The Waterboys – Modern Blues

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It helps, sometimes, to hear songs in concert that you haven’t “lived with” since their official release.  In the case of this CD, they were separated by just twelve days.  There is so much that I like about Mike Scott’s music that I optimistically hope he’ll put it all together into one great album, then suffer the consequences of high expectations.  The same, unfortunately, is found in Modern Blues.  I’ll had the hope had risen a bit higher as Scott, who usually records in the U.K.,  returned to the U.S. to record this CD, which only, cough, 18 years ago, mthe waterboys modern blues cd revieway have played some role in Still Burning, a perfect CD to my ears.

The CD begins with “Destinies Entwined,” a common Scott theme of the search for God that settles for mysticism of the inner god.  It’s a good song, but it doesn’t cover any new ground, sounds as sophomoric as it seems, and as pleasing as it sounds, doesn’t beg for physical or virtual repeat spins.  “November Tale” follows with the same theme, far more imaginatively and in the context of a relationship with a woman whose beliefs doom the allure of the relationship.

She with her church and code, her extravagant beliefs
me a creature of the road, a child of dust and grief

Both of those songs are of one style – a very carefully chosen prose that carries his themes, diction, and wit.  “Still a Freak” is not that.  It’s a failed or incomplete attempt to make a case for people who revel in their place outside the mainstream, relegated to throw away rocker song, i.e. album filler and/or an excuse to play loud in concert.

“I Can See Elvis” is almost insufferable if it weren’t for a decent tune. Scott chose Nashville to record this CD, and this song sounds like an obligatory name-dropping of icons, wherever they may be, regardless of his stated inspiration for this when discussing after death experiences with someone.  Good humor rebounds with “The Girl Who Slept for Scotland.”  This song is conflicted.  It’s very cleverly written and concerns a former girlfriend who apparently was a beast to wake up in the mornings.  It’s a great song, except for the  refrain, which includes the song’s title without helpful context.  The inspiration was that she could represent Scotland were their an Olympic competition for sleeping.  That’s quite funny, but the cheering crowd noise, even if understood, comes off as a bad joke after it’s first heard. 

Another familiar Scott theme is relationships that are not to be.  “Rosalind (You Married the Wrong Guy)” is thus aptly titled.

Down the misty Avenue, through the city fog
I saw you promenading like the Princess and the frog
Some us are volunteers, some were pressed
But what are you doing in that cuckoo’s nest?

Ah, lyrics like that make the wait worthwhile.

“Beautiful Now” is the only song from the CD that he/they didn’t play in concert.  It’s a remembrance of a love who appears to him in a dream as an angel, thus more beautiful now.  I’m not sure it belongs in a concert, but it’s a pretty song and would appeal to those caught in his mystical musings.  Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I don’t favor “sh*thole” in a song.  That, and another song title that makes for an awkward refrain, prevents this song from being great.  Otherwise, it’s a witty prose about the passings of cool places… like CD stores.

The finale, “Long Strange Golden Road,” is the rocker.  It highlights the musical aspects that make his rock songs (a distinct category) really work when he chooses to employ them – strong guitar leads, Steve Wickham’s fuzz fiddle – paired with his trademark lyrical penchant for taking a usual theme – a broken relationship – and depicting it in interesting ways.

Overall, Modern Blues includes some fine songwriting, but it plays like Scott was rushed and had to force the refrains.  Similarly, the music is, in most places, only okay.  Musically, the song structures are simple, like demos that most artists would have  recognized as a starting point.  Rather than pushing them forward into something better, he and the band settled for dressing them up.   Kind of sad.

3 of 5 STARS_thumb

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