The Waterboys

Fisherman's Blues (Ensign Records, Chrysalis Records 88) Rating: A

Although I generally enjoy the early "Big Music" the band delivered on three albums from 1983-1985, Fisherman's Blues will always be my favorite Waterboys album, and the one I listen to the most. For one thing, the stirring, majestic title track is simply one of the greatest songs ever, it's not even up for debate; if you don't like that song, if it doesn't move you in some way, either because of its jaunty music or lead Waterboy Mike Scott's impassioned vocals, then don't even bother with the rest of the album (or good music in general!). If you do like that song, and of course you do, there's plenty besides that to enjoy here. For example, there's the fast-paced, violin-driven (new member Steve Wickham has a huge presence throughout the album), exciting, and intense "We Will Not Be Lovers," and the lovely, laid-back ballad "Strange Boat." "World Party" (also the name of talented former Waterboy Karl Wallinger's new band at the time) is also intense and has similar virtues as "We Will Not Be Lovers," while their cover of spiritual mentor Van Morrison's "Sweet Thing" (with a touch of The Beatles' "Blackbird") is excellent albeit much longer and more Irish-flavored (again courtesy of Wickham's fiddle) than Van's also-superb original. Of course, I should've mentioned earlier that this album is notable for Mike Scott fully embracing traditional Irish/Scottish music throughout most of this album, which was a pretty significant change from what came before it (think early U2 and you'll have a good idea what early Waterboys sounded like) and which wasn't welcomed by all, though given my prior comments obviously I approve of the change in strategy (besides this is still definitely a rock album). Anyway, other highlights include the 9-minute "And A Bang On The Ear," which showcases Scott's storytelling skills and the band's lush palette of sounds (multi-instrumentalist Anthony Thistlethwaite is also a key contributor), and "The Stolen Child," a spoken word piece which puts the William Butler Yeats poem to utterly gorgeous music (with flute being the main instrument this time). There are other good songs and different styles (a waltz, a country tribute to Hank Williams), too, along with a few less substantial entries, but despite these minor flaws the end result is a truly wonderful, timeless album. Note: The band's recording sessions for the album were so extraordinarily prolific that there's also a special 2-CD Collector's Edition with 14 additional tracks, a Fisherman's Blues Part 2 album with 15 more songs spread out over 2 discs (including a studio and a live version of the truly sublime 12+-minute epic "Too Close To Heaven"), and (for the truly fanatical) a 6-CD box set titled Fisherman's Box: The Complete Fisherman's Blues Sessions 1986-1988.

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