History has a funny way of tampering with the legacy of Echo and the Bunnymen. The band itself often clouded the issue of its importance with half-hearted and half-headed albums. But just as history can obscure, it can sometimes sharpen focus, and the four-disc collection Crystal Days 1979-1999 does just that for the Liverpudlians' somewhat tarnished reputation. Singer Ian McCulloch, guitarist Will Sergeant, bassist Les Pattinson, and the late drummer Pete DeFreitas took their love of dramatic, histrionic rock (the Doors, Love) and heightened it with the energy of punk and the insistence of new wave without directly referring to any of it. As a result Echo didn't fade into an '80s-band footnote, even reuniting in the subsequent decade with felicity and grace.
This collection compiles numerous examples of the Bunnymen's considerable craft, skillfully placing the best of the band's output amid a Pandora's box of unreleased treats, including original singles and John Peel session versions of some of its best known material. Absent are tracks from 1990's Reverberation, a substandard product of the McCulloch-less Bunnymen II, but included is a lengthy visit to Echo's creative zenith, the seafaring, quasi-Catholic imagery of 1984's sparkling Ocean Rain. Perhaps most illuminating is the set's fourth disc, featuring the Bunnymen in peak form in Sweden in 1985 with incendiary live versions of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and "Soul Kitchen" plus their own "Crocodiles" and "Angels and Devils," showing not only how the band was influenced by the swaggering, overconfident rock that preceded it but how that influence was handed off to kids such as the Dandy Warhols.
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The 72 swoon-worthy selections included on Crystal Days are surpassed only by the package's presentation. The hardcover-book format is lavishly appointed, and the liner notes from long-time Bunnymen publicist Mick Houghton are not merely the gushings of a starstruck fan but an unflinchingly honest time line of the band's triumphs and missteps throughout its career to date. Crystal Days is solid proof of the band's deserved place in music history. Though haircuts and videos are part of their legacy, Echo and the Bunnymen have transcended mere '80s-band status.