Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Album Review: The Waterboys - Where the Action Is

The Waterboys have long turned into another alias for Mike Scott so it should be no surprise that it no longer resembles the band that released A Girl Called Johnny and the Whole of the Moon over thirty years ago. Gone is the Celtic pop of Fisherman's Blues or This Is The Sea. The Waterboys are now an outlet for everything Mike Scott wants to release, and the range of styles he broaches can be quite wide. His previous album, 2017's Out Of All This Blue, saw him tackle neo-soul and was informed by hip-hop beats and production style.

This new record succeeds when it keeps some of the new tricks he learned on the previous record and applies them to different formulas like hard rock, folk ballads etc. It fails when it tries to be modern, and ends up sounding like mid-nineties dance pop or rap, the most blatant example being Take Me There I Will Follow You, an embarrassing attempt at rap that even some clever lyrics can't redeem.

In fact, the whole second half of the album is a bit of a letdown. Then There's Love and Then She Made the Lasses O are a pair of unremarkable ballads (although the fiddle solo on the latter is a nice touch) and album closer Piper at the Gates of Dawn is a  pretty if monotone jazzy poem which, at nearly ten minutes, overstays its welcome somewhat and suffers from an overly precious delivery by Mike Scott. Despite its refined instrumentation, the track never takes off and ends the album on a bummer.
The first half of the LP however is very good. The title of the poignant soul ballad Out of All this Blue, featuring a great gospel backing vocal buried in the mix, indicates that these songs may have been leftovers from the previous album (already a double LP) which would explain the lag in quality of the material.

But songs like the title track, a Stones-y rocker built around a big overdriven guitar riff and stabs of organ, In My Time on Earth, a haunting Dylanesque ballad are as good as anything the Waterboys have released in the past twenty years. For this reviewer, the highlight of the record is London Mick, a song about Mick Jones of the Clash and the friendship he and Mike Scott struck together when Scott was just a young punk and Jones was his hero. The song sounds more like American classic rock than English punk, but it works and the touching, earnest lyrics will make any rock fan shed a tear.

Where the Action Is is a mixed bag, starting off strong but kind of fizzling out after track seven, and one wishes that Mike Scott had released a shorter record, perhaps an EP, and had omitted some of the lesser material. But it's always a treat to hear his familiar voice and in the end all of the songs, the great ones like the not-so-good ones, are only a part of the Big Music.

Genre: Pop/Rock
Release Date: May 24th, 2019
Label: Cooking Vinyl
Rating: 6/10

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