Excellent outing for folk-rock heroes.
Creatively, Mike Scott is on the crest of a wave. Notably now under the management of Danny Goldberg – the one-time manager of Nirvana, who has hit the headlines of late with his memoir Serving The Servants – The Waterboys toured to great acclaim around 2017’s Out Of All This Blue, including a couple of barnstorming gigs at Vicar Street last year.
With contributions from the likes of Zeenie Summers and Jess Kav of Barq, that record showed Scott had lost none of his songwriting nous. It deftly expanded The Waterboys’ sonic palette, incorporating elements of disco and hip-hop. Now we have Where The Action Is, the third album in five years from the band officially defined by Wikipedia as “British-Irish”. It consolidates this fresh period of fertile creativity, and finds The Waterboys relocating to their trademark terrain of rock, folk and poetry.
The Hammond-driven opening title track storms in like The Who, with fiery Scott vocals. This is a revivified Waterboys, firing on every cylinder, with wailing female vocals pushing Scott to the max. It upgrades Robert Parker’s ‘Let’s Go Baby’ with fresh lyrics, plus Steve Wickham’s fuzzed-up fiddle. It’s not a major leap from The Who to The Clash, and ‘London Mick’ – a celebratory tribute to Mick Jones – wears its punk attitude on its sleeve.
There’s a different kind of subtlety to ‘Right Side Of Heartbreak (Wrong Side Of Love)’, which plays like U2 gone acoustic, with Scott’s sensitive vocal surfing over a gently chugging rhythm. Initially there’s a jazz-lite feel to the sophisticated ‘Ladbroke Grove Symphony’, until it hits a Dire Straits-ish groove, with Scott’s vocal at its most unaffected. ‘And There’s Love’ has gently swirling synths and a consciously tentative rhythm track, while ‘Out of All This Blue’ – the leftover title track from this previous album – is a heartwarming, Beatlesque ballad.
Elsewhere, ‘In My Time On Earth’ uses its endearingly honest self-reflection for a meditation on the current state of culture, and ‘Take Me There I Will Follow’ incorporates rap influences to excellent effect. The only backward glance towards Celtic raggle-taggle is the blast of Rabby Burns’ “green grow the rushes-o”, which starts ‘Then She Made The Lasses-0’, before Wickham’s fiddle leads us towards a burst of birdsong. Nature is also the focus for the nine-minute ‘’Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’ (it was a Pink Floyd album title back in 1967), with Scott reprising his bohemian poet persona, for a captivating reading from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows.
Where The Action Is adds up to 10 tracks with serious intent, comfortably embracing influences from many quarters. Hearteningly, Scott and his merry men are still willing to explore wherever their collective muse takes them. Saluté!
8/10. Out now.