Upon its release in 1985 this was the album that suggested, albeit briefly, that The Waterboys could be as big as U2 or Simply Minds were at the time (still are, in the case of the former). Although very much of its time, at least in terms of the epic, slightly overblown sound (why was everything so BIG in the Eighties?) this is an album that’s more, much more, than the simple sum of its parts.
The dramatic trumpet flourishes of Don’t Bang The Drum that kick off the album sound like the backing track for an old Scott Walker track, at least until the electric guitars kick in, but the vocal sounds rather weedy (a perennial Waterboys failing), and the whole thing isn’t helped by the rather flat production – all too typical of its era.
Thankfully, however, the album just seems to get better from here, with the band (or, more particularly Mike Scott) at their most inventive, both lyrically and melodically, not just on the anthemic The Whole Of The Moon but via the comparative simplicity of Spirit (doubled in length on the bonus disc) and the title track, which also features as a live take.
What’s especially fascinating, revisiting this disc, is its spiritual, almost pantheistic quality, especially on the powerful The Pan Within and Old England, which comes over as a modern-day Jerusalem, substituting the dark satanic mills of Wapping and Thatcher’s Britain for those of Blake’s era.
How much this album contributed to the revival of interest in roots music later in the decade is a moot point; in terms of its sound this is certainly no folk album, but in its concerns, in particular its yearning for a lost golden age and desire for authentic experience (as opposed to the shiny, plastic mid-Eighties variety), it certainly shares the same spirit and concerns as the folk movement.
The bonus disc also features many treasures, many from Mike Scott’s personal archive, and diehard admirers of the band will delight in the early studio version of the Van Morrison cover Sweet Thing, as well as the hard to find B-side Medicine Jack.
Many hardcore Waterboys fans already prefer this album over the rather more whimsical Fisherman’s Blues, and this lovingly put together reissue certainly makes a convincing case for This Is The Sea as one of the truly great albums of its decade.