This isn't the best Waterboys album (I'm still in two minds about "Room to Roam" or "This is the Sea" for that accolade), but in many ways this is the quintessential snapshot of the musical pilgrimages of Mike Scott, Anto Thistlethwaite and the gang. It's the point where the musical direction turned, or possibly achieved a sharper focus; without keyboard maestro Karl Wallinger, whose instrumentation defined the grand sound of the early Waterboys, the band were free to travel in a more acoustic, folky direction, aided and abetted by fiddle player Steve Wickham who provides the distinctive sound of this album. That's not to say that the Waterboys have recorded a finger-in-the-ear, Aran-sweater-wearing folk album. The big, post-punk sound of earlier albums is still in evidence here (particularly on the title track and "We Will Not Be Lovers"), just given a new dimension through some perfectly judged fiddle-work. A softer, more whimsical note is provided by "Strange Boat" and the single "And a Bang on the Ear", both of which hint at territory later explored much more thoroughly in "Room to Roam"; a perfect mid-point between all these influences is found in the cover of Van Morrison's "Sweet Thing" (one of those rare things, a cover far better than the original!) which establishes the Waterboys firmly in the canon of folk-rock greats. The hidden gem of the album, though, is the breathtaking setting of the W.B. Yeats poem, "The Stolen Child" - a glimpse of the fairyland which Mike Scott seems to have spent most of his career seeking.
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