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Available in the UK 

 

Available in the UK 

 
 
A Rock in the Weary Land 
Artist: The Waterboys 
LabeL: RCA 
Length: 12 tracks 
 
In Sturat Bailie's liner notes for The Live Adventures of the Waterboys he quotes Mike Scott as saying, "I think 1986 was the peak. We never really came back to where we were in '86." Too true. There was a spring and summer when Steve Wickham's fiddle, Anto Thistlethwaite's sax and mandolin and Mike Scott's big music and bohemian spirit fused in a way that rock had never seen or heard before or after. I was so glad to have been here. I saw it before it drifted down a lame raggle taggle back alley and was lost in too much west of Ireland Guinness. 

It is sometimes even easy to forget just how incredibly good it was. A listen to the aforementioned Live Adventures is a great reminder. If only the studio album had been nailed at this point. Fisherman's Blues was so new and so fresh. Throw in a back catalogue like This Is the Sea, Whole of the Moon and then get playful by adding the covers like "Wayward Wind," "Meet Me At the Station," and "The Healing Has Begun" to "The Thrill Is Gone." Oh I can hear it now, captured in the fondest department of my heart and soul. 

So again the new Mike Scott, now returned to his Waterboys moniker for commercial as much as spiritual reasons, has not matched the expectations of fourteen years ago but A  Rock In a Weary Land is still a reminder of the potential once there. He still writes great hooks and has this way of making music so big and yet so simple. Few can do it like him. "Let It Happen" and the title track immediately make you think that he might just reach his destiny but though this is a pretty good album, it ain't no classic. Part of its problem is Scott having listened to Radiohead, Mercury Rev, and the Chemical Brothers over recent years and felt a need to compete. He has somehow felt the need to distort his voice to the verge of ugliness and actually during "Let it Happen" I am tempted to take it back to the shop and suggest that the pressing is faulty. Maybe I am too old but it seems to me that it just doesn't fit the Waterboys sound and even if he did use it sparingly but he tries to disrupt most of the albums flow. He does though get away with it in the very clever "Dumbing Down the World" a look at the devil's attempts to blunt the sharpness of wonder in the world. He says himself that he wanted to make it sound like it was recorded in hell. Fine attempt. As an aside, are he and Karl Wallinger in cahoots or is coincidence running close to cosmic freak when World Party's album is called Dumbing Up. 

Maybe Wallinger is making a swipe at Scott's religious interests and again on this album Scott is ploughing the fields of spiritual comment and insight. Maybe slightly more obscure than his previous two solo recordings but it still preoccupies his thinking these  days. And I for one have no problem with that. He's seeking for transcendent love for some hope to hang on to in a world that's meaningless, deceptive and second rate ("My Love Is My Rock In A Weary Land". He's looking to be loved a bit more ("Charlatan's Lament"). He's looking ahead to a day when there will be a conclusion and he has the hope of a better place where he will wear a crown ("Crown"). The best of all is "Let It Happen" where he has an insightful look at why strange or bad things happen to those who do not seem to deserve it. Why are the seekers of God struck down? Scott sees life as happening because it happens with no blame to be cast at God. So he cried to God for what God can do:  

               But whatever needs to happen 
                Let it happen, let it be 
                Through it all I am protected 
                Grace is effected over me. 

Indeed. 
 
 
 

Steve Stockman is a Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He used to book the bands for Greenbelt, edits Juice magazine, has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster and a web page - Rhythms of Redemption at http://stocki.ni.org. He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin and Jasmine.
 
   
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