After they reunited in the mid-'90s, Echo & the Bunnymen cranked out album after album of decent-to-good material, spotlighting Ian McCulloch's ageless vocals and the band's sure way with a dramatic hook. For 2014's Meteorites, the duo of McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant turned to legendary producer Youth to help guide the album, and came up with a record that compares favorably to the best work of their original run in the '80s. Where their previous effort, Fountain, was a big-sounding, very clean modern rock album that reduced the band to its essential core, this one aspires to more epic heights. Teeming with giant string arrangements, widescreen vocal production, and songs that hark back to the glory days of Ocean Rain, the album is a mysterious, murky, impressively nostalgic affair. With Sergeant providing his typically concise and perfectly complementary guitar lines and Mac digging deep to turn in one of his better vocal performances in a while, the duo give Youth a lot to work with and he spins it into some gauzy magic. Tracks like "Lovers on the Run" and "Holy Moses" have a dramatic intensity and sweeping power that their more focused and stripped-back songs of recent years have surely missed. When they go big, it works extremely well, like on the opening title track, a slowly unspooling epic with truly heart-rending string crescendos and some of Mac's most broken-sounding singing in a long time, or the huge-sounding "Market Town," which runs seven minutes, features a long Sergeant guitar solo, and doesn't flag at all. Even the simpler, more direct songs, like the quiet ballad "Grapes Upon the Vine," have a big sound, though not so big as to overwhelm the fragile emotions on display. Youth and the group walk the line between grandiose and epic throughout, never falling on the wrong side even once. Between the impressive set of songs, the totally invested performances, and Youth's brilliant production, Meteorites ends up as a late-in-the-game triumph for the band and a worthy successor to their finest album, Ocean Rain. It may be too late to really matter, and they may be doomed to be seen as a nostalgia act, but many of the bands in 2014 that are making neo-psychedelic albums would be well served to check with the Bunnymen to see how to go about things the correct way.
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