Echo and the Bunnymen Visit "Siberia"

Indie-rock vets redefine cool on new album

As one of rock's most quotable frontmen, Ian McCulloch has never been a shrinking violet. And with Echo and the Bunnymen's tenth studio album, Siberia, on its way, he's certainly not about to start now. "It's a masterpiece!" McCulloch says of the new Bunnymen effort, slated for release September 20th. "It's not supposed to happen to a band at this point, but it's the most complete album we've ever made."

McCulloch isn't alone in that opinion. Producer Hugh Jones, who worked on the Liverpool group's 1981 sophomore set, Heaven Up Here, as well as recordings by the Teardrop Explodes, Simple Minds and Del Amitri, calls Siberia the best work he's ever done.

Recalling both the post-punk psychedelia of the Bunnymen's influential debut, Crocodiles, and the dramatic Euro-balladry of 1984's Ocean Rain, the new album "is everything I need to say, lyrically and melodically," McCulloch explains, "and everything [guitarist] Will [Sergeant] needs to do, as well."

Although McCulloch and Sergeant have co-produced themselves since reforming the Bunnymen in the mid-Nineties, McCulloch jokes that Jones was hired to oversee Siberia "so I could get my own way, but have someone called Hugh Jones take the blame, I suppose."

More seriously, he admits that by 1999's What Are You Going to Do With Your Life?, the creative balance between him and Sergeant had shifted decisively. "Some people called it my best solo album, and Will wasn't happy," he recalls. "But I realized the Bunnymen were always really about me and Will."

After hearing Sergeant instantly craft the guitar riff for "Everything Kills You," a soaring track McCulloch calls "the most crystalized, pure Bunnymen moment since 'The Killing Moon,'" the singer says his appreciation of the partnership deepened.

"I hate him for it, because I'm like, 'It took me two years to come up with this, and you just pop in and do your bit!'" McCulloch says. "But that's why Will's so great."

The duo's differences have also been resolved by the sense that the Bunnymen are a band once again. Bassist Pete Wilkinson and drummer Simon Finley, who have been touring with the group and appeared on McCulloch's 2003 solo outing, Slideling, both play significant roles on the new album. "It's like we're a really great football team," McCulloch says.

With acts like Coldplay now claiming the Bunnymen as an influence, McCulloch admits he felt "something to prove" with Siberia. "So many people have cited us as this inspirational band," he says. "And I was like, 'If we are that, then I wanna make an album that these people can't copy for another twenty years.' As much as I wanna pass on this torch, no one's takin' it off me 'til I'm dead."

In November, after they tour the U.K., the Bunnymen will come to the U.S., and McCulloch is eager to play the new album live. "It makes you cry, it makes you tap your toes, it makes you wanna break a chair over someone's head," he says. "People can't ask for more."