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Universal Hall

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Album Review

Mike Scott begins his eighth proper Waterboys record with the kind of laid-back intensity that fueled the group's 1990 Celtic rock classic Room to Roam. "This Light Is for the World" is the inspirational headlight on a devotional train hauling 12 tunes through the heart of northeast Scotland. The album was named after Universal Hall, a theater run by the Findhorn Foundation, a spiritual community that Scott joined in 1992 and where he has continued to visit, write, and perform. The recorded Universal Hall is an entirely different vehicle than the group's last offering, the noisy, dark, and aptly titled, A Rock in the Weary Land. Focusing on life, light, and sense of place, Scott, who describes the record as "full of love and fire," has no qualms about his renewed religious fervor. In the sparse "The Christ in You," he tells the listener, "I'm gonna look twice at you/Until I see the Christ in you." Not everything is so heavy handed, though, and the tunes range from fun ("Always Dancing, Never Getting Tired") to gorgeous ("Peace of Iona") to psychedelic ("Seek the Light"). Lyrically, Scott has simplified, focusing on inspiration rather than conversation, often repeating the title of the song, as in the Nick Drake-cloned, "Every Breath Is Yours." On the previous two records, Scott depended upon a rotating lineup of studio musicians to fill the holes he could not, which had a tendency to deflate the intimacy of his songwriting. The return of fiddler Steve Wickham is a welcome one, and he sneaks his way into every piece with delicious results. His gifts are most apparent on the epic title track, a tendril of wind that nearly achieves the tornadic catharsis of the mid-'80s, This Is the Sea-era Waterboys. Fans who yearn for those anthems of yesterday may find themselves cursing the enigma that is Mike Scott, but there's no denying his vision.


Formed: 1981 in London, England

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Led by the literate singer/songwriter Mike Scott, the group's sole constant member, the mercurial Waterboys formed in London in 1981. Born December 14, 1958, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Scott first became involved in music as the creator of the fanzine Jungleland and later played in a series of local punk outfits. After college, where he studied English and philosophy, Scott and his band, Another Pretty Face, moved to London; following the group's breakup, he formed the Waterboys, so named after a line...
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