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Non-Prog CD Reviews

The Waterboys

Book Of Lightning CD - Special limited edition release including bonus DVD

Review by Bruce Stringer

Mike Scott’s Waterboys once again take to the folk-rock inspired music that helped re-establish them with Dream Harder, stripping away the ingrained folkiness that slowed the band down with Fisherman’s Blues and Room To Roam. With similar production sound to Dream Harder and Mike Scott’s solo album, Bring ‘Em All In, the harder-edged vein works well and, hopefully, will lead to a focus that will see the band reach the heights that they saw with Whole Of The Moon and their early 80’s releases.

The first thing that took my interest in this release was the inclusion of a bonus DVD, The Travels Of The Waterboys, featuring “a unique compendium of the band’s on-tour home movies”. Since I had never had the opportunity to see the Waterboys live I was quite interested in what might be on the DVD. So, that went straight into the player and I thoroughly enjoyed all 59 minutes of musical insights, behind-the-scenes lunacy and jamming up and down the highways in a mini van. Highlights include a visit to the studio that they used to record Fisherman’s Blues – now in total disuse and practically falling apart, an impressive rendition of “Glastonbury Song” and some great radio station appearances and live songs. The source footage seems to be from very high quality handy-cam recordings and is edited in a very interesting, fly on the wall style that cuts out much of the chaff and focuses, instead, on the music and the charisma that is the Waterboys. All in all, the video footage is great and was well worth the investment, however that leaves the actual music of the CD, of which I successfully forgot about while the DVD spun round.

Following in the tradition of strange tales, Mike Scott reveals a segment of The Archivist’s Tale, a story concerning a futuristic researcher reviewing the Library Of Souls and the great record, the Book Of Lightning. Scott is obviously functioning on a more elevated level and I find his spiritual explorations very hard to intellectualize. Having said that, we all love Mike and wouldn’t want him to change because it’s people like him that are spreading good will and love in a world too cynical to take itself at face value. Mike Scott and the Waterboys are an experience that shouldn’t be pigeonholed; they continue to break down the walls between folk, rock, poetry and good, old fashioned storytelling. Any self-respecting Waterboys fan will go out and purchase this (even just to see the bonus DVD!) and will surely enjoy the new, improved band sound. And, remember… “Attune to the vibration!”

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
The Crash of Angel Wings
Stomping along with dirty guitar and pumping drums, Mike Scott delivers the words in a way that only he can. Some cool stuff happens in the breaks and the chorus is great, modern Waterboys. The song could go on forever and has the feel of something that would develop over time but, sadly, is cut short at 4:01.
Love Will Shut You Down
Radio friendly and with a bluesy overtone, “Love Will Shoot You Down” has an almost sleazy quality, especially the upbeat chorus with its cut timing. The slide guitar work is quite cool, indeed, and compliments the backing vocals. The psychedelic age has returned and Mike is the new ambassador of cool. With lyrics such as “Fate is driving like a vigilante through the crowd, hot coals on his feet, bullets on his brow,” Scott manages to attach multiple images to his words.
Nobody's Baby Anymore
Cruising down a slower pop oriented path, “Nobody’s Baby Anymore” signals the end of the age of innocence and the awakening of the man, but also tells of excess and loss and the balance, therein, between the extremes. Lyrically the themes are Scott fodder but he manages to reinvent new ways to say what is obviously close to him. The drums move along and are on the verge of breaking out. Some of the violin work – by Steve Wickham – is along the lines of Jean-Luc Ponty but with an emotional, almost weepy quality.
Strange Arrangement
As a full, almost spiritual piece, “Strange Arrangement” takes one back to the heyday of the Waterboys 80’s material but with a superior production quality. I won’t make any guesses concerning the lyrics but it would seem that our word-smith is a man who, although admitting a tendency to abuse his privileged position as a musician, is a person of feeling and empathy. This is the grand piece on the CD.
She Tried to Hold Me
When I read the title I was expecting something along the lines of “All The Things She Gave Me” but was slightly disappointed that this was more of a Fisherman’s Blues-era piece. The organ works well taking it in a more Americanized direction – even towards a country flavor with its wide, strumming guitar. This is not my favorite track but important to the flow of the album. The unique quality of Mike’s raspy throat has an almost clinical perfection. The lengthy instrumental section works well with the guitars and organ slowly building then relaxing to a weird, backwards style effected ending.
It's Gonna Rain
As a contemporary of Suzanne Vega, Scott’s lyricism derives its power from the use of few words, layered meaning and repetitive, memorable phrasing. His role is that of a modern day (Bob) Dylan with inflections of Irish humor and a gentle winter calm that could only be born of British pedigree. This acoustic rock number is reminiscent of the moodier Neil Young material. The horribly harsh unison guitar bits are nasty and almost serve as a reactionary outburst against Mike’s soft vocals.
Sustain
The only track to be recorded abroad (in Canada), Sustain flows along with a gentle sincerity. Steve’s violin and viola work is sublime and Roddy Lorimer’s trumpet solo is finely crafted over such a sparse arrangement that features piano in the main. The trademark Scott spirituality is evident throughout, not just in the lyrics but the pauses between the words. The song drifts off and has an unresolved feel to its end, which adds to the nature of the words. A nice track with the usual depth that one would expect from a classic Waterboys track!
You In The Sky
The poetry of “You In The Sky” is both beautiful and minimal, all the time working within the emotional context of Scott’s slightly raspy vocals. Wickham plays no second fiddle here, carrying the mood and allowing breath in the lower register. Scott’s vocal delivery is pure magic in a kind of spoken, Cohen style and the song has an almost Van Morrison quality to it.
Everybody Takes a Tumble
With a very traditional, folky sound (a la Fisherman’s Blues) Scott seems at home telling his tale from behind the veil of an Irish fiddler’s sustain. The humor is evident in the interplay between vocals and violin, with plodding bass that walks the song along at a pace. Steve opens up on the bow and really stands out. Clocking in at just over the seven-minute mark, this track illustrates the various downfalls that we face as people and includes some very interesting references. Mike’s lyrics hark back to a better day when Irish music legends ruled the sound waves and, included in the role call, are Brush Sheils, Phil Lynott, Sinead O’Connor, Van Morrison…
The Man With The Wind at His Heels
Here we experience Scott all by himself, playing all the instruments and obviously at home as the resident storyteller. An interesting lyric (“Sing one for the clown in his wintermind”) speaks volumes about that ol’ black dog, depression, which is a classic example of the simplicity in Mike’s work that functions in a far greater capacity than any complicated, intellectual meandering. This track would work well within the framework of a solo release, however it also harks back to “Winter, Winter” from Dream Harder. There is a folk arrangement to “The Man…,” which Scott lives and plays so well, but he also brings a deeper bluesy feel, which is probably more a statement of experience than a stylized inflection. The track ends with some interesting sound effects and the tale is told.
 
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