ALBUM REVIEW: The Waterboys – Where the Action Is

8/10

the waterboys

Mike Scott’s inspired creation of the legendary band The Waterboys has produced a storied discography that defies genre labels. The band has wholeheartedly participated in the Big Music movement, redefined themselves as raggle-taggle folkies and produced mainstream rock all the while never letting the band get pigeonholed. On May 24 Mike Scott and his latest manifestation of The Waterboys will release “Where the Action Is”. The album follows their 2017 release “Out of All this Blue” and continues to defy genre definitions.

The title of the new album was inspired by the chorus of Robert Parker’s 1960’s Mod/Northern Soul classic, “Let’s Go Baby, Where the Action Is”. On the new release, the music generated is once again filled with emotion that connects on a deep level while elevating the soul. Mike Scott is the centre of the band’s existence as the membership in the Waterboys has intentionally continued to have an ever-changing musical line up.

On “Where the Action Is” Scott and The Waterboys continue his now over three-decade-long search to find and celebrate God’s mystical signature in the world. He combines pagan, primitive, spiritual and religious iconography with different sonic approaches to convey the latest results in his search. The recording begins with the title track an update of the Parker classic with new lyrics. There is a feeling of energy and pizzazz throughout that embodies the legacy of Scott’s enthusiastic Big Sound approach. Specific note should be paid to the Gospel-infused uplift played out with the call and response in the latter half of the song. Additionally, on the track, Steve Wickham’s fiddle was run through a fuzz box to provide the lead guitar sound. The result of this effort leaves the listener to proclaim “oh what fun”. “London Mick” is another pleasure as Scott shares his various encounters with The Clash’s Mick Jones. The song is an affectionate tribute to this legend in a Roman a Clef of sorts which produces a song that is lovable and winning. If you ever loved The Clash this song will thrill.

The track “Out of The Blue” might sound familiar to fans of The Waterboys because the song was the title track of the last album. Scott wanted another go at the selection feeling he could improve on the first version. The song was written for a friend who was in a dark place and discusses the wisdom acquired through pain and offers encouragement and reassurance. Scott retouches the track utilizing a Stax Records Gospel-flavoured approach that is just as engaging as the first recorded rendering.

The open-armed “Right Side of Heartbreak, (Wrong Side of Love) is an alluring track. The jangling guitar reminds me of Paul Weller’s bands The Style Council and The Jam. The crisp, clean production on this track is fascinating considering that it was initially recorded by Scott at home with a single mike and guitar. Scott on the song offers great insights into the challenges of relationships, and the cycles they go through. He questions the need for a façade to cover over deep emotions that exist under the surface in any bond.

On “In My Time On Earth” Scott continues to express his passionate, poetic nature. The song is set in our present day cultural landscape. Scott pulls no punches as he weighs in on what he sees. The chorus of the song balances all the angst of our immediate concerns and obsessions with the eternal secrets of the heart and the divine mystery that is hiding in plain sight. These truths are emphasized by lyrics like; “I will say what the heart knows and truth dies on a million tongues while a lie spreads like wildfire”. This acoustic track cannot help but be thought-provoking and evocative.

Bittersweet reminisce is captured on “Ladbrooke Grove Symphony” as Scott attempts to return to the time before this area of Notting Hill was gentrified. Again there is a bit of a Roman a Clef feeling to the narrative. Scott savours the aura of wild-eyed freedom that existed in the area when he resided there in the ’70s and ’80s. This genius track uses a “cocktail bar” sonic with insistent drums which would seem counter-intuitive but makes for a delightful selection. The recording makes a spectacular genre leap with “Take Me There I Will Follow You”, which captures Scott doing Rap. As unlikely as that seems the selection is an unexpected delight. The title of the track and its inspiration comes from a statement Scott made to his wife when he was befuddled by the confusing manic Tokyo street scene. I predict this will be a fan favourite in concert.

The final two tracks return to Scott’s wheelhouse, both look to the inspiration of nature, folk songs and literature as an impetus. “Then She Made the Lasses-O” is a modern interpretation of Robert Burn’s poem, “Green Grew the Rashes-O”. A poem that is beloved by Scott and he has finally recorded his own version. This interpretation blends the classic with the contemporary making for a winning amalgam. Steve Wickham provides the drama with his gorgeous fiddle play and the piano coda at the end is of note. The final track “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” is a reading by Scott set to music. The selection is taken from the most beautiful part of Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind and the Willows” chapter of the same title. The song clocks in at nine minutes but is so very beautiful it is worth the time investment. “Piper” is transcendent as it illustrates all the awe and glory of nature. It is the realization of everything Scott has ever tried to convey with both his solo work and The Waterboys and it is a brilliant ending to a genre-jumping work of mastery.

The Waterboys has always been Mike Scott’s brainchild and no matter the band’s popularity he has always been inspiring and enthralling as he works within the project. On “Where the Action Is” longtime fans will find him continuing to build the band’s legacy and newcomers and occasional listeners will be wondering why they have waited so long to familiarize themselves with what the band has on offer. Scott and Co. show true mastery of their form and the set list is beautifully constructed with a great mix that carries you through to the end rapidly and engagingly. The Waterboys like a fine wine seem to only get better with age.

1 Comment

  1. I’m currently listening to this album while burning it into my computer. It’s a beautifully whimsical piece of work, totally in keeping with the genius that is Mike Scott.
    This man’s ability to continue to astonish with his inventive talent is a rare fit he shares only with New Model Army’s Justin Sullivan, whose career has, ironically ran pretty much parallel with Mike’s.
    The fact that they’ve both released brilliant new albums this year is, indeed ironic, as well as a testament to their tenacity as well as their longevity.
    I hope the Mercury prize nominators are observing as ‘Where The Action I’ and the superb NMA album ‘From Here’ should be the top 2 contenders for the Mercury prize this year.

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