Friday, 23 September 2011

Album review: THE WATERBOYS - An Appointment With Mr. Yeats

Highlights: The Hosting Of The Shee, News For The Delphic Oracle, Sweet Dancer, September 1913, Politics

The prospect of The Waterboys’ Mike Scott putting W.B.Yeats’ poetry into music would seem mouthwatering to many (I know it does to me). For Mike Scott might well be the kind of passionate, literate songwriter who could find his way around Yeats’ imagery and imagination. Thankfully, the very first chords of the opening rip-roaring “The Hosting Of The Shee” give you a resounding yes, and you know you’re in for a wild, elegant, affecting journey. This journey takes you through two forms of art that, remember, don’t often work together on a rock’n’roll record.

When it comes to arrangements, Mike Scott is a Roy Wood-type character. He has always been ready to go for as many instruments as he could lay his hands on, and make it all sound incredibly affluent and overblown. But as it is (it was) with Wood, there’s enough roughness, subtlety and edge to make it work on any level (even commercial, though I very much doubt it this time) – even when you are dealing with something as intricate and nuanced as Yeats’ poems. Take what might well be the greatest, most quintessential number on this album, “News For The Delphic Oracle”. The actual poem consists of three verses, and Scott gives each verse its own musical part, emotional substance and mood – my favourite being the central driving section that is simply ecstatic in its melody and instrumentation. There are moments of catchy pop (“Politics”), gorgeous folk (“Before The World Was Made”) and even some dramatic, operatic balladry (“Let The Earth Bear Witness”). And it’s all brimming with hooks, adventurous ideas, celtic spirit, and a most inventive mix of pianos, brass, violins…

Now that I think of it, it’s a real blessing to have a record with this much thought and imagination in 2011. And if it takes Yeats’ poetry to take Mike Scott's songwriting back to his greatest albums (Fisherman’s BluesThis Is The Sea), then so be it. An Appointment With Mr. Yeats is an absolute artistic triumph: it’s both literate and, yes, extremely passionate. And a rare case of poetry working on a rock’n’roll album.


(I’d also suggest watching this brief interview with Mr. Scott. You’d have to sit through miserable questions of two journalists who obviously don’t have a clue, but Mike does explain here a thing or two about Yeats’ poetry and its musical potential. Also, a couple of great snippets from The Waterboys’ latest live performances of An Appointment Of Mr. Yeats.)

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