Saturday, August 27, 2011

Review - The Waterboys, An Appointment with Mr. Yeats

The Waterboys
Proper Records

A concept album from a lyrical Rock veteran

I’m a massive fan of William Butler Yeats, I want to get this straight from the start. If anyone came off badly in a musical union with WB Yeats then it would, undoubtedly, be the other guy. It’s lucky then that Mike Scott of The Waterboys has treated him with respect. He sat down in 2005 with the Finneran Edition of The Complete Works and worked through its 600 pages many times until he found a handful of poems that suggested tunes to him or responded to his slight tugs and probings. AN APPOINTMENT WITH MR YEATS is the result, due to be released in September.

With this careful approach, the songs have kept much of the depth of the original writings (with a Waterboys twist). Scott’s Hammond organ works below the vocals in News For The Delphic Oracle to make the poem incarnate and he is helped, here, by the fact that the original is a tale of classical lust, a subject oddly suited to his lusty brand of Rock. The Song Of The Wandering Aengus is probably a less obvious example. In Yeats it tells of a man who decided to go fishing in a fairy glen. When, unsurprisingly, the ‘silver trout’ that he catches becomes a ‘glimmering girl’, he launches on a lifelong quest to find her again. The lad’s wanderings are invested with a real sense of desperation, a world-weariness. There is perhaps even a hint of autobiography around it’s closing verse: ‘Though I am old with wandering /Through hollow lands and hilly lands/I will find out where she has gone/And kiss her lips and take her hands’.

Yeats and The Waterboys’ relationship, however, is by no means one-sided and Scott gives as much as he takes from the old poet. The roaring Hosting of The Shee opens the album and here, like so often throughout, the musician has used much of the meter of the original, enforced by solid drumming and baseline. It is an energy that perhaps Yeats has never seen before. He also seems to anticipate my biggest fear; classics like The Lake Isle of Innisfree, the poems that many quote when asked of WB Yeats, are not just lamely put to tunes. Halfway through the album it appears; originally it is a short poem that uses the natural landscape as a metaphor for finding a kind of inner peace. In The Waterboys’ version (cover?), however, there is no sense that the band are fleeing anybody or anything as they describe their rural dream. It is steadfastedly relaxed and allows the Hammond organ and Scott’s vocals to take on an almost jazz-like languor.

It is a characteristic measure of style, confidence and depth. For those such as myself who have not previously come across The Waterboys, you need to look back to 1985 for their first album, ‘The Whole Of The Moon’. Their hard Rock sound mixed, even then, with intelligent and literary musings, made them stand out and, though fashions changed and fans fell by the wayside, Mike Scott and core musician Anthony Thiselthwaite have persevered in the same vein. I for one am glad that they did; this album is a great achievement and loyal fans should be very excited for its upcoming release. Katy Browse

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