The Waterboys: Modern Blues (Harlequin and Clown)
WHEN A SCOTSMAN and an Irishman try to make a big impression they go to America.
Nashville may have become somewhat of a cliché, but it was the natural calling for Mike Scott (whose nationality needs no elaboration) and his long-time accomplice Steve Wickham who have just released the 11th studio album under the name of The Waterboys.
It’s been quite a ride for Scott, the act’s founder and backbone, from the big music of its early days, through to the folk-fest of The Fisherman’s Blues and the ghost of the Irish poet who inspired An Appointment With Mr Yeats in 2011.
So it isn’t a surprise, given The Waterboys’ changing musical palate, that last year recorded in Nashville with some American artists. An album titled Modern Blues recorded in the heart of country and western sounds intriguing; or very disconcerting.
Scott has corralled Paul Brown and David Hood for this album, respectively a Memphis keyboardist and a bassist who played on Aretha’s Respect. That’s a fine backing band. On paper anyway.
And yet it sounds as if the musicians aren’t quite sure what Scott wants out of them on the opening track, Destinies Entwined. And on November Tale they stop playing, all of a sudden, a few times, and pointedly right at the end. A small, moot, point maybe, and not one that is going to detract from the fresh appeal of the track, but a beguiling, slightly irritating trait nevertheless.
Still A Freak contains heavy blues influences as it erupts out of Memphis with all the energy and enthusiasm of a John Lee Hooker track. Meanwhile, Scott moves down a gear for I Can See Elvis, on which the backing singers provide subtle doo-wops. Scott’s febrile imagination is on overdrive as he envisages Presley “Talking philosophy and law with Joan of Arc and Plato/ Quizzing Shakespeare on his plays/ Showing Crazy Horse and Marvin Gaye how to dance the mashed potato.” A little fanciful, perhaps, but the images are immeasurably illuminating.
The Girl Who Slept For Scotland is a return to the rock-ist, uplifting Waterboys sound of years ago, with a rousing, razor-sharp chorus, and Rosalind (You Married The Wrong Guy) is a blues-infused rock standard in which the narrator sounds deranged as he implores a woman of his affections to “lift up your skirt and flee”.
Modern Blues concludes with the semi-autobiographical Long Strange Golden Road, which encapsulates Kerouc, and a curious stream of consciousness. It is both incredibly enthralling and tedious at the same time, with its repetitive riffs and ongoing verses. It’s a statement for the whole album: Modern Blues is the sound of The Waterboys taking an adventure without being terribly adventurous.
Read our review of An Appointment With Mr Yeats here.