ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN

"Siberia"

Cooking Vinyl

Inspired by the Doors, the Velvet Underground and especially Television, Echo and the Bunnymen in the early '80s devised a mid-tempo but dramatically ascending sound that balanced tension and stateliness. As the Liverpool band settled into this style, however, the tension dissipated, and the stateliness curdled into bombast. Reuniting in 1997 after nearly a decade apart, singer Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant -- the only original members in the current lineup -- recaptured something of their original sweep, but the crucial friction was lacking. They may never retrieve it entirely, but the new "Siberia" is the closest they've come, thanks in large part to Sergeant's vivid and versatile guitar.

The songs begin, of course, with McCulloch, who contributes enigmatic lyrics and a voice that's part cutting folk-rocker, part smooth crooner. If none of these 11 tunes rival such '80s triumphs as "Rescue," they're the most consistent set of the group's post-reunion career. Yet the album's giddiest moments belong to Sergeant: the ringing intro of "Stormy Weather," the strafing strums of "Sideways Eight," the heroic interplay of "Of a Life" and "Scissors in the Sand." Producer Hugh Jones (an early Bunnymen collaborator) and drummer Simon Finley deserve their share of the credit, but it's Sergeant who propels the album -- to invoke another early Bunnymen epic -- over the wall.

-- Mark Jenkins

Appearing Friday at the Black Cat with Innaway.