Following their more psychedelia-based debut, Crocodiles, and subsequent "Puppet" single, Echo & the Bunnymen returned in 1981 with the darkest and perhaps most experimental album of their career. Heaven Up Here lacks the signature hooks and melodies that would make the Bunnymen famous, showcasing instead a dirge-like songwriting approach built around the circular rhythms of bassist Les Pattinson and drummer Pete DeFreitas. In this setting, the band remarkably flourishes, although they would go on to greater heights by scaling back the album's extremism. Heaven Up Here's strength is the way in which the Bunnymen seamlessly work together to shape each song's dynamics (the tension underlying the crescendo of "Turquoise Days" being a prime example). Ian McCulloch, having found his trademark confidence, sings with soaring abandon and passion throughout the album. Similarly, Will Sergeant's guitar playing, notably freed from verse-chorus structure and pop riffs, is at its angular finest; his playing on "No Dark Things" is pure Andy Gill-esque skronk. The album's opening troika of "Show of Strength," "With a Hip," and "Over the Wall" (the latter with its jarring, direct invocation of Del Shannon's "Runaway") are particularly effective, establishing the theme of distrust and restlessness which continues throughout the album. Indeed, even the album's lone single, "A Promise," is hardly light, pop material. But the message underneath that darkness, especially in McCulloch's lyrics, is a call to overcome rather than wallow, as the album ends with the relatively euphoric "All I Want." Sitting comfortably next to the pioneering work of contemporaries like Joy Division/New Order, and early Public Image Ltd. and Cure, this is a rather fine -- and in the end, influential -- example of atmospheric post-punk. Having reached the British Top Ten, Heaven Up Here is highly regarded among Echo & the Bunnymen's fans precisely for the reasons which, on the surface, make it one of the least accessible albums in the band's catalog.
AllMusic Review by Aaron Warshaw