Review Summary: A classic exercise in uber-darkness and paranoia.
'Porcupine' is a bit of a juxtaposition. It saw Echo & The Bunnymen at the height of their commercial powers, with the album dropping the band's biggest hit 'The Cutter' onto a baying public. But it also saw the band in it's least commercial mindset, producing a dark, experimental and purposely difficult album. Indeed, the recording of 'Porcupine' was famously marred by in-fighting and looming threats of a band split. It must have been a bittersweet time to have been one of the Bunnymen.
That said, however, 'Porcupine' is a hugely powerful work that still stands as the peak of Echo & The Bunnymen's career.
The experimental leanings of this record make it irrisistable. The production is sent into expansive overdrive here, with every track featuring layers and layers of sound. It feels like the mixing desk must have been maxed out in almost every song, with the thickness of the sound hiding a treasure box of little details that don't reveal themselves immediately. 'Porcupine' is the very definition of an album where you can notice something new every time you listen.
And whilst the poduction and effects-driven guitar crafts are endlessly exciting, the song writing is also top notch. The album walks a fine line between it's catchy cuts and it's sinister gothic pieces. Although, it's when these two elements are combined that the band creates the albums true classics. 'The Back Of Love' is a fine example, with the booming dums and moaning, distorted guitar lines creating a dark, cluttered background which in turn frames a catchy, urgent vocal. Likewise, the album highlight 'Clay' is a towering pop song, but taken very much to the dark side by the discordant, squalling guitars that loom over everything like a giant dead tree. It's like the song was written to be a pretty track, and then the decision was made to purposely 'f**k it up'. Whatever, it's a brilliant track, and one of the best in the Bunnymen's cannon.
Other highlights abound with the ultra catchy 'Heads Will Roll', which has a mosh-inducing, radio-friendly chorus and a fantastic, spiraling set of eastern guitar riffs. Not to mention an awesome middle-eight featuring echoey ragas and indian violins. 'Gods Will Be Gods', meanwhile, takes the albums wall-of-sound production to it's natural conclusion, with a huge layered rush of... well, pretty much every guitar effect you could ever put into a song... all at the same time. It's confusing, euphoric and very, very loud.
There isn't much in the way of negative things to say about this record. It's obviously not for everyone, as it's darkness is overwhelming, much like Joy Division's 'Closer', and it takes a certain mood in order to be enjoyed. But there aren't really any weak tracks (although the new wave pop of of the closing track 'In Bluer Skies' dips close, but is saved by it's giant, catchy feedback riff) and the album, when listened to with concentration on a good pair of headphones, offers a level of atmospheric audio immersion of a very rare quality, and one that skims 'Porcupine' very close to the status of a stone cold classic.