There’s a fantastic film called “Boyhood” which tells the story of a boy growing up between the ages of six and eighteen while his parents are going through a divorce. It was filmed over a period of twelve years, with about ten minutes of the film being completed every year as the leading actors took time off from their main activities. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette play the parents; Ellar Coltrane plays the boy and Lorelei Linklater plays his sister. She is the daughter of the director, Richard Linklater.
In the film, Ethan Hawke’s character gives his son a present of a mix tape which he calls “The Black Album”. This is a compilation of Beatles’ solo tracks made after The Beatles split up. It consists of 51 songs and, in the film, this is portrayed as how The Beatles next albums might have appeared. Putting in 51 songs seems like cheating to me: that’s far too many and subsequently too easy. Here’s a link to the track listing.
Various other people have tried this and my favourite is that by Steven Cockroft, who co-presents the “Nothing Is Real” podcast. He has restricted himself to records made between 1970 and 1972.
The point of all this to make a fairly obvious point which is that when a band splits up, the quality of the music can drop. McCartney needed Lennon’s caustic wit and Lennon needed McCartney’s flair for a melody. The end of a band is often the starting point for a drop in quality. The songs in these playlists are very good but are they as good as a Beatles album? The answer is “No”. In my opinion.
An interesting case (and it may be the exception that proves the rule) is Mike Scott when he disbanded The Waterboys in 1994. He made two solo albums which I like but were not deemed to be good enough to warrant an extension to his record contract. It is a moot point as to whether or not all Waterboys albums were, in practice, Mike Scott solo albums seeing as the best thing about Mike Scott is his large ego and predilection for a flamboyant lyric.
The album was released in 1997, two years after his other solo album “Bring ‘Em On In” which is quieter and more acoustic than “Still Burning” which, arguably, has more of a familiar Waterboys sound. Maybe not “Fisherman’s Blues” but certainly “Dream Harder”.
The exception to this is the last song “Everlasting Arms” which just features Mike Scott’s voice and an acoustic guitar. It is a supplication to a higher power as he seeks to find “the truth of who I am.”
There are no weak songs on this album but maybe no standout tracks either. Mike Scott’s vocals are always interesting, soulful and terribly sincere. The title comes from the song “Sunrising” in which he sings about the state of his career. “After all this time I’m still on the line with a case to prove and a public to move. After all my turning, this fire is still burning and I’m back on show.” That’s what I mean about his ego. After all this time he still has a “public to move”. He is the Kevin Pietersen of roots music. (Kevin Pietersen was a brilliant cricketer whose ego upset most of the teams he played for. He is also quite likely to have thought “I never meant to go to sea. I always meant the sea to come to me”).
The opening song is “Questions” in which Mike Scott asks such questions as what is around the corner, who’s driving this airplane and how well has he loved. There is a full sound with great brass, an electrifying guitar solo and very affecting harmony vocals.
The fifth track is “Rare, Precious And Gone” which serves as an admonishment, presumably to himself, about a loved one who has left her man because she wasn’t being treated properly. The video for this song is meant to be the cheapest video ever made as it was recorded in a video booth at Heathrow airport and cost £5 to make.
After making this record, Mike Scott reformed The Waterboys who have subsequently released seven albums with another one due next month. They are always interesting. Are Mike Scott solo albums inferior to the thirteen Waterboys albums? I think the answer is no, they are not. The Beatles’ records were great because they reflected a genuine collaboration between members of the group. The Waterboys’ albums were only ever Mike Scott vanity projects. Hugely enjoyable, worthy and excellent vanity projects but not collaborations.