Records Revisited: The Waterboys – This Is The Sea (1985)

Mike Scott could have been many things; he was such a good storyteller. But we know more about what he didn’t become. By choice. Probably because he had already made his »perfect« album by 1985.

»This Is The Sea« by The Waterboys, an album which gave a Scotsman the key to the stadium only for him to throw it away again afterwards. After all, the life of a rock star in 1985 was already the most exhausting thing in the world.

He tamed his mop of hair under a huge hat. He almost looked like Dylan, whom he idolises.  He even smoked a joint or two with him once. He likes to say. In this video from the eighties. Where he patiently answers the stupid questions from a reporter who wants to know if he wants to be a rock star. Innocent smile. »No, I don’t want to be a rock star, I don’t even want to sell records— unless they’re really good!«

In 1985, Mike Scott is a Scots lad who knows what life is all about. At least he thinks he does, which amounts to the same thing. He had already released two albums with his band The Waterboys. They were not nearly as successful as those from U2, for whom he had already played support. But Scott knows what he has. He’s read a lot of great books. And C.S. Lewis. So he pushes rest if the bookshelves over and wraps up the big themes in even bigger lines to scribble on the back of a fag packet.

It’s a good story, and Scott likes good stories. That’s why he’s living in the eighties, which are writing world history – for him, for the Brits and the rest of us as well. Yeah, we know the old story. As life becomes as hard as the concrete jungle in Maggy Thatcher Land, Scott sings about the places that are special to him: the stars and the sea. And not just any sea, but the one that may have started out as a meagre trickle, but has become this endless expanse that people look at with awe, because, as a human being, it makes you feel really small.

Away from the stadium, and into the pub. But not in the way you might think.

»The Sea« is the last track on the album that I am listening to for the first time today. Yes, you heard right, for the first time! For me it’s the beginning, because Scott is standing next to me with his 12-string guitar, tapping me on the shoulder and nodding benevolently: Hey, you’ll do well. He doesn’t promise anything, he just knows, he doesn’t have to explain a thing. After all, he stumbles through life just like you and me. »That was the river, this is the sea.« There’s nothing you can do about it, except believe.

Fittingly, God also sings on the rest of the songs, most of which are quite good. Not the God you pray to while kneeling at creaking pews or rattling rusty rosaries. He is probably referring to the kind of divine help you get when you cook up two or three magic mushrooms at home. So you pour yourself a cup of tea.

»There’s nothing you can do about it except believe.«

Mike Scott is not one of those great prophets who shout out their revelations. He’s more of a quiet listener, registering everything, even the details. It is said he has always had an eye for them. And that’s why he tells such beautiful stories. Especially about love.

That’s what it’s all about. But not in a cheap biblical way like Bono or Bowie. Scott already made sure of that when he blew the eighties through his saxophone and cranked up the snares to a stadium roar. I wonder how many people before me have imagined Scott playing a song like »The Whole Of The Moon« in front of 200 million people, meaning in front of endless sea of faces, all embracing each other and kissing life in canon.

Maybe it’s because I’m listening to this album for the first time today. I didn’t know The Waterboys, I’ve never heard Scott play before. I only know what he has become. Not a stadium rock star playing boring stadium songs. Not one who sleeps in an oxygen tent and injects himself with baby blood. After this »perfect album«, as he once called it, he moved to Ireland and played in pubs. Since then, many more albums have been released. Not all of them quite as good as Scott had promised as a mid-twenty-something. But he still managed to sell a few.