Van Morrison

Burt Kocain's picture
What's it called?: 
Born To Sing: No Plan B
What does it sound like?: 
Van Morrison. Which is a relief. His vocal chords are still unshredded, his touching and dogged persitence at saxophony is starting to pay off (it's a stone delight - the man has a signature tone), and the muse shared a pint or two with him during the making of this album. The man's had more forms than the benefit office - and this is assuredly a return to one of the better ones. There's some finger-poppin' grooves here, mainly leaning towards the jazzier end of R n' B, and some Actual Songs. Plus a joyously gritty blues. There's a sense of him having sat down and worked at this one, rather than just trusting to his genius like the idle slob does all too often. Beautiful ensemble playing - as good as he's ever had. It's not the bring-the-house-down swing of his Fat Elvis years, but it's not the morose down-the-allotment poeticals he's prone to either. This is a good one.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means the crotchety old bastard is *still* capable of making good records. Praise the lord and pass the biscuits.
Goes well with …: 
his back catalogue, surprisingly.
Might suit people who like …: 
his good stuff, and got a little tired of him treading water for so long. (BTW, this: "The specified file Front.jpg could not be uploaded. The file is 159.3 KB exceeding the maximum file size of 150 KB." - was a bit of a headscratcher!)


Stopped buying Van's efforts about ten years ago .does seem to have been a genuine level of enthusiasm.will investigate.......

I don't consider myself a full-on Van fan, but I just checked and I have 30 of his CDs. So I guess he's kind of crept up on me over the years.

Interestingly, the one Van album I seldom (if ever) play is the much vaunted Astral Weeks. Of the early albums give me Moondance every time.

Moondance or It's Too Late To Stop Now for me.

one of the all-time great live albums.

too many flutes

and apologies for repeating myself, but for me the Holy Trinity is Astral Weeks/Veedon Fleece/Common One, closely followed by Into The Music.

... but this new one's really good. I got to say that I am kinda blown away by it.

I'll check it out Burt. Cheers.

First purchase with the birthday itunes voucher when I get back from Ireland.

... about all the places he likes to stuff his face so he doesn't get famished before his evening meal. These are my favourite Van songs.

"Why can't it be like this all of the time?"

But there's some typically Van lyrical nuggets to treasure.

Moondance got me into Van, when I was 14. I bought his Bang LPs which were a waste of cash (save for Brown Eyed Girl) and then I bought Astral Weeks. "What is this shit?" I thought. Several listens later I realised I was in the company of genius.

I then got "Inarticulate speech of the heart" which was okay. I might even have seduced a nice young lady to "Irish heartbeat" which probably has skewed my judgment. I had a right-on history teacher who told me I had to buy "Veedon Fleece". Oh Oh Oh how right he was. In my view, VM has not made a decent record since Beautiful Vision, but the run he had from Astral Weeks to that record is unsurpassed. I love his music, I really do. St Dominic's preview is amazing, and "Into the music" is just beyond my powers to describe.

Before I could find a bloody copy!!!!
It is rather good-cheers Burt.

Isn't it about time we had a mention of Van's harmonica? Or perhaps a photo...

Is it really good or are you James Swan in disguise?

other than 'fantastic Soul music'.

in for a treat?

How does this work? Well? Not at all?

- The Blinding Uncompromised Genius period: from Astral Weeks to Common One (with a special shout-out for the unfairly ignored Period Of Transition). Some of this is obviously aimed at a commercial market ("Wavelength" and even "Moondance" amongst others), but there's a reasonably coherent development of his unique muse and sound. After the diminishing returns of Common One things start to get smo-o-o-o-th for a few years;

- The "I Can't Believe It's Not Madame Blavatsky" period: Beautiful Vision to Hymns To The Silence. Pastoral, ruminative, a little New Age-y ... and it has to be said, frequently soporific. Nearly a decade of wistful mysticism and drunken invocation of poets and pickled herrings brings us to:

- The Rn'B Lounge Years: 1993 to present. Van gets back to basics and decides he wants to be in Them again, only the Residential Care version; something we can clap along to without spilling our cocoa. Many albums in this period are damned to eternity as "returns to form". I'd say that No Plan B is probably the best of them, possibly his best since Enlightenment.

Looking through his "back catalogue", I have to say it's probably the most impressive of any solo artist of his generation. Who else has kept churning it out at such a consistent level? Over thirty studio albums, and not a total stinker amongst them. I can (and do) live without most of the second and nearly all of the third Ages of Van, but, you know ... still and all ... blimey. Dylan? Neil Young? Morrison's hit highs as stratospheric as either, without troughing out like they have, repeatedly, over the same period. And if we include the Them years - which we must - there's no-one else in his league, really.

Burt, if not for your intriguing and hilariously sceptical review of Torment (Tempest) I would not believe a word of this. So, you have acquired a certain integrity with me as a reviewer so don't mess with it.

I have not purchased an Ivan since Days Like These and I actually gave away the dreadful Too Long In Exile. I have heard the return to form rumours many times and each time I have listened to the horrible lounge jazz/r'n'b in addition to remarkably poor lyrics about the biz and have developed such a deep dislike for the person that it has slighly infected my previous high regard for the 68-90 output. I think Veedon Fleece is as good a record as anybody has made in that it so perfectly captures the distinctiveness of VM's artistry. But something happened to take his previously eccentric character and turn him into such a crank that I reached the view that he was incapable of making another decent record because of some kind of poison that was in him. Every interview has the same rubbish in it. Anyway, you say the album is good. I trust you. I will have a little listen. Are there any songs about the horrible biz and the horrible way that people have treated poor Van? Better not be...

songs about the horrible biz and the horrible way that people have treated poor Van. But they're no longer the spiteful, unattractive rants that have spoiled his albums since Hard Nose. He gloves up for bigger oponents here, widening his selfish precoccupations to attack (er) capitalism and materialism. Don't get your hopes up - this isn't a return to the BOG era, but it has a lot going for it. Mainly, the mood, which combines the best aspects of the Blavatsky and comfy Rn'B Lounge years. It's a relaxed album which takes its time, there's a feeling of the musicians stretching out and settling into the groove throughout. Without that pent-up Van spite, though, we also lose the bite. There's no up-tempo swing here, something he was always so good at, and there's perhaps one too many blues structures, but it's still a fine piece of work I suspect I'll get more fond of, not less. If you get a chance to sample a track, try If In Money We Trust, a dark and brooding jazz piece that hits all the right notes.

I guess we feel differently about the third age. I admit I have not listened closely but that is because (unlike you) I think the trough of the 90s was so bad that it made me wonder if I had over valued him altogether. That is quite an effect on a fan. I simply couldn't stand listening to him.

is Days Like This. I don't think the other albums are awful, but there's no way I'd spend time with them when I could be listening to just about anything else he's done. I see them as treading water rather than drowning!

Can't see it listed anywhere.

and is marred by an intermittent hideous crackly hiss over the final, quiet bars of track 2: Going Down To Monte Carlo. I've tried playing it on two different CD decks and get the same effect.

Has anyone else had this problem?

from the eel market, so I reckon it's on the master tape. It's all recorded live in the studio (impressive), and on close listening I think that "intermittent crackly hiss" is Van breathing through his sax (I don't think that's him taking the solo?) - the crackle coincides with the horn parts. This is a beautifully-recorded album, so I reckon it's a bag of Van's Organic Crackle we're getting.

My copy's already on its way back to Amazon in an RMA bag. That's just shoddy.

I managed to retrieve my returned copy from the postroom, and have decided to keep it if that's the explanation. Sounded at first listen just like the sort of groove damage one used to dread on vinyl!

and hear what I think I hear - Van's almost sub-audible sax wheeze - it becomes quite characterful. "The production on this album is amazing." Some very clever mic-ing going on - it has that genuine Rudy Vandergelder Blue Note sound - which may be deliberate, as it's on Blue Note.

As an update - I *am* liking this album more with each play, and I liked it well enough the first time.

counteracted with sheer volume, reveal that you're probably right; overall the production is very good, and the live take approach works well. With the quality of musician he can afford to work with, it's a shame more hasn't been done like this. After three listens I wouldn't put this new one at the top of his oeuvre; though it's better than some of the more complaining works of recent years, he's not breaking any new ground.

Betcha didn't know they'd recorded together.

This was done around the time of Frank's Sheik Yerbouti album in 1977/78. Van's record company Warner Bros nixed its release, however, so Frank kept the backing track and later used it for a 1979 album he produced by L.Shankar titled Touch Me There, using his own vocals instead of Van's.

That's L.Shankar's violin you can hear on the original.

The song Dead Girls Of London is Frank's swipe at punk as a fashion statment.

Not the way I heard it - his advances were refused by a woman or two in London, and this was his ill-natured response.

Makes sense, though

posh birds at some high-class trendy nightclub and treated them like LA hookers. So they were "dead girls", obviously. Only a dead girl wouldn't be up for draining Frank's fluids into the orifice of his choice.

Thanks for that MJW - brilliant start to the day

RIP Big Jim - and came across this little critique of Mr The Man. Interesting and seems to jibe with the generally held opinion of our Ivan.

"Just recently I worked with Van Morrison and I came to realize that money can't make a decent human being out of you". "Here is a man worth 50 million pounds and is as unhappy a person as I have ever seen". "He is so unhappy that he treats everybody as if he had bought them and they belonged to him to do what he likes with them". "My stay with Van was very short lived and the lesson learned from him will stay with me for a long time". "A nice way to spend the rest of my life." said Jim "Would be to work for Love instead of Work to Live". "I am a very lucky man. I am living my life with my hobby as my profession."

that Big Jim spoke about joining Van's band. Then he found out that someone else would rehearse the band and none of the musicians would be able to meet or speak to Van except on stage.

Big Jim said something along the lines of "F**k this for a game of soldiers" and he quit the next day.

being at odds with anyone's opinion of the horrible little curmudgeon, TrevR. I've yet to hear a single story from a fellow musician that makes him sound like a reasonable human being. He's a prick.

agrees with you Burt - Van Morrison is a prick, and a jerk are among Google`s suggestions.

Don`t get me wrong Burt I`ve been listening to Van for many years and I reckon Born To Sing is quite good.

I believe Van has had problems with alcoholism for years which he's never been able to overcome. This may have a great deal to do with his grumpiness and mood swings and his search for spiritual release.
Just a thought.

How many of us, if under that level of spotlight, will come out ok ? We all have shame, regrets, arsehole moments but if you're known... Lennon...Van.. Dylan... You and Me? Not me and probably not you either. No doubt anybody who wants to exercise their rock insighteful literary sixpack will be along soon.... and that's not aimed at anyone at all :-) it's just as it is as Len said to Al Pacino.

"It ain't why, why, why, it just is."?

"Jibes with" means "aligns with". So, yes indeed, we agree about the general thoughts on Mr Happy's character!

I loined a new woid!

I was given the Johnny Rogan book about Van nearly 30 years ago. It doesn't mention the demon drink at all, but does recount several unsavoury encounters, particularly a completely graceless radio interview with Nicky Horne. They say you should never meet your heroes. I am not sure this is always true, but suspect it is in Van's case. I saw him play twice. Once at Glasto (1989?) and he was both in a good mood and in sublime form. Tears were pouring down my face. Saw him a little later at Wembley Arena (supported by Ray Charles) and he was grumpy and rubbish. Think he was going through some kind of media thing at the time with the Irish Miss World or something, and most of the time he would drone on about the evils of the media etc.

I struggle to get the cork back into the bottle myself, have done for years, but I hope I am not considered as rude, abrupt, arrogant and dismissive as VM. And I say that as an unconditional lover of his music (at least until (but including) Beautiful Vision. Oh well, you can't have it all...

I wonder how they both felt about that

Made me lose interest years ago, probably not long after Hymns to The Silence.

For me the one I keep returning is Moondance, chock full of beautiful songs like And it Stoned Me, Crazy Love and Moondance itself.

Never really been a big fan of Astral Weeks, far too noodly for my liking. But from Moondance to Veedon Fleece he was on a roll. After that it all gets a bit patchy I feel. Into the Mystic, A Sense of Wonder, Avalon Sunset (I will just about forgive the Cliff duet). But far too often he's been content to peddle out the same mish-mash of "Celtic Soul", blues and jazz, usually containing the word Healing.

But I shall seek this one out on Spotify. Thanks for the recommendation Burt.

where he berates music journalists/the media/anyone who has ever criticised him ever?

...........gets coat

Van quote's Sartre's line "other people are hell"

Seems to be a rare comment at least in song of his difficulty in getting along with the human race.


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