Random Jukebox: Echo & The Bunnymen’s The Cutter

The second Bunnymen 45 I bought was also the second single from the band’s third studio album Porcupine. Sinuous, slinky, and packed with hook-laden melodies that never lose steam, it had all the hallmarks of an instant classic.

Echo and the Bunnymen was founded in Liverpool in 1978. The original line-up consisted of singer Ian McCulloch, guitarist Will Sergeant, bassist Les Pattison and drummer Pete de Freitas. The group combined punk, an almost comic level of arrogance (McCulloch frequently referred to the band as the greatest of all time, and their 1984 epic The Killing Moon as the greatest song ever written), a Doors type psychedelic vibe, inventive guitar playing, a muscular rhythm section topped off with mannered, theatrical vocals that came straight out of the Bowie songbook.

Commanding and demanding from start to finish, The Cutter is the sharpest quill of them all. Propelled by lithe strings and a dynamic lead vocal, it cruises through each section with power and grace, building with the tautness that had become the Bunnymen’s calling card; emboldened by that epic modulated violin by famed session musician L. Shankar (PiL, Pretenders, Peter Gabriel) zigzagging over the chorus to give the song what they called its exotic, psychedelic “Eastern” character.  

(The band would approach the palette of Indian music again, for a plodding, sitar-driven stab at the other Fab Four’s All You Need Is Love, and later on the unremarkable Mac-less Reverberation. That time, at least, they paid professional Indian musicians.) 

The Cutter’s crucial moment comes right on the tail of the second chorus, around the 1:40 mark, when the band leave one tier of impressive behind for an astral plane of goddamned majesty. It’s a whole other chorus, it’s a bridge, it’s a bird, it’s a plane — however that supernova of the track ought to be classified, it’s a true event.

When the song goes there again, at the 2:50 mark, the power behind McCulloch’s voice is devastating, almost operatic. During a much-discussed performance on the BBC’s Top of the Pops, those moments physically transform the frontman: The first time, he takes his coat off to reveal a naked shoulder, but on the second he pulls the other side of his shirt down to make what looks like a strapless dress, feminizing himself into a diva in time with the song’s swelling passion. 

It even caught the attention of Merseyside comrade Paul McCartney, who told Smash Hits: “I thought it was very funny when Echo and his Bunnymen dropped his shirt off. We had a good laugh at that one. We thought that was right great.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqtHhPA_-K8

To anyone who heard their first two albums and supposed the Bunnymen would never amount to much, The Cutter must have been devastating — like the band had taken a second hand out from behind its back. As for the arcane, esoteric pleas to “spare us the Cutter!”, Mac the Mouth said that year, “If you can work out Gods Will Be Gods you’re a better man than I am. The Cutter is about three different aspects of this man. I’m six foot tall, so that’s a clue.”

Released on 14 January 1983, The Cutter was produced by future Lightning Seed Ian Broudie under the pseudonym Kingbird, and reached No.8 on the UK singles chart two weeks later. It was a position they never bettered but took 14 years to equal with 1997’s majestic Nothing Lasts Forever. Not just a drop in the ocean then.

Steve Pafford

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