Walking away from Liverpool’s Echo and the Bunnymen in mid-’88, singer Ian McCulloch picked up a guitar, reflected deeply on his turbulent professional and personal life and wrote the songs for his first solo album. (Actually, at least “Proud to Fall” was composed while he was still in the band.) The alluring Candleland, atmospherically produced by Ray Shulman, somberly distills the dreamy rock sound of 1987’s Echo & the Bunnymen to give Mac’s musical life a brilliant second chapter. Sweeping melodies, expressive vocals, surprisingly good guitar playing and resonantly emotional lyrics (the haunting “Start Again” bids farewell to his late father as well as Bunnymen drummer Pete De Freitas, who died in a 1989 auto accident, and another friend) make such gorgeous songs as “Flickering Wall,” “White Hotel” and “Proud to Fall” immediately familiar. Varied arrangements make style- breakers of “Faith and Healing,” “The Cape” and the waltz- time “I Know You Well,” proffering them as everything from orchestrated balladry to New Orderized dance-pop. With only one serious flaw—the songs’ elementary chord patterns—Candleland is a magnificent record.
Besides a remix of the title song, the Faith & Healing EP offers a trio of non-LP tracks performed with McCulloch’s hard-rocking tour band, the Prodigal Sons. Although two of the new tunes are lame, “Rocket Ship” is a keeper. The Candleland EP adds three more good’uns to a sturdier, elongated version of the album’s evanescent title track, again featuring vocals by Cocteau Twin Elizabeth Fraser.
It took three separate producers on Mysterio (including Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie and onetime Yacht Henry Priestman) and the four Prodigal Sons (no longer billed as such) to undo the aching ambience of Candleland, replacing it with various flavors of harder/louder/more danceable ordinary. Nowhere near as careful or moody this time around, McCulloch’s downcast songwriting makes Mysterio a fair followup, but the stirring presentation works against the promising material’s emotional impact. The very Echo-like “Magical World” gets things off to a promising start and “Honeydrip” hooks loosely onto the Jesus and Mary Chain with entertaining results, but the rest of the album (which includes an almost-there version of Leonard Cohen’s “Lover Lover Lover” and “Vibor Blue,” a hapless techno/slide-acoustic hybrid 12-bar) rarely connects with the resonance and impact of Candleland.