There are few musical hands that are harder to play than being a once-groundbreaking rock band declining into their dotage. This task is made even harder if, like Echo and the Bunnymen, they have routinely and relentlessly trumpeted their self-diagnosed peerless magnificence throughout their 35-year career.
Hugely iconic in the 1980s and a major, acknowledged influence on the emerging Radiohead and Coldplay, the Bunnymen found themselves having to finance their recent, 11th studio album, Meteorites, via fan-funding site PledgeMusic. They are in reduced circumstances, and tonight singer Ian McCulloch cuts a low-key, subdued figure compared with the posturing, preening rock god of yore.
McCulloch has described the new album as his most soul-searching and personal to date, but it deviates little from the Bunnymen's eternal template of impenetrably gnomic pronouncements delivered over quasi-epic, exquisitely calibrated guitar riffs. Typical is Holy Moses, a pulsing throb of a song whose lyrics hint at a profundity that they simply don't contain.
Only McCulloch and mercurial guitarist Will Sergeant remain from the band's original line-up, and tonight their new songs merely fill in time between their stream of classic, chiming, immaculate post-punk confections. They can't help but sound diminished by comparison, with Constantinople and New Horizons being little more than brooding, pedestrian dirges.
Yet they have the arsenal to close their set with Bring on the Dancing Horses, The Killing Moon and The Cutter, sheer and sublimely propulsive pop songs that appear to be carved from pure crystal. Sadly, their luminescence merely confirms that Echo and the Bunnymen are now not raging but sighing against the dying of the light.
At O2 Academy, Bristol, 10 June, then touring