The lengthy opening of “Don’t Bang The Drum” is meant to recall Sketches Of Spain but comes closer to a bullfight. When the song proper crashes in, the drum is indeed banged, Mike Scott shouting his words and occasionally “whoo”-ing along the sax. The greatest song they recorded to date, if ever, is “The Whole Of The Moon”, loaded with poetic imagery and a majestic arrangement that incorporates horns and an angelic vocal descant. Even thinking of the sound effect after “you came like a comet” brings chills. Easily one of the best non-mainstream songs of the decade. From there the fragment called “Spirit” seems even more anticlimactic, and “The Pan Within” a little automatic but still stirring.
Side two wanders a bit, from the heavy “Medicine Bow” to the sung poem/tirade “Old England”. “Be My Enemy” chops up a sample “from a Prince bootleg” before turning into a gallop a la “Tombstone Blues” with a Dylanesque snarl to boot. “Trumpets” wants to be a tender love song, and while it doesn’t use the actual instrument, the constant blare of the sax doesn’t help the seduction. But the title track pulls everything together, a hypnotic Wall of Sound strum evoking crashing waves for a big finish.
Having achieved his best album yet, it would be a while before Mike Scott would approach this sound again. Those seeking more of the same should seek out the double-disc expansion, including B-sides, extended takes and other sounds from the dozens of tracks originating from the original sessions. If that’s not enough, a later disc called In A Special Place is subtitled “The Piano Demos For This Is The Sea”, offering just that.
The Waterboys This Is The Sea (1985)—3½
2004 remastered edition: same as 1985, plus 14 extra tracks