison imitation that's more blustery than gripping. After four or five long minutes, there's a false ending, then McCulloch bobs up for a kind of verbal jam that's hard to imagine being delivered with a straight face: "I have decided/To wear my thorn of crowns/Inside-out/Upside-down/Back to front/All around." Well, if the crown fits....

Actually, there are some nifty choruses and nice atmospheres scattered about Ocean Rain, and "Crystal Days" and "Seven Seas" are enjoyable, welcome respites from the dark clouds of doom that spew rain and bile elsewhere. But a handful of good tunes doesn't justify an entire album, and, for a fourth record, Ocean Rain evinces too little melodic development and too much tortured soul-gazing from Echo and the Bunnymen. Silly rabbits.