Second album since the 2000 reunion, and first on Mike Scott's own label
There are records so predicated on mood they can sound dire or wonderful, depending on the circumstances in which you hear them. The first time I listened to Universal Hall was in the car, rushing to an appointment, trying to avoid a parking ticket and generally taking life at a thoroughly unhealthy rush. My immediate conclusion was that Mike Scott had lost it on a bunch of meandering, dirge-like songs lacking any proper tunes and with none of the power or energy of The Waterboys’ 2000 comeback, A Rock In The Weary Land. At least I didn’t get a parking ticket. But I couldn’t face the record again on the drive home.
With trepidation I returned to the album late one night. And a revelation awaited. Suddenly it sounded magical. Tunes that had previously seemed to meander aimlessly somehow found subtle shape and form. The vibe was certainly very different from the more worldly A Rock In The Weary Land. But it still surged with energy and spiritual intensity.
The difference between the two records is simple but profound. Whereas that last Waterboys LP explored darkness, Universal Hall finds Scott stepping back into the light. The titles say it all?”This Light Is For The World”, “The Christ In You”, “Seek The Light”. The predominantly acoustic performances are enhanced by the return of fiddle player Steve Wickham for the first time since 1990’s Room To Roam. His magnificent playing’s perfectly matched by Scott’s soft and ethereal delivery as the album swells to an understated climax on the transporting born-again Celtic soul of the title track, which will put you in mind of Astral Weeks. A magical, mystical record. But its qualities are precious. Be careful where and when you play it.