The Waterboys - Karma To Burn
It is said by those who have actually achieved it, that the Waterboys were the best live act going in the eighties. Given the plethora of musical talent on display, that is something I have a mind to believe. At the end of the nineties an album was released - the Live Adventures of the Waterboys - which attempted to capture that. It was a semi-official release, meaning Mike Scott disowned it as soon as it hit the shops. However, it did convey some of the sense of what the band was all about, even if there were some dodgy moments.
Karma to Burn is an attempt to bridge the gap between whatever Scott had hoped for with the previous live album and what he really wanted. Naturally, the highlights of the album are the tracks from the early years of the band. "The Pan Within" is one of the most emotionally powerful songs ever written and the version here is a long 13 minute epic. It is not quite up to the standard of the version, led in and out by Patti Smith's "Because the Night", which appeared on The Live Adventures of the Waterboys but then there is always going to be some difficulty in capturing that sublime moment again. "Whole of the Moon" is another track which comes across better on the stage than in the studio and gives credence to the notion that, when the Waterboys were genuinely on their game, they were completely untouchable as a live act.
Many of the band's later songs come over a lot better than on their studio albums as well. This is the real joy of the album because it hints at the return to their former state. For example, "Peace of Iona" here does a much better job of creating the mood and the mystique of the island than the studio version ever achieved, whilst "Fisherman's Blues" off their disappointing fourth album comes across as the rollicking good track it had the promise to be, but never quite delivered upon. Having said all that, the album as a whole disappoints. There is something lacking. I cannot identify it, but it needs something else to make this a great live album. Like so much of the Waterboys, it has potential, but that potential goes unrealised.
For those who, like me, were disappointed by the direction the Waterboys took in the late 80's, this live album provides some glimpse as to what the band could have achieved if they had developed their original formula. It proves that the band had the potential but blew it when it came to seizing the opportunity. In that sense the release of the first "official" live Waterboys album is equally a joyous and sad event. Joyous, because it displays the band at pretty much near to their best. Sad, because the twenty-year hiatus between This Is the Sea and Karma To Burn is brought more clearly into focus and makes you pine for what might have been had Mike Scott not taken the musical path he did.
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