A FEW YEARS BACK, an interviewer asked the members of Pavement which music that they used to love sounds stupid to them today. Steve Malkmus answered emphatically that Echo and the Bunnymen sounded silly and overblown when he and his band had popped an old cassette into the stereo while on a recent tour. I was a little shocked at his savagery, and began to wonder if my continuing appreciation for Echo was based on nostalgia, or if Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant were really the songwriting team they were cracked up to be.

Aside from Electrafixion, McCulloch and Sergeant's dodgy comeback project before they decided to come back for real, Echo and the Bunnymen remained true to their singular sound. Porcupine, Crocodiles, and the astounding Heaven up Here sounded like nothing else: Sergeant's layers of Eastern-influenced guitar swirled, and McCulloch's evocative voice plumbed the depths of baritone, yet rose effortlessly when the lyrics demanded it. Stunning light shows and arty backdrops lent majesty to their live performances, and the mid-'80s tour for Ocean Rain remains for me a standout example of rock theatricality.

Following a 10-year break, the duo reunited as Echo in 1997 with Evergreen, an album I wanted to love more than I could. Although I initially deemed it a smashing comeback, a few less-biased listens revealed it to be merely okay, and maybe even a little geriatric. The accompanying live date at the Showbox, however, was superlative. This year saw the release of What Are You Going to Do with Your Life, and though it's no Heaven up Here, it shows an inoffensive maturity, with lyrics befitting a middle-aged man still living the life of a 25-year-old.

So I don't agree with Malkmus. The old albums still sound good to me, and the newest makes me feel good, which is all I can ask from a band that's been around for the better part of 20 years. With the live shows still as impressive as they were over a decade ago -- without becoming a spectacle -- I'd say any Echo fan, no matter how much of a smartypants, has little to complain about.

Echo and the Bunnymen Age Gracefully

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