The Waterboys – Where the Action Is
Unlucky for some? The Waterboys' latest album is their 13th, but it also happens to be their best for a while
The title track of The Waterboys' 13th album opens up a Mike Scott record harder than anything since 1985's Don't Bang the Drum.
Screaming electric guitars, raging Hammond organ and a vocal that turns taut on Scott's Bob Dylan-esque drawl dominate Where the Action Is' opening. The drums and vocals are mixed front and centre, there's a Rolling Stones bounce to the groove and we're back at those rock'n'roll races where The Waterboys can run as hard as anyone. Touring 2015's Modern Blues and 2017's Out of All This Blue with a steady band has brought a tight focus to this latest group of musicians to enter Scott's magical world.
The record's opener may come on like the Stones on a night off the blues, away from Richmond and down a Northern Soul club in Soho, but next track London Mick (a tribute to The Clash's Mick Jones) rolls rather than rocks and is a catchy highlight of Where the Action Is. Scott has always been a restless songwriter and that searching is at the heart of what might be The Waterboys' best album in a long time – Out of All This Blue and Right Side of Heartbreak (Wrong Side of Love) are stately soul ballads of the slow jam kind that we're told nobody in rock'n'roll writes these days, but these two shine their soul torch over several sensuous and beautifully-sung verses.
There's interesting detours into spoken word on the nine minutes-plus of Piper at the Gates of Dawn (exactly what you think it is) and slow-rolling album centrepiece In My Time On Earth, while a snatched sample, driving drum loop and hip-hop vibe carry Take Me There and I Will Follow You across dangerous waters unscathed. Then She Made the Lasses-O is another familiar, but adventurous, departure for long-time Wateboys fans to follow Scott on, and then there's the rolling piano jazz and slashing stabs of electric guitar that push Ladbroke Grove Symphony's perpetual motion.
'Eclectic' is the word you want to use to describe the sounds on Where the Action Is, but it feels lazy to put a label on an album that moves the listener in every way a person can be moved. But, if you insist, let's file The Waterboys' 13th record in the box marked 'their best for years'. It really is.
Listen to: Where the Action Is, Right Side of Heartbreak (Wrong Side of Love), In My Time On Earth