The Waterboys - This Is The Sea
This album ranks not only as one of the greatest albums of the eighties, but one of the greatest albums of all time. Part of it is due to the quality of the lyrics. These all relate to an overall theme of the big picture - man's place in the universe; how man is limited by reality; how man can aspire to be so much more, if only he will break the chains he has placed on the ability of his mind to free itself from everyday existence. Even for those without a religious persuasion, there is something mystical and spiritual about this album. Part of it is due to the musicianship. There is a mixture of everything in here from keyboards, saxophones, trumpets and strings. There is also some relentless, powerful drumming and some beautiful guitar work. Another part is what is due to what is called the 'big music'. Mike Scott, the genius behind the Waterboys, developed this full on production style. Not quite the wall of sound, but everything seems to be played at the maximum intensity it could be played without drowning out everything else. For its time it was revolutionary and though few have tried, none have done it better since.
However, the album is much more than a series of components which have come together in the right way. No matter how beautifully formed the components are; no matter how good the fit; no matter how smooth and polished the outcome, the outcome must stand of itself. And there is no doubt, with this album, that has happened. The whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.
The album opens with "Don't Bang The Drum", a thundering drum beat underpinning layers of strings and guitars. Above all this Scott is growing increasingly impassioned about the words he is singing. There are few musicians who deliver their words with the degree of passion and intensity that Mike Scott can when in full flow. On this track, you get to experience this for the first time as his voice becomes increasingly strident the longer the track goes on.
"The Whole Of The Moon" is probably the best known track of the album. The basis is a piano line which continues throughout the track. The theme is man's inability to reach his potential, a theme which continues with "Spirit". On the remastered version of the album there is a fuller version of this, and that is even better than the original.
Then comes "The Pan Within", my favourite track on the album. Piano is again to the fore, but the highlight is a single violin wailing across the whole song. This is epic music at its finest, anthemic and beautiful, it lifts the soul as it rises and lets you down gently as it ends. I defy anyone not to feel moved by this track. This has the power to make you weep with joy. If this song does not move you then you cannot be human. You have no soul.
The album continues with "Medicine Bow", a fast paced rock track which is driven along by guitars over a strong rhythm section. "Old England" is another piano led piece, and this one is a scathing attack on what England had become, the tolling bell and the saxophone adding to the funereal theme of a country whose inability to move forward meant it was dying on its feet -
"While children stare With heroin eyes, heroin eyes..."
"Be Your Enemy" is another rock number, this time dominated by a screaming saxophone, while "Trumpets" combines piano and saxophone in a fabulous description of the power of the trumpet as a musical instrument and its capacity to inspire.
And then, on the original version at least, the album closes with the title track. Once again it is an anthemic epic which rises up and takes you with it high into the clouds. Another tribute to the power of spirituality, this is a fantastic way to close the album. If you need an uplifting track to raise your spirits, look no further than this one.
I recently bought this and thereby replaced my old vinyl version which had worn out with being played so much. The addition of 15 more tracks, including a live version of the title track and two full length versions of songs on the earlier vinyl release is a welcome addition indeed. I don't usually go round discarding albums but I just had to have the extended version when I found it.
Mike Scott went slightly off the rails in my view after this album, which is a crying shame. This is a band at their peak. It is a peak which most other bands can only vainly aspire to with the longing, bitter sighs of certain knowledge that they will never ever get there. I have often made this remark to people asking why I like this album so much. I envy you the first time you will hear this album. Prepare yourself for that moment. It is one of the few musical life-changing experiences you will ever have and you will want to savour and recall every moment of it.
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on 2011-04-02 CharlesMartel Said:
"Fisherman's Blues" may be more widely known but "This Is the Sea" is a far far superior album. Quite probably one of the finest albums ever made, this should be in everyone's collection.