* * 1/2
"Some say the Gods are just a myth," sings Waterboys mainstay Mike Scott, "but guess who I've been dancing with!" If you guess that the answer is "The Great God Pan," why, you must know something about Scott. "Dream Harder" spotlights his usual Pan-centric preoccupation with all things mythic and mystic, to the point of devoting an entire tune to the phenomenon of (gulp) "Corn Circles."
So, three years after the previous album, Scott's lyrical eccentricities remain; what don't are the musical ones. The nifty instrumental Celticisms of the last two Irish-inflected records have been washed out in favor of a more generic and radio-ready rock sound, rendering the naif-dom of lines like "Hey ho skedoodaladalo / Spiritual city gonna watch you grow" harder to take in this less interesting setting.
The Waterboys' new label may take comfort in Scott's having delivered his most commercial album since the band's debut, but real fans may find chagrin in how close a genuinely interesting artist veers to self-parody here.
New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).