" I’m one-dimensional, but it’s a big dimension, " Echo & the Bunnymen vocalist Ian McCulloch asserts over the phone from his home town of Liverpool. That may sound brash, but it’s in character for the frontman who earned the nickname Mac the Mouth during the Bunnymen’s ’80s heyday for all manner of outrageous statements about his own talent and the lack thereof in some of his peers. He gets away with it because he’s supremely confident, and, well, he’s often very funny. During our conversation about his third solo album, Slideling (spinART), which he’s supporting with a tour that comes to Axis tonight (May 22), he touches on the pope ( " Do you think when he goes to the toilet, he levitates? " ), jokes about purchasing Coldplay’s Parachutes (Nettwerk) in the supermarket ( " That, three pairs of underpants, a pair of socks, and a bag of potatoes " ), and takes a jab at Morrissey. Apparently, Morrissey wanted to interview McCulloch back in 1983, so a meeting was set up. As McCulloch recalls, " He mispronounced ‘chasm’ with a hard ‘ch’ sound. Christ knows what he’d make of the word onomatopœia. He’d probably think he was ordering an omelet. "
Along with being pegged as something of a loose cannon in the early days, McCulloch was saddled with a reputation as a deeply melancholy young fellow. In large part that had to do with the Bunnymen’s brand of neo-psychedelic rock and the paranoid and often morbid tone of the lyrics on early albums like 1980’s Crocodiles (Sire). As time went on, McCulloch’s youthful howl became more of a gloomy croon that fit the orchestral vistas of later albums like 1984’s Ocean Rain (Sire). Nevertheless, his moodiness was as overplayed back then as it is today. " More than anything, I like making people laugh, which is weird considering that most people think I’m some miserable dude. "
The new Slideling reflects McCulloch’s playful outlook: it’s the sunniest album he’s made in years. " Love in Veins " balances gleaming guitar chords against a shimmering keyboard melody; " High Wires " is a tunefully Beatle-esque number, and " Stake Your Claim " is lushly synthesized. Even the mid-tempo strummer " Baby Hold On " and the Lou Reedy " Another Train " are carried along by an earnest, hopeful undercurrent. There’s a handful of wistful tracks; " Kansas " finds a somewhat distressed McCulloch wondering, " When’s someone gonna come and find me? " Overall, however, Slideling shows us an artist at peace with his world.
What’s more, it has Coldplay vocalist Chris Martin, an avowed Bunnymen fan, adding background vocals and some chipper piano to the title track and to " Arthur. " The two met when Coldplay were recording their most recent album, A Rush of Blood to the Head (Capitol). McCulloch says he was genuinely amused by Martin’s enthusiasm for the Bunnymen. " Chris had been given our box set over the Christmas holiday, so when I popped in to the studio, he was like, ‘Mac, Mac! Fantastic! You’re the best band ever!’ He just kept saying, ‘We want this album to be our Ocean Rain.’ He introduces me to people as ‘the man who saved their album.’ "
It’s clear that McCulloch doesn’t mind being courted by the new generation of Brit bands. And he shouldn’t — the Bunnymen have never gotten the credit they deserve for what they accomplished on their first three releases, and for the influence those releases have had. But it appears the group will get one more chance: in recognition of the Bunnymen’s 25th anniversary, Warner Bros. is planning to remaster and reissue their first five albums. And both a new Bunnymen album and a tour are on the back burner while McCulloch finishes supporting Slideling.
So he’s brimming with confidence as he contemplates the future, both with the Bunnymen and as a solo artist. " I’ve never looked back. Most of Slideling is about the passing of time, but not just waiting for the ambulance to come. And maybe because I’m back with the Bunnymen, the album also feels more positive to me. Mainly, though, I’m just anxious to get on with the second half of life. "
Ian McCulloch headlines Axis tonight, May 22. Call (617) 931-2000.