THE WATERBOYS Fishermans Blues (Simply Vinyl)

“Fishermans Blues” (as Simply Vinyl’s reissue – but not the original CD – rather ungrammatically titles The Waterboys’ fourth record) is an album I’ve encountered but never really appreciated before, and it’s only now that I’m starting to realise what I’ve been missing.

The magnificent opening title track is glorious full-throttle Celtic folk-rock, belting along like the “hurtling, fevered train” of Mike Scott’s imagination, but it’s Steve Wickham’s gutsy, gusty fiddling that really drives this engine. And where’s it headed? How about the crossroads where The Pogues’ punkish fury and Van Morrison’s mystical speaking-in-tongues meet? There’s a tart note of bitterness a la “It Ain’t Me Babe” to “We Will Not Be Lovers”, which at least prevents the album sliding too far towards some kind of Gaelic picture postcard. “Strange Boat” appears on an ocean of calm in this context, ahead of “World Party”, one of the album’s more rockist moments. I don’t want to give the impression that it sounds like U2 or sump’n, but it’s certainly the closest the album tiptoes in that direction, a legacy of Scott’s previously-voiced pursuit of “the big music”, perhaps. Even so, you’d be hard pressed to find a sound as magisterial as Roddy Lorimer’s trumpeting on this track on a U2 album.

Who’s ever covered anything off “Astral Weeks”? Heck, even Van doesn’t these days: in the 15 or so of his concerts I’ve attended the only occasion he’s delved into that particular sacred songbook was during a 2002 Bournemouth gig, when he pulled out a slow, stately and utterly mesmerising “Sweet Thing”, better than the version essayed here by The Waterboys, but not by as great a margin as you’d imagine. Maybe Mr Scott’s rendition is a little too heavy to truly take folky flight, but full marks for effort and ambition nevertheless, especially for summoning the spirit of ’68 by melding it seamlessly with The Beatles’ “Blackbird” (somewhat more successful than David Gray’s reverse parking of “Into The Mystic” into “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye”, a stunt he surely picked up the idea for here).

“Fishermans Blues” saves the best until (almost) last, the simply staggering W B Yeats co-write “The Stolen Child”. A cartoon on the inner carries the caption “the power of the music gives everybody wings”, and this gossamer-light delight is where the dream becomes reality. The mood is shattered, but only slightly, by a raucous but affectionate after-hours ramblette through “This Land Is Your Land”.

Simply Vinyl’s reissue, although lovingly presented (even if apostrophes were in short supply at their office that day), is a bit brightly lit but distant sonically. Cut at a rather low level, it doesn’t really do much dynamically, and all that jangling can get a bit wearing. It scarcely saps the album’s greatness, though: for all the disparate sources and elephantine gestation period – recording alone spanned 30 months – there’s a stylistic continuity here that ensures these songs really do work better together.