Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Van's New One
Last week on Burning Love? I countered Stu's consideration of Van Morrison for greatest living artist with "His output since 1993 seems like one long forgettable song." One anonymous person thought my comment was smug. I see how it can be taken that way if you just don't like me in general. But, in the context of the music, and certainly in the way I felt when making it, that statement is simply an opinion of someone who has been disappointed in an artist's output. Snarky, maybe. But smug?
As I listened to Van's new one "Born To Sing: No Plan B" I couldn't help but think of how I could have been listening to "Days Like This" or "Down The Road" or "Magic Time" or "Keep It Simple." Which is not to say I don't like or appreciate this new record. But there was a time, even after the string of legendary Van Morrison releases from 1968-1978, where Morrison's records took on their own individual lives. Even as late as 1993 with "Too Long In Exile," Van Morrison, though not really experimental, was still delivering music that felt fresh. It's music we've all heard before, jazz and R&B and blues, but as presented by Van Morrison, it naturally became spiritual.
Since then, to my ears, Van has phoned it in. Cover records, collaboration, live records, it all seems like one long forgotten song. Of course, there will always be the occasional gem. It is Van Morrison.
"Born To Sing: No Plan B" is a nice release. There are sounds that are reminiscent of albums like "Moondance" and "Wavelength," like on the extended groove of "Goin' Down To Monte Carlo" or the very New Orleans-y "Born To Sing." "Close Enough For Jazz" is a hoot, mostly because it sounds lifted from a mid-60s Georgie Fame record. "Mystic Of The East," with its Floyd Cramer piano fills doesn't really go anywhere and what follows, an 8 minute tune "Retreat & View," sounds exactly like it. Bad sequencing.
No one is expected to keep up the same level of quality for 40 years, but the fact that Van was once a preeminent soul-sender and could sing the best of us into an emotional trance, makes it difficult for me at least, to embrace record after record of what has now become a low-key version of Van's moody and often powerful repetition. It's no longer powerful. It's just repetition.
He is getting on in years, and his voice shows it on this new one. Is the new record a bad record? No. Not at all. It's just another record, which for some may be enough from Van Morrison. But for me, it won't get a third spin.