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Chart Chat Album Review : The Waterboys – ‘Modern Blues’ (19th January 2015) (7/10)

Chart Chat Album Review : The Waterboys – ‘Modern Blues’ (19th January 2015) (7/10)

The beginning of The Waterboys can be traced back to 1983, some thirty two years ago.  Their first hit came with ‘Whole Of The Moon’ in 1985, a track that made no.26 then but returned in 1991 to reach no.3. Their peak in terms of commercial success came in the early 1990’s when both ‘Dream Harder’ and ‘Room To Roam’ albums reached the top five. This week sees the release of ‘Modern Blues’, their first album since 2011’s ‘An Appointment With Mr Yeats’ and fans will be keen to find out whether it lives up to expectations.

This album was never going to re-write rock history, but sometimes keeping things simple can be the right way to go. There are some wonderful melodies and fantastic lyrics on display over nine tracks with a running time just over 50 minutes. Let’s walk through each track as they appear in order.

Destinies Entwined

This was one of three tracks released to download ahead of the albums release and it’s arguably one of the most commercial on here. Uptempo and rocky with a memorable hookline it will take its place proudly amongst the bands existing catalogue. If there was to be a single chosen this would be among the front runners, but at just under six minutes it might need a bit of trimming and pruning to keep the daytime DJs happy.

November Tale

This is a mid tempo number which rises and falls with some fine melodies.  There ae some colourful lyrics on display too with “Her communique arrived with its expression of her feelings” chosen as the opening line. It’s a great song, and probably my second favourite on the album behind only ‘Rosalind (You Married The Wrong Guy)’ which features later on. It’s the kind of track which would sound fantastic on a Summers day driving in the car with the radio on.

Still A Freak

Arguably the first track which has a more significant blues influence, but it feels a bit light. I would have preferred this to have a slightly heavier production to it and the simple lyrics make it a bit of a throwaway song. It’s one of only two songs to clock in at less than four minutes and it feels like an idea that hasn’t been seen through to the end.

I Can See Elvis

Critics of the band would dismiss this as being too MOR, but you have to listen to tracks such as this in more detail.  Elvis isn’t the only singer to get a namecheck here with Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and John Lennon all getting a mention alongside James Dean, Keith Moon and Charlie Parker. Lyrically it  certainly paints a picture to the listener, and that is a skill not to be underestimated in 2015. This is certainly one of the more immediate tracks and on a personal level I love the organ towards the end.  Some neat guitar work is also on display here.

The Girl Who Slept For Scotland

A curious title and but the track doesn’t quite live up to that promise. It’s pleasant enough and isn’t a song you would necessarily skip but it isn’t one of my favourites either. A very small point is the inclusion of crowd noise, as if in applause, on the first mention of the “the girl who slept for Scotland” lyrics each chorus. It just seems a little out of place, but maybe that’s just me.

Rosalind (You Married The Wrong Guy)

This for me is the highlight of the album, a five minute blues epic which boasts rocky guitars and hammond organs from the outset. Lyrics here include “His courtliness is just an act / a sea of hubris lies behind his tact / when you least expect it he’ll attack / get out with your self-worth intact”.  It’s exactly the kind of song that will sound great live, and it’s also a track that I could imagine the late great Joe Cocker singing. It uses Certainly the first track i revisited after the initial listen of the album.

Beautiful Now

Perhaps the moral here is that the band are better at those slightly longer tracks as this is the one of just two songs which come in at under four minutes and both are the weakest tracks here.  It’s bright and breezy enough and perhaps the closest the album comes to being radio friendly. I don’t dislike it, but when you see what they can create in terms of songs such as ‘Rosalind’ this ends up feeling a little bit second best. It fades with the refrain “I’m going to wrap my love around you” and that’s where we leave it.

Nearest Thing To Hip

Continuing the blues theme the lyrics to this track namecheck Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Miles Davis.  There is indeed some fine trumpet playing on this, and the lyrics reminisce about great shops and cafes which have disappeared from Britains towns and cities. As the third verse charts “I remember an old fashioned bar I once knew / with an old fashioned barman wearing old fashioned clothes / but when I get there it’s been bulldozed”. It’s sung from the heart and is one of the tenderest tracks on here.

Long Strange Golden Road

As many great albums do, this one plays out with a full on epic which is over 10 minutes in length. Mike Scott is on full on storytelling mode on a track which also includes samples by Jack Kerouac and Kondo Tomohiro. The chorus “Keep your eye on the road / remember what you told her / this is all in code, my dear” will certainly stick in your head while the musical backdrop is as rich as the rest of the album. It’s a fine way to sign off, and a reminder that this band still has plenty left in it.

For me this is a welcome return for Mike Scott and the band.  It’s a slightly different sound to that which graced ‘Fishermans Blues’ back in 1988 but it certainly has a place in 2015.  The band have live appearances due in Warwick and London in early February, and on this showing it is well worth getting a ticket. If you are a fan then you won’t be disappointed in ‘Modern Blues’, but at the same time I’m not sure how many new converts it will end up winning over.

Ian Anderson (@ChartChatUK)

18 January, 2015 - Posted by | ChartChat

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