Here's an album that's a blast of fresh air and Spring sunshine. Mike Scott and his gang continue to be idiosyncratic in some ways, but Modern Blues has a punchier, more mainstream sound than much of their earlier output. Opener 'Destinies Entwined' sets the tone by kicking off with a throbbing riff and a swirl of keyboards, and some Dylanesque wordsmithery from Scott. It may be a bit lightweight, but it's still an effective warm-up for what follows.
It's with the third track, 'Still A Freak', that this set really hits its stride, swaggering in with another gritty guitar riff and Booker T-ish keys, this time allied to more terse, determined lyrics, and elevated by a blistering guitar solo from Jay Barclay, full of tension and release. The following 'I Can See Elvis' swings more loosely, playing with the image of Elvis as King in the afterlife, hanging out with dead icons of rock'n'roll and beyond. It's a humorous conceit, with a delightful pay off line that I won't give away.
There's often a beat aesthetic at play in both the words and music, the ultimate giveaway being the reading by Jack Kerouac that opens the final track, 'Long Strange Golden Road', while echoes of Van the Man drift to the fore here and there through a piano line or a horn phrase - 'Nearest Thing to Hip' practically quotes the horn figure from 'Did Ye Get Healed?'.
Lyrically, Scott carries this off with ease. He conjures up dreamy epiphanies, neighbourhood nostalgia with a curled lip, reported conversations, and even an acid assessment of a lost love's husband. Meantime the music is a bubbling, soulful brew that strides along with purpose, aided by a characteristically vibrant mix by Bob Clearmountain. Modern Blues may not be a classic, but it's good enough to demonstrate that The Waterboys are very much alive and kicking.