I’m going to say it: Heaven Up Here is a much better album than Ocean Rain. Granted that Ocean Rain – the record most commonly held up by all and sundry as the consummate Echo and The Bunnymen album – is a gorgeous, haunting work of art, but Heaven Up Here, with its stronger set of songs and superior production, just gets the nod in my humble opinion. Yes, the two albums are indeed birds of a different feather, but given a choice between them, it’s got to be Heaven Up Here every time for me.
Recorded at the iconic Rockfield Studios near Monmouth in Wales, co-produced by Hugh Jones and the band and released on May 30 1981, Heaven Up Here was the sound of the Bunnymen abandoning the shimmering, psychedelic pop sound of their debut Crocodiles in favour of a darker, more atmospheric and brooding sonic attack.
Propelled by Pete DeFreitas’ tight, tribal beats and Les Pattinson’s hypnotic, circular basslines, tunes like brilliant opener Show of Strength and Over The Wall, with its Del Shannon referencing vocal melody, were operating in Joy Divison/ The Cure territory, steeped in melancholy and sounding urgent and totally thrilling for it. Even the album’s lone single A Promise – supposedly the album’s most accessible track – was a lot more intense and mournful sounding than anything the band had offered up previously.
*Echo and the Bunnymen by Marcia Resnick
Heavier and a lot weirder sounding than anything The Bunnymen had come up with to date, the angular, post punk flavoured songs on Heaven Up Here provided a solid foundation for guitarist Will Sergeant to bring his substantial talents to the fore. And shine he certainly did, colouring the tracks with some exquisite guitar playing that bore shades of John McGeoch, Andy Gill and Robin Guthrie at their finest. For all his great singing on the record, it’s Sergeant rather than main man Ian McCulloch who emerged as the real star of the show on Heaven Up Here.
In June 1981, Heaven Up Here became Echo & the Bunnymen’s first Top 10 release when it reached number 10 on the UK Albums Chart. The record was also the band’s first entry into the United States albums charts when it reached number 184 of the Billboard 200.
Despite its less accessible sound, Heaven Up Here was well-received by fans and critics alike in the UK at the time. At the 1981 NME Awards, Heaven Up Here took home the bacon in the “Best Dressed LP” and “Best Album” categories. The album has also been listed at number 471 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Not bad for an album with no obvious singles on it to choose from.
Back in the day, Heaven Up Here was regarded as the darkest most experimental and inaccessible record album of the Bunnymen’s career to date. But listening to it today, I think the album has aged really well, thanks in large to its great tunes and clean, powerful production. Stack it alongside modern indie records of similar ilk and Heaven Up Here still kicks substantial rock butt. The likes of Coldplay, Interpol and The Killers can only dream of sounding this great, truth be told.