Echo & The Bunnymen: Porcupine (1983)
I've always viewed them as more a great singles band than an album band; 1985's hits collection Songs To Learn And Sing is undoubtedly, song for song, one of the most essential documents of the UK new wave era, bar none. If I had to pick a particular album, though, it would be a tough call; while 1984's Ocean Rain may be their most consistently solid work, I'm partial to it's predecessor, largely because opening track "The Cutter" is, for me, the definitive Echo track. Ok, I suppose "The Killing Moon" off Ocean Rain is as good or better, but there's something about "The Cutter" -- I think it's when they break into the bridge ("will I still recoil...") -- that captures a nostalgic mood for me like few other songs.
And while it's "The Cutter" that defines the band for me, the next tune, "Back of Love," is another one of their top singles, as fresh today as it was 35 years ago; "Heads Will Roll" is also pretty great, while the darker "Clay" is similarly compelling, with a catchy hook. But I also like some of the quieter tunes more on the Cure-like goth end of the spectrum, like the jagged "Higher Hell." Some of it, like the extended title track, gets a little intense, keeping the overall mood of the album from reaching into mainstream pop territory, but, again like the Cure, there is a healthy balance between the band's chilly intensity and moments of pop transcendence.
Ian McCulloch's vocals are strong throughout, passionate and portentous, a more airbrushed take on Joy Division's Ian Curtis while at times reaching Bono-like heights; while Will Sergeant's exotic staccato guitar work, which doesn't get the credit it deserves, stretches the sound in interesting directions.
As a final note -- while it was the band's recordings through the mid-80s that dominated my listening for a long time, in recent years I discovered some of their more recent work, recorded since they regrouped in the mid-90s; and while it may lack some of the highs of those initial singles, it's actually pretty decent, maybe a bit slicker, with occasional hits at a more contemporary Britpop vibe, while retaining the sonic touchstones of their earlier work.(I'm listening to 2009's excellent The Fountain right now, and I'm still shocked that Echo 2.0 hasn't gotten more traction.)
Here's the video for "The Cutter":