The Waterboys, Royal Albert Hall, London

Royal Albert Hall, London

There was a time when the Waterboys were tipped for world domination. Back in the mid-1980s, Mike Scott's Celtic soul-tinged rockers were thought, alongside U2 and Simple Minds, to be the band most likely to crack America.

However, Scott's voyage of personal discovery took him to Ireland and an audience-shedding detour into folk music. He even disbanded the Waterboys in 1993, before resurrecting them in 2000 and returning to sweeping, romantic "big music" suffused with mysticism and spirituality.

Little has changed in the Waterboys' world, with the engaging Scott still stick-thin beneath his shaggy thatch, but the big music is sounding a tad tired. Their new album, Book of Lightning, pursues grandiose lyrical themes with their usual fervent intensity, but is short on equally audacious music.

Where the Waterboys at their best are elemental and windswept, tonight they merely sound blustery. Scott's dogged elbow grease can't shine up dreary blues workout She Tried to Hold Me, and the clodhopping Love Will Shoot You Down is as clunky as Oasis circa Be Here Now.

Scott is earnest in an age of irony, damning the "satanic creators" of Heat magazine and inserting a reference to Iraq into Old England. He clearly still cares, and the thunderous romantic poetry of epic 1985 anthem The Whole of the Moon has a euphoric Albert Hall resembling the Last Night of the Proms. Scott remains a vibrant presence, but tonight the Waterboys sound sadly like a band out of their time.

· At The Ironworks, Inverness (0871 789 4173), tonight. Then touring


Ian Gittins

The GuardianTramp

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