“People should expect the unexpected from The Waterboys,” says Mike Scott, a grin in his voice. It’s a mission statement which has inspired three decades of compelling musical shape-shifting, and one which yields thrilling results on The Waterboys’ magnificent eleventh album.
Recorded in Nashville, Modern Blues is an electric, eclectic, soulful, bold and gloriously freewheeling rock'n'roll record, arriving at a time when the relevance and popular reach of The Waterboys has never been greater. In 2013 Ellie Goulding scored a top 3 UK hit with their “How Long Will I Love You” and earlier this year Prince performed “The Whole of the Moon” solo at the piano during his Hit + Run show at Ronnie Scott’s in London, while the same song was performed by finalist Sally Barker on primetime BBC 1 show The Voice. In recent times “A Pagan Place” has become a live staple for hot US indie band The War on Drugs and Waterboys’ songs have been used in movies like About Time, Dom Hemingway and What We Did On Our Holiday.
Modern Blues contains nine more passionate songs, evoking the very best of The Waterboys past work while forging forth to explore new ground. Produced by Scott and mixed by Bob Clearmountain, the decision to record in the United States proved catalytic to its swaggering sound and spirit.
Now comes Modern Blues, definitive evidence that The Waterboys are in the midst of a stunning purple patch. The scope of the album’s ambition is exemplified by its magnificent 10-minute closer, “Long Strange Golden Road”, already destined to become a Waterboys’ classic. A mythic quest-song encompassing Druid colleges, dim-lit motel rooms and the “bright-lit neon canyons” of Tokyo, it features walk-on cameos from Aphrodite, Venus and the ghost of Jack Kerouac’s Dean Moriarty. Along the way it also captures something of Scott’s own compelling journey: from post-punk seer, raggle-taggle roustabout and spiritual seeker to the mercurial spirit of today, full of fire and attack. “Keep the river on your right / And the highway at your shoulder,” he sings as the music roars around him. “And the front line in your sights / Pioneer.” Modern Blues is the glorious, inimitable sound of The Waterboys driving forward once again, stretching up and out to the higher ground.