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.


Chris Collins said...

Agreed. Completely. And I LOVED "Avalon Sunset", "Hymns To The Silence" and "Enlightenment". I was obsessed with those records when they came out. Then everything after "Exile" sounded and felt like retreads. Eventually I stopped buying the records. Nothing has sounded vital since.

buzzbabyjesus said...

I used to have a cassette labelled "Van The Man". I haven't heard anything since "St Dominic's Preview". Thanks for reminding me I don't care.

wardo said...

I need to ramp up my familiarity with Van, since a certain blog isn't going to populate itself. Despite working in music retail through 2000, I find I'm not really familiar with any album past Hymns To The Silence.

A walk in the woods said...

Lord, I hate to agree, but I must. For a long time, I referred to Van as my favorite artist. That loooong since faded (it's Dylan now).

Van really has put out samey, competent, occasionally too grumpy or self-absorbed, not-excellent, records for many, many years now. And dang it, critics always call the new one "An amazing return to form!" Really? "Magic Time" is an amazing return to form??? It hasn't gotten a 3rd spin either...

The only recent album of his I really liked (aside from 1995's The Healing Game with some great tracks) was "What's Wrong With This Picture?" which has one of my Top 10 Van songs - The Meaning Of Loneliness. That song cuts about as correctly as ANY of his, to me.

Sal Nunziato said...

AWITW--really loved his cover of "St. James Infirmary" off "What's Wrong..." as well. And BTW, your Prince comment on BL is there.

Ken D said...

Why has there never been a Van Morrison boxed set?
It would seem to be the perfect thing for fans who have mostly given up on the new releases.
Combine greatest hits plus rarities plus concerts plus selections from the last 10 albums... it would be on my Christmas list.

(and is there any other artist of Van's fame and longevity that doesn't have a boxed set by now?)

A walk in the woods said...

Ken D, my guess about the lack of a Van box set might be the different labels he's been on. Even with the recent reissue campaign, you notice they didn't remaster/reissue certain key albums, like Moondance, Street Choir, St Dominics and Astral Weeks. I'm not sure he "owns" those. Frankly, I think that was a big part of why he put out the "Astral Weeks Live" album - to find a way to still get paid for those songs.

ASH On The Beat said...

Firstly can I say that although I do generally dislike you, I agree with every single thing you say about the angsty one.

Box set wise - label changes is spot on, plus the box set is really dead in the water these days.

Fans have what they want and they won't pay 40 quid for the odd few rarities, we used to us fools.

The only way a Box Set will sell now is if it is a complete rarities set and then the fans may buy it, World Party's Arkeology etc.

As for Van, he's bootlegged to death, can there be anything that hasn't appeared on some bootleg? I doubt it and the fans know how to get hold of these, the casual listener wouldn't have this knowledge, nor would they want it.

He played Liverpool a while ago. Came on at 7.15, finished at 8.25 and looked at his watch at least half a dozen times.

Why should we care, when he doesn't?

Sal you nailed it, his only decent live performance in the past thirty years was touring an album that is 44 years old next month.

Campbie said...

Sadly, and inexplicably pretty well everything that comes to mind since Hymns to The Silence has become a shuffle lyrically . This record is the apotheosis of
all the recycling.Mr. Morrison owes no one anything but this Po' me stuff is a bit much in these hard times.
campbell in Montreal

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more ( you've finally found a subject that gets unanimous comments , too !! )
I love Van, and I just sorta pretend each album doesn't exist several days after it arrives and I'm duly disappointed. The old stuff is amazing, the old bootlegs are revelatory ( Astral Weeks era demos ? STUNNING )
He used to reach so high and far. Now he's slumped in his chair, waiting for the acclaim. I get each new one, and I try to find something to like. Because, like Neil, it's hard to let even a long dry spell make me think he doesn't have it in him again, but he sure hasn't for so long, since the Reagan administration. ( but for a few songs, far between )

This is why we keep coming back to ya Sal. Nobody will always agree with you or with anybody, but you're certainly not afraid to mention the Emperor's willy hanging out. ( and you're not in for the cheap shot, either, you just want music to move you, and none of us should ask for less.)

ASH On The Beat said...

I don't know who anonymous is, but that's a great post.

buzzbabyjesus said...

I can't help pointing out the honesty in the title of his 1977 album, "A Period of Transition". From sublime to forgettable.

Anonymous said...

Sal couldn't agree with you more regarding the Celtic soul man! After one listen to this new disc , i proceeded to play a track of him with Hooker doing The Healing Game and realized that his last really soulful piece of work was THe Healing Game,which I believe Griel Marcus wrote a book about; Have to agree;sounds like hes got no spark and i dont think his voice is in bad shape just sounds like hes lost the heart and soul as they say! somehow combining light jazz with bitching about corporate politics ,just doesn't do it! Van i suggest a Plan B,like waiting till the muse strikes again!!!

Albert said...

God I can't stand this man's music...don't know why...never could never will...so thanks Sal for giving me one more reason to...well....ignore him....