It's hard to imagine Ian McCulloch without his Bunnymen, but on his solo debut from 1989 no harm is done. Thoroughly enjoyable, Candleland finds him at his most commercial and tuneful spirit representing the Alternative 80s. Cocteau Twins' Liz Fraser guests of the titlecut as well. This remastered & expanded 2cd set from Edsel should be on everyone's list.
Following the break-up of the Bunnymen (and death of his father) Ian McCulloch went solo and released this deeply introspective and sombre album to yawning indifference in 1989. Given that it was released at the height of Acid House and the Madchester phenomenon (the Happy Mondays' album Bummed was released in 1988 and Pills 'n' Thrills in 1990) it inevitably didn't make much of a splash. I remember seeing Ian at the Manchester Ritz in 1989 when he was touring Candleland and the venue was only half-full. And just to be even more unfashionable he had earlier released a cover of Kurt Weill's brooding classic September Song. But twenty years on one can see this album in a different light for it contains a wonderful array of songs, the greatest of which is the title track. McCulloch sings and plays guitar on the album and Ray Shulman produces it as well as plays bass guitar and keyboards on most of the songs so it's really a joint effort. But McCulloch takes all of the songwriting credits of course. Highlights of the ten songs for me are Proud To Fall, The Flickering Wall (New Order-ish guitars), Horses Head (classic Bunnymen sound), I Know You Well (aching lyrics) and Start Again (sobbing passion) with only The Cape and In Bloom providing chugging filler material. But the real stand-out track is the duet with his chanteuse Elizabeth Frazer of the Cocteau Twin on Candleland, truly one of the great duets of all time. Why this single wasn't a No 1 is a mystery to me. Their voices meld so beautifully that every time Liz chimes in with Ian you get a tingle down your spine. Fabulous stuff. The CD is long deleted but individual tracks are downloadable. Candleland is a must for every record collection. Wonderful Wonderland.
Firstly, though this record succeeds the Bunnymen (the legendary and brilliant Scouse-pop band McCulloch sang with) by a couple of years, it has dated much more than any of that seminal band's work. Mostly this is down to the fact that rather than working out his own sound (as the Bunnymen did), McCulloch instead places himself in the Leonard Cohen-esque role of songwriter, and perhaps in an unintentional homage to Cohen's I'm Your Man (an otherwise cracking record), leaves the song arrangements in the hands of some seriously '80s synthesiser fetishist. The songs aren't really of Bunnymen quality either, but this is not to say they're unmelodic - the key thing to bear in mind here is 'McCulloch does Cohen'. Indeed, some even have quite a bit of charm, most notably the closing song 'Start Again' which, extreme '80s-ness and all, is on a par with the Bunnymen's Ocean Rain and the undoubted highlight of this record. So what I'd say is: don't come to this record expecting a long-lost Bunnymen record. It isn't. If you come to it with an open mind, however, you will probably quite enjoy it, and it is very clearly the predecessor of the Bunnymen's 1999 album What Are You Going to Do With Your Life?