The Waterboys' first release in eight years crawls greasily out of the gates like a shiny-wet pale demon emerging from the sewer. On "Let it Happen," the album's opening track, Mike Scott's skeletal vocals paint a nightmare vision of a Cimmerian cityscape, a Burroughs-esque journey in which he encounters all manner of damaged, mad characters. The best lines are in a conversation he has with a shaky-handed skipper, who tells him: "This is the real world, buddy/Toughen up your ass or it will break," followed by Scott's response: "I said, 'I'm not your buddy, Buddy/And your real world is a fake.'"
It's a perfect sentiment for Scott and the band that is his alter-ego. Over a twenty-year career that went unnoticed except by a very few, the Waterboys have, in turn, mostly ignored the real world. Aside from a period in the mid-'80s when some scribes hoped they might emerge as another U2, Scott and his band have largely avoided the spotlight. Taking a hard left turn with 1988's Fisherman's Blues, an album more in tune with ancient Celtic folk than stadium rock, the band's brief flirtation with the mainstream spotlight seemed to be over. (The Waterboys perform Saturday, September 22, as part of the Festival of the Mabon in Lyons.)
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With A Rock in the Weary Land, Scott continues to explore. Songs like "Is She Conscious?" carry on in the slower, creepy, minor-key vein of the opening track. But there are distorted, rocking songs, too, such as "Dumbing Down the World," a song Scott has said was written from the point of view of Satan, and which the credits list as having been "Recorded in Hell" with players like Screwtape on vocals and Triptweeze on backwards guitar. This is a disc that will remain in your CD player for a long time, and not only because Satan wants it that way.