Like a briefer, though similarly eclectic sequel to 2017's ambitious double-album Out of All This Blue, the Waterboys' 13th outing, Where the Action Is, sees Mike Scott continuing his unexpected dalliance with dance and hip-hop-influenced rhythms, while also delivering the more straightforward rock bangers and folk-infused introspections that are his bread and butter. It also maintains the prolific run of material that started with 2015's Modern Blues, marking a surprisingly fertile period which also saw the band's return to the higher reaches of the U.K. album charts. In spite of some of its more contemporary sonic experiments, Where the Action Is has a rich thread of nostalgia running through its veins in the form of various tributes, personal ruminations, and revisitations. With its snappy Lord Buckley samples and chirping organs, the title cut is a boisterous update of Robert Parker's 1966 hit "Let's Go Baby," from which it borrows its tone and name. The equally raucous "London Mick" honors Clash guitarist Mick Jones, while mid-album highlight "Ladbroke Grove Symphony" recounts in loving detail Scott's early days as a young romantic rocker in West London's then-Bohemian center. In another corner of the classic Waterboys spectrum is a pair of tracks rooted in Scott's life-long affection for literature; the springy electro-folk of "Then She Made the Lasses-O" is a modern outgrowth of poet Robert Burns' Green Grow the Rashes-O, while the elegant chamber-folk closer "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" is built around an impassioned reading of a passage from Kenneth Grahame's immortal Wind in the Willows. Even if some of the quirkier dance-addled cuts like the beat poet-rap of "Take Me There I Will Follow," miss their mark somewhat, Scott deserves credit for continuing to add new layers to the Waterboys' ever-growing musical patina, and as goofy as parts of it are, the song's refrain is still pretty catchy. Overall, Where the Action Is is another reliably interesting and well-written addition to the band's latter-day renewal.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger