The saying goes that good albums amount to more than the sum of their individual songs. With The Fountain, Echo & the Bunnymen demonstrates that the opposite holds true as well. When taken as a whole, the latest from the U.K. post-punk vets is significantly worse than any one track would suggest. Take any song—and I do mean any, as, save a couple of ballads, the tracks are more or less interchangeable—and you’ll have a perfectly palatable three minutes or so of bright, uptempo guitar rock. In that respect, opener “I Think I Need It To” sets the band’s agenda nicely, providing the ringing major-key melodies and swelling choruses that will recur throughout the album. But what’s pleasant enough in a single serving turns bland after two or three, and the last 15 minutes of The Fountain are an outright chore to get through.
This despite the fact that the album is rarely “bad.” Ian McCulloch’s vocals are still capable, and while he’s penned better lyrics, only “The Idolness of Gods” contains any outright clunkers. Meanwhile, Will Seargent’s guitar work survives the glossy production to come through lithe and vibrant. He cribs too heavily from the Edge’s stadium-rock playbook, but he also tosses in some truly inspired fretwork, as on “Drivetime.”
In the end, it’s not the occasional missteps that mar The Fountain so much as its consummate, consistent mediocrity. It’s entirely wanting for great songs—hell, even for pretty good ones. Given the two exceptionally talented performers behind the record, it’s more baffling than disappointing. John McLaughlin’s too-slick production doesn’t help (the man’s previous producing credits include Brit boy band 5ive), but he can’t be blamed for dulling the edges on songs that just weren’t that sharp to begin with. It’s possible that the album’s singles will sound punchier outside their relentlessly monotonous context; “Proxy,” above all, with its sing-along chorus, could enjoy a second life on playlists and mixtapes. But even at its best the music here sounds more like the crowd-pleasing pop-rock of Snow Patrol or the Fray than any of the countless young indie groups influenced by Echo & the Bunnymen’s seminal ‘80s output.