This Is The Sea, like many early R.E.M. and Smiths albums was the soundtrack to my youth. Being the youngest of 5 kids, my older siblings had fantastic taste in the mid-80’s, and between the ages of 6 and 11 , these were the groups I listened to. This Is The Sea is nostalgic for me, but in the best possible way. I can listen to it now, remember sitting in my older brother’s room but still find something new and interesting in it 20 some years later.
Like U2 in the mid-80’s, The Waterboys seemed to be concerned with the big questions in life (love, soul searching, and English politics), and the bombastic music reminiscent of Phil Spector’s wall-of-sound reflects that. Even from the very beginning of the album, the listener is not left off the hook. “Well here we are in a special place. What are you gonna do here?” Mike Scott demands in the first line of “Don’t Bang The Drum”. Don’t worry, he’s going to tell you throughout the album in case you were wondering. In its own way, “The Whole Of the Moon” is an 80’s version of Neil Young’s “My My Hey Hey” with its theme of stretching yourself too far. Instead of opting to burn out instead of fading away, Scott’s target in the song reaches too far, too soon, and too high. What would otherwise be a a great song, is marred by a string of high-school book poetry containing lines about unicorns, wide oceans, and fairy boats at the climax.
I recently read Scott wanted This Is The Sea to be an 80’s version of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. (The Waterboys would later cover “Sweet Thing” from Astral Weeks on their next album, Fisherman’s Blues.) It doesn’t exist its own time-frame like the free-form jazz of Astral Weeks, or the theme of looking backwards. This Is The Sea tries too hard sometimes even when its achieves the glory it is looking for on songs such as “Old England”, “Don’t Bang the Drum”, and the title track. But Scott certainly picked up Morrison’s M.O. of repetition especially on the acoustic “This Is The Sea”. In “Madame George” Morrison’s on-going lament and good-bye to Madame George only reinforces the sadness of the song. Scott sings “that was the river, and this is the sea” (with river repeated) and it becomes all too clear the river is indeed long, and you have to take it in order to reach the sea, and in Scott’s world – a new life.