The Waterboys: Modern Blues (Kobalt)

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The Waterboys: November Tale
The Waterboys: Modern Blues (Kobalt)
There are two difficulties writing about this new album by Mike Scott's Waterboys: The first is he's such a strong image-maker, storyteller and wordsmith you want to quote large chunks of his lyrics, like . . .

“I saw three crosses pierce the sky above the distant hill, the sky burned red as I turned my head and left that scene behind, I took another God to be my guide, the one inside, our destinies entwined . . . .”

Or . . .

“In a dim lit motel two sad lovers were discoursing on the dignity of exile and the merits of divorcing, she said, 'All certainty is gone' but he leapt up still denying cried, 'I won't believe the flame I lit is dead or even dying' . . .”

In such instances he is lyrically channeling the narrative spirit of Dylan's Blood on the Tracks period in his allusive story-telling (the latter from the autobiographical Long Strange Golden Road). And country-influenced Van Morrison on the reflective Nearest Thing to Hip (about lost record shops and cafes) which recalls Morrison's On Hyndford Street in its reverie, although Scott is more bitter.

The second difficulty is the music.

In an interview with Elsewhere recently Scott said after his last album – musical settings of poems by W.B. Yeats – he wanted to return to rock'n'roll, hence these nine often rambunctious, sometimes soulful, occasionally thoughtful and mostly engaging songs.

You are tempted to start amusingly ticking off the musical sources and diverse musical references which include Philly soul (with nods to Celtic-sounding strings) on the lovely November Tale, Eighties guitar rock (Still A Freak, Beautiful Now) and – rather improbably -- Thin Lizzy on the driving, opener Destinies Entwined.

What prevents these songs being just stylistic implosions is Scott's word-spinning gift in images (“Venus in a V-necked sweater”) and dense, memorable couplets urgently tumbling over each other. And this great band (see that interview) recorded live in the studio on discreet songs with his committed, up-close delivery.

Scott is so persuaded by his own abilities he immerses himself in the music. You can't wait to hear some of these live, most have an innate energy which is powerful. Others are more ruminative.

On the slippery and soulful I Can See Elvis he envisions the King in the afterlife “skinny like he was back in 57, razor-quiffed, leather squeezed . . . astride a golden Harley”.

It's a cliché, but he resuscitates it beautifully.

So there really aren't two problems at all here, just two separate pleasures which Scott integrates into convincing wholes.

Mike Scott's still more than the self-description here: “Just a bunch of words in pants”.

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Steve M - Jan 30, 2015

Always worth listening to new Waterboys music, even the lesser known albums like Dream Harder and the couple under Mike Scott's name. His best work connects with the listener on a deep level, often around the intrinsic joys and challenges of life and finding our place in the world. Even as a completely non-religious and non-believing person, I never fail to feel uplifted by listening to his music and Scott's take on spirituality.

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