There’s nothing wrong with loud guitars, of course, especially since they’d been part of his sound all along. But the album was recorded with all hired hands, resulting in a mostly generic early-‘90s sound one would expect from the Geffen label, with only his reedy-weedy voice and spiritual lyrics tying the album to the Waterboys of yore. Granted, each of those albums used the moniker instead of his own name, but using it yet again for this batch of mostly indistinguishable tunes inspires the accusations of suckering the fans.
The first four tracks plow along with heavy drums and vocals in constant “wonder”, before “Corn Circles” provides variety in the way of a bluesy shuffle, but not much else. “Suffer” is stuck in a reggae groove with a guitar that won’t stop shredding, ending with a hardly surprising play on “shut the door”. Our ears prick up for “Winter Winter”, a lovely acoustic strum in a minor that sadly ends after 36 seconds to make way for a Yeats poem set to a power ballad tempo. The poem deserves a better backing, and the backing deserves a more fitting lyric. Then we get a fake nursery rhyme about the “Spiritual City” with prominent sitar for that psychedelic feel and a voiceover by Scottish comedian Billy Connolly for some reason. “Wonders Of Lewis” would be another impressionistic interlude being that it’s only two minutes, but then we have “The Return Of Jimi Hendrix”, another poem about a dream set to a Jim Keltner drum pattern, with a band Hendrix guitar imitation. It is, however, one of the few songs that mentions Yonkers, so there’s that. Not until the last track—“Good News”, with its Yamaha digital piano—does the album truly sound like him.
Dream Harder is a failed experiment, and not always the wisest move when you’re on a new label more concerned with pushing units on Nirvana, Aerosmith and Guns N’ Roses. While he can be commended for not rehashing the same old sound, this direction wasn’t the answer for what he should do next.
The Waterboys Dream Harder (1993)—2