Latest Record Project Volume 1
BMG Rights Management (UK) Ltd
What was the line, there are those that like Van Morrison, and those that know him? Something like that. I’ve heard stories from people that have had a direct involvement with him – and the best you could say was that he is grumpy. But the argument against any of that has always been to pick one of a half-dozen of the very best albums he made and watch time stand still as you get caught in its sway and couldn’t ever imagine anyone else making that sort of music. There are moments within the songs on Astral Weeks, Veedon Fleece and the live document, Too Late To Stop Now that feel more significant than the full careers of many other artists.
But it’s fair to say Van didn’t have a great lockdown, PR-wise. Down in his curmudgeon dungeon he went batshit anti-vax, he continued to rant and rave on (John Donne), including several tirades against the government, propaganda this, mistrust that. He even recorded with Eric Clapton which just upped the rich white guys that owe their entire careers to black music quotient – and of course it was filled with (cruelly ironic)anti-foreigner sentiment. Ghastly stuff. And not just a great shame on a human level, musically, it has to be said, Van was kinda bouncing back. About eight albums in the last five years, I believe. Which is obviously far too many but – fuck me (though only with your thoroughly vaccinated cock) – most of them were pretty bloody good. One or two of them were better than anything he’d released in at least a quarter century and maybe that’s not saying a whole heap to a whole lot of you but it was still good. It felt like he was at least trending upwards in the quality-stakes.
All of that good work came crashing down when he started mouthing off and just being an old, entitled grump. Again. Should have been used to it. More fool us fans I guess.
And now it’s almost comical to receive this – a double album, old-fashioned big-serve double album (28 songs across two and a half hours!) that is, at best, musically, spiritually, philosophically and lyrically prosaic. That’s being far too kind of course.
This is the worst moments of the lounge-y jazz from Too Long In Exile and those boring-af 90s/00s albums that only us thick-headed fans endured, but watered further down and then topped up with stupid anger about trivial things. Or trivial anger about stupid things. And far too horrifyingly often, it is lashings of both. With whipped cream on top.
If you make it all the way down to a song called Why Are You On Facebook? (no, really) you will hear a level of self-parody so extraordinary that it would be a fair cop to look around the room for a hidden reaction-cam. Even though this is only-audio you could interpret it as a stunt so grand that somewhere, somehow, someone was capturing the looks on faces when they made it to the end of the song. Does he mean this shit? Has he even listened to it back? These aren’t so much songs as they are 28 letters to an editor – set to placeholder-jazz.
The 28 songs here feel like a metaphorical (and vaguely musical) Rat king of boomer-anger. Like Van is suddenly making a play for the title of King of the Boomers (hey, they’re okay!) He’s a target don’t you know. He signed a shitty deal once and is still angry about it – as if he never had a payday since 1967. FFS. He doesn’t trust the government, science, doctors, advisors, or anything that isn’t Van-approved. He is a sufferer of a long-con. Apparently. Which is super-rich and a little cruel to level at anyone prepared to make it all the way through this album. (Particularly since he is super rich and more than a little cruel).
And the prize for making it through? A song called Jealousy – which basically says the only reason anyone might have for not agreeing with him is jealousy.
2020 was a weird year, and 2021 was always going to have its work cut out to top it. But Van Morrison slowly morphing into Mark Kozelek? I don’t reckon any of us saw that one coming.
The music here just plods. And fucking plods. And the old boy sounds, well, fucking great actually – he’s in fine voice and he plays some sax – but he has nothing good to say. And the ways in which he is saying it are dishwater-dull and repetitive. This wet week of an album is almost a killer wind-up. Almost. But it’s also very threatening in its title. That Volume 1 hovers there less a misguided poke at humour and more the ever-lingering threat.
You’ve been warned. Van Morrison is now officially over – this, fingers crossed, is his final implosion – and if you still want to listen to anything of his recorded after 1980 you are part of the problem. And if you have the six great albums of his that any record collection should and probably must still have I’ll send a separate note about the annual listening party and the bunker where we’re hiding hosting from.