Educating Peter # 9

August 19, 2012

This week’s Educating Peter is brought to you by guest contributor Steve. (Hi, Steve!)

Although my friend Michael (Hi, Michael!) instigated this series, and it’s usually Michael who supplies the songs each week, Steve felt it high time that he muscled in with a song from the 80’s he loves.

(That’s fine by me. I welcome any suggestions from all you 80’s-lovin’ music fans. If you’re willing to let me loose on a song you hold dear to your heart, then I’m more than happy to get stuck into it. Unless of course, it’s a song I’m less than happy to hear.)

This week’s song is “The Killing Moon” by Echo & The Bunnymen. I’m familiar with it but I haven’t heard the little beastie in years.

I must admit straight away that when “The Killing Moon” was first released I thought it was dreary. Whenever the song came on the radio I’d either change the station or, if I couldn’t do that (e.g., “Hey, Peter, what do you think you’re doing? That’s my radio!”), I’d wait as patiently as I could until it had finished, and then I’d be very glad when it finished. (Why is it that the songs you don’t like seem to be longer than the ones you do?)

I also feel the need to comment on the name of the band. For me, calling your band “Echo & The Bunnymen” practically invites ridicule. I won’t ridicule it (even though I think it’s a ridiculous name), but I will say that when I hear the word “Bunny” in close proximity to music I tend to think of this.

So, with those biases and associations out in the open and waving in the breeze, let’s listen to the song with the ears I have now, as opposed to the ears I had when I was 23 years old and irritated whenever I heard Echo & The Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon”.

Echo & The Bunnymen – “The Killing Moon (1984)


0:00-0:15 – OK, this is exotic. Is that an oud I can hear? Or maybe a balalaika? (Note to self: brush up on your knowledge of non-Western instruments before you start mentioning them.) To me this introduction is trying to sound Middle-Eastern, but they’re making it hard for themselves because an acoustic guitar is playing B minor and then G major. Those two chords aren’t very exotic. Or Middle-Eastern. Ah well. At least they used some non-standard and interesting instrumentation at the start of the song.

0:16-0:23 – Well I never knew that before. (Probably because I was young and not paying attention.) The bass player sounds like he’s playing one of those acoustic basses that musicians tend to use on those “unplugged” programs. They look like this…

… and I love the sound of them. (Very warm.)

0:23-0:46 – Oh, dear. This chap sure does take himself seriously. (“This chap” is Ian McCulloch. No relation to Jimmy.) Just look at him in the video. Unfortunately, for all that seriousness I had a wry smile when he sang “soon” – or to be more precise, “soo-oo-hoon” – in a very strange way (at 0:27). It’s as if he was attempting a falsetto there but it came out wrong. Incidentally, I don’t know if this is the case, and I haven’t heard Ian McCulloch sing all that much, but he sounds to me like he has a cold throughout the song. As I’m listening to his voice I keep wanting to find a scarf and wrap it around his neck and then give him a cup of hot cocoa. The reverb-drenched guitar at 0:41 sounded moody (with a capital “M”), and it reminded me of two things that I guess don’t usually get thought of together: The Smiths and Chris Isaak

But back to “The Killing Moon”…

0:46-0:56 – Hooray! We’ve arrived at the chorus, after hearing E minor then C major, E minor then C major, E minor then C major, E minor then C major (stop me when you’ve had enough)… Ooh I like the chord progression for the chorus (G major then C minor). And I’ve just noticed that the bass guitar now sounds like a regular electric bass. (Did it change for the chorus, or did it change earlier and I missed it?) By the way, and this is an extremely minor point about pronunciation, but I’m having trouble getting my head around the way Ian sings the word “thin” in the phrase “Through the thick and thin” at 0:54. I’m trying to figure out how to write how it sounds to me. Coming out of the mouth of Ian it sounds like a combination of “fin”, “fen”, and “then”. This is extremely minor, and I’m wasting your time by mentioning it.

0:56-1:00 – Ian sings “You will wait until”, but the way he sings it (sorry to go on about his pronunciation again), it comes out as “You will wait un-tay-hell”, and that made me think he was going to sing “You will wait on tables”, and I immediately pictured him as a waiter in a restaurant, standing next to you as you sit at a small table, and he’s wearing a black-and-white waiter’s outfit, with one of those white cloths over his arm. (“May I present you with the wine menu?”)

1:00-1:06 – Just more of the chorus.

1:06-1:00 – Oh-oh. We’re back to the verse, with its interminable E minor / C major chord progression. (It isn’t really a chord progression – it’s just the same two chords played over and over again. Grrr.)

1:20 – Now, I really, really don’t want to harp on Ian’s pronunciation any more than I already have, but (here we go again…) Ian sings a word at 1:20 that I didn’t understand. After listening to it a few times I remained baffled, so I resorted to a lyric sheet (the online variety). According to this page (and this page) Ian sings the phrase “So cruelly you kissed me”. Its the last word in that phrase that has me stumped. I’ve heard it a few times now, and I’m sure he’s not singing “me”. No, make that absolutely sure. He has to be singing something like “moon”, or “move”, or “moo”. It sure as shinola isn’t the word “me”. If it was that, it’d make perfect sense in the context of the phrase (“So cruelly you kissed me”). But I can’t hear “me” at all. For all I know, Ian’s singing “So cruelly you kissed moon”, which makes a little less sense. But it makes more sense than “So cruelly you kissed moo”. Maybe he’s singing about someone called “Moo”. That way, it’d make a lot of sense: “So cruelly you kissed Moo”. I can dig it.

1:20 – There’s that Smiths/Chris Isaak echo-y guitar again. Welcome back!

1:37-1:56 – And now to the next chorus. I’ve just realised that I’ve probably written way too much about this track already, and it’s been going a minute-and-a-half. Eek! The song goes for almost six minutes. I might have to make this quick.

1:37-1:56 (cont,d.) – This chorus sounds a lot like the first one. Maybe everything has a bit more echo this time. (There’s definitely has a weird reverb on the snare drum here.)

1:56-2:27 – The Middle 8. Considering it lasts 31 seconds, that’s a pretty long middle 8. Because I’m aware that I need to stop typing and start posting, I’ll just say the middle 8 is moody.

2:27-2:35 – Oh, another middle 8. No, wait. It’s the start of the next verse, but without vocals. (And I’ve typed the word “middle” so many times now that it looks weird to me.)

2:27-2:58 – The verse after the middle 8. More echo. More sound effects. More mood.

2:58-5:46 – Another chorus. Repeated. And repeated some more. And then repeated again. Etcetera. (Not Pete Cetera.)

3:42 onwards – This is the start of a sort-of guitar solo (it’s more like moody guitar noodling – “moodling” if you will) with some bizarro vocalising by Ian. This is going for aaaages.

4:14-4:15 – What on Earth is that?

4:31 (or 4:45, or 5:12, or anywhere else) – This song just won’t stop.

5:46 – It finished. Yay!

I’ve now heard “Killing Moon” after many a year*, and I still find it dreary. A little less dreary, perhaps, than 28 years ago – but dreary nonetheless. It’s very moody (thanks to a minor key and a lot of echo), the lyrics are suitably literate (they were my favourite part of the song), and it all fits together so that the band’s intentions seem to be fully realised, but it’s all just a bit too dour for my liking (or the mood I was in when I was listening to it).

(I must also do something about all those parentheses. I use them far too often.)

Nevertheless, I’m happy to conclude that “The Killing Moon” was slightly less dreary than it used to be for me. (Although “happy” is probably not the word to use.)

No offence to the Echo chaps and their fans, but if I’m ever in the mood to listen to something gloomy I’ll turn to The Cure. They’re my kind of dreary.

Ah, personal taste.

(*I’m glad I resisted the urge to say “many a moon”.)