Latest Record Project volume 1 – Van Morrison

Two CD set / Three LP set , May 2021
Produced by Van Morrison
All songs by Van Morrison (plus where noted Don Black)

Exile / BMG 2 CD set, 2021
DISC 1DISC 2
Latest Record ProjectDouble Agent
Whee Have All TheRebels Gone?Double Bind
Psychoanalyst’s BallLove Should Come With A Warning
No Good Deed Goes UnpunishedBreaking The Spell
Tried To Do The Right ThingUp County Down
The Long ConDuper’s Delight
Thank God For The BluesMy Time After A While
Big Lie (with Chris Farlowe)He’s Not The Kingpin
A Few Bars EarlyMistaken Identity
It Hurts Me TooStop Bitching, Do Something
Only A SongWestern Man
Diabolic PressureThey Own The Media
Deadbeat Saturday NightWhy Are You on Facebook?
Blue FunkJealousy
Latest Record Project Volume 1: CD version

MUSICIANS: (bold = default band)

Van Morrison, vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, alto saxophone
Richard Dunn – Hammond organ
David Keary – electric guitar, classical guitar, backing vocal
Stuart McIlroy– piano
Pete Hurley- bass
Colin Griffin – drums
Teena Lyle – vibraphone, percussion, backing vocals
Dana Masters– backing vocals
Mez Clough – backing vocals
plus
Paul Moran – Hammond organ
Jim Mullen – electric guitar
Gavin Scott- bass
Crawford Bell- backing vocals
Kelly Smiley- backing vocals
Chris Farlowe- co-lead vocal on Big Lie
P.J. Proby – extra vocal on He’s Not The Kingpin

Van Morrison already has my choice of album (Hard Nose The Highway) in the Reviled! section here. The idea was only one album per artist only (though Bob Dylan could have had half a dozen). However, the vehemence this one has aroused from reviews is at another level. I think it has to be added. It also has that requirement for the Reviled! category in that while it drew vitriol from many critics, some really liked it. As do I.

I’ve seen and reviewed Van Morrison many times. There’s that old line (I’ve used it before):

There are two kinds of people. Those who like Van Morrison. And those who have met him.

I’ve heard of musicians who were in his band for a tour and barely exchanged words with him. Another musician told me he did a single session for Van, said ‘Hello’ on his way out, only to have Van walk straight past him without speaking. He may indeed lack the gift of likability.

Van has spent years railing against biographers who have devoted massive amounts of time writing about him. In New Biography he chants ‘not on my Wavelength’ which is a direct reference to Wavelength magazine. Wavelength used to review most Van concerts. I reviewed for them for years. They wrote about his records, sold his records, promoted his records, steadfastly refused to review or mention bootlegs, but still he hated them. He insisted they add UNOFFICIAL to the title.

Wavelength: The UNOFFICIAL Van Morrison magazine

I can see some of his ire about biographers, even if he was totally unjust about Wavelength. I had heated correspondence with his biographer, Johnny Rogan, about the number of mentions of Van’s height, physical appearance and girth in his biography. It was gratuitous. As I said, anyone who has as powerful a singing voice as Van will end up with a large lower belly. It comes from knowing how to breathe and sing. Johnny Rogan amended them in the revised edition.

At a record fair, conversation was buzzing about a fair in London when two heavies arrived with a bag and “confiscated” every Van Morrison bootleg on sale. I think that’s fair enough. I would if I were him, having spent my life living from royalties. At one show in the early days of cell phones, they had to be checked in before the show. At others, it was announced that if the light of a phone was seen, Van would leave the stage. The man does not argue.

I’ve mentioned this in a review. I was in the front row at Bournemouth Pavilion, and was going to review the show for Wavelength. I had a couple of cards and a pencil. I don’t make notes at all, just list shorthand for tracks for my memory. I am able to do it without ever looking down, and it was only abbreviated (Days …meant Days Like This, MD … Moondance, ALL … It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue). At the end I stood up, and the woman next to me asked what I was writing. Northern Irish accent. I said just the songs he played. She said something along the lines of (I will have noted it differently elsewhere) I’m here with Van. You’re a fucking journalist! Van hates fucking journalists! YOU’RE DAID. The boys’ll see to you outside …

Van is not responsible for spittle-flecked aggressive friends, and no one assaulted or addressed me outside. But as someone who bought Baby Please Don’t Go new, I’ve been listening to him for 57 years with great pleasure. Usually.

SO … WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

The Guardian, 7 May 2021

It’s worth noting that his voice and the music are both OK: default-setting late-period Morrison, heavy on the 12-bar blues, with a bit of country and southern soul thrown in. Something occasionally sparks, as when a Green Onions-ish Hammond organ introduces A Few Bars Early, or a Latin-American rhythm drives Diabolic Pressure along, but his band are hamstrung by a production that’s simultaneously antiseptic and muted. For all his hymning of music on Thank God for the Blues, you get the feeling that music isn’t the point here – your attention is meant to be focused on the words. It’s a genuinely depressing listen, but at least there’s a kind of purpose here, even if it isn’t the purpose its creator intends. The album opens with the title track, which demands to know why people are more interested in Morrison’s work “from long ago” than what he’s doing now. Should anyone be wondering the same thing, Latest Record Project then answers said question in the most exhaustive detail imaginable.
Alex Petridis, The Guardian (*) 7 May 2021

As ever, Petridis does the most entertaining review of all of them, describing Van as “Brian” the ranting older guest at a dinner party who won’t shut up.

a risible and intermittently lovely 28-song collection which, in its bonkers way, brings Morrison’s tumultuous career full circle.
Elizabeth Nelson, Pitchfork

Morrison’s repetition sounds less like the trance-like mysticism of a Caledonia poet and more like a furious customer demanding a refund … Despite its genuinely funny anti-social media screed “Why Are You on Facebook?” Morrison’s new record bears a strange resemblance to the unhinged, rambling feel of the pandemic-era internet: more often than not, its 28 tracks come across as a collection of shitposts, subtweets, and Reddit rants set to knockoff John Lee Hooker grooves. sometimes amusing, sometimes frustrating, sparsely thrilling, and largely unlistenable collection of rants and riffs.
Jonathan Bernstein, Rolling Stone (**)

the new Van Morrison album will certainly satisfy anyone who’s wondered what the Protocols (of the Elders of Zion) would sound like with a sax accompaniment.
Matthew Sweet

In much the same way that Morrissey has petulantly squandered and betrayed his legacy by confusing provocation with hate, here Van sets about his own credibility and relevance – not to mention besmirching one of the greatest back catalogues in music history – with blunt sarcasm, curdling resentment and childish whingeing. Sure, he’s been on a slow-motion tumble from his almost holy zenith for some time now – but he’s hit rock bottom with this holier than thou two-hour pity party … After two hours of this siege mentality martyrdom, you’d have to wonder if Van, the great humanist, lacks actual humanity. … he attempts to deflect the derision that should greet this puerile parade of babble and bullshit on the closing track, which essentially amounts to a schoolyard cat call of “yous are all just jealous!” To which we can only say, hey Van! Get down off that cross! For a man who is often accused of not having a sense of humour, this is the funniest album you’ll hear all year.
Alan Corr, RTE ( *)

His new release, the double album “Latest Record Project, Vol. 1,” spans over two hours and consists of a series of bizarre rants and blues numbers that criticize millennial culture, Facebook, the mainstream media, psychiatrists, judges and, with no apparent irony, people who bitch.
Antonio Ferme, Variety

If you want to understand the psychic harm that prolonged lockdown can do to a man, then take a listen to Van Morrison’s new 28-song set. Actually, you don’t need to listen, the song titles say enough: “Where Have All the Rebels Gone?”; “Stop Bitching, Do Something”; “Deadbeat Saturday Night”; “They Own the Media”; “Why Are You on Facebook?” By the end of what the record company calls a “straight-talking commentary on contemporary life”, the singer seems to be anticipating blowback. On “Jealousy”, arranged in doo-wop style, he addresses the haters: “Is it because I’m good at my job? I don’t go with the mob… You don’t have a clue…”
John Bungey, The Arts Desk

As this set mercifully comes to a close, dedicated Van Morrison fans are forced to confront the ominous implications of the “Volume 1” subtitle: “There are 28 tracks here, but I recorded over 50,” he says in a press note. “I’ll probably put out another double album after this one.” In lieu of exploring this hopefully brief phase of his career, we might instead ponder the silence Mr. Morrison once exalted.
Mark Richardson, Wall Street Journal

Latest Record Project, has a witty titling convention similar to that of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. But the likeness ends there, as Morrison’s “project” has none of the charm of the movie and boasts a bloated two-hour running time to boot. Morrison apparently has a few things to get off his chest in spite of already releasing a string of “anti-lockdown” songs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The most tone deaf of which was written by Morrison, but performed by Eric Clapton wherein the U.K. government’s efforts to stem the virus spread were equated to slaveryThough the album is abloom with misguided thoughts and scented with whiffs of misogyny and racism (at best classism), the lowest of low points comes near the end in the three song string of “Western Man,” “They Own the Media,” and “Why Are You on Facebook?,” and for the record, Morrison reserves his posts for Instagram, Twitter, and his YouTube ChannelFor the most part though, and we’re talking in the 90% range, the double-album is a full-on dumpster fire fueled by toxic thoughts, meaningless rants, and a surly attitude. Morrison’s grumpy grandpa gene has apparently come home to rest, full stop
Mark Moody, Under the Radar. Author rating 3/10. Average reader rating 7/10

The song titles alone tell the story: The Long Con; Stop Bitching, Do Something; Big Lie; What Are You On Facebook? Plus 24 (24!) more tracks that take a swipe at a modern world controlled by conspiratorial forces. … Even the music is largely route-one, soft-jazz, R&B, soothing the ideological corns on clay feet.
Andy Fyler, Mojo, June 2021 (**)

Financial Times 7 May 2021 online

The album’s failure resides elsewhere. Its indulgently colossal duration is far too long for such generic songs, while Morrison’s clumsy, hectoring verses prove no less exhausting. In “Only a Song”, he sings about writing whatever comes into his head, “just to make it rhyme”. The visionary poet of Astral Weeks has been replaced by the poetaster behind lines like: “Is it because I’m good at my job?/I don’t go with the mob.” That Morrison has had the time to do all this inept writing, with a threatened second volume of songs on the way, is the strongest argument he could make against lockdown.
Ludovic Hunter-Tilney, Financial Times, (**)

They Own the Media … The latter song thankfully doesn’t descend into conspiracy tropes — a justifiable worry considering how Van wrote a series of anti-lockdown singles during the Covid-19 pandemic — but it does show how Morrison’s crankiness has calcified into nastiness. As always, his saving grace is his expert control of his voice and good musical taste, qualities that prevent Latest Record Project Vol 1  from being as sour as its creator.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music

BUT …

The Times, 7th May 2021

Yes, 28 songs is excessive but the ease of playing makes most of them swing by. Yes, he’s worryingly partial to conspiracy talk, railing against “mind control” on ‘Double Bind.’ How refreshing though to hear a musician respond directly to the events of the past year as opposed to absorbing them into a general sense of ennui. At a time of isolation he could have drifted into igsignificance. Somehow he’s done the opposite.
Ed Potton, The Times, 7 May 2021 (****)

Whatever you think of Morrison’s anti-lockdown campaign, after years of being angry for no obvious reason, the Covid restrictions have at least given him a cause for his indignation. Unable to gig, the songs poured out of him, denouncing what he regarded as an assault on our democratic liberties … not all the songs are about lockdown and musically there’s renewed vibrancy here too … some of his outrage may be misplaced, but it has prompted his most visceral album in years.
Nigel Williamson, Uncut, June 2021

Morrison’s vocals sound untouched by the decades, and his eclectic, genre-bouncing numbers don’t collapse under the weight of their themes. Meanwhile, backup singers Dana Masters, Teena Lyle and Mez Clough bolster Morrison’s melodies, and it’s nice to hear that his trademark B-3 organ is back in action, courtesy of Richard Dunn. Latest Record Project Volume 1 might be a grievance-heavy sprawl, but if you’re a Morrison die-hard it’ll be a worthy, timely addition to his catalogue.
Rachel Brodsky, Independent (**)

Van Morrison is surprisingly enjoyable on album of grumpy but bouncy R&B … It’s true that there are a few grumpier moments than usual, like Why Are You On Facebook? and They Own The Media, but mostly this is an album that’s, ironically, liberated by lockdown, not confined by it. 28 tracks of an often bouncy nature.
David Quantick, LOUDER, CLASSIC ROCK (*** 1/2)

 Just because he isn’t as loud as he once was doesn’t mean he isn’t full of piss and vinegar; far from it.  … There are no stone-cold classics among these 28 songs, but there’s also precious little filler. One may be tempted, however, to describe the album’s opening song, “Latest Record Project,” as such. But his first real statement on this first track is to convince listeners he’s still making relevant music about things “I can relate to in the present.” And by and large, he succeeds.
Sam Richards, RIFF Magazine

The result is a series of singular songs as distinctive as his earlier efforts. Indeed, “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished,” “Tried To Do The Right Thing,” “Duper’s Delight,” and “My Time After Awhile” rank among Van’s best offerings of the past 30 years, with his rich, robust vocals still in fine form … Some 42 albums on, Morrison remains as emphatic as ever. This Latest might not be his greatest, but in many ways it clearly comes close.
Lee Zimmerman, American Songwriter, 4 May (**** 1/2)

The big ones, Uncut, Mojo, Shindig!, Record Collector usually review a few weeks in advance. Not on this one, which makes me suspect they were tight with advance copies. Though they reviewed it, the reviews were short rather than the full page I believe his stature in music deserves.

MY REVIEW

I do have a complaint. When you pop the CDs into the computer to play, disc one has a track listing. Disc two doesn’t. I had to type them in.

It was recorded in Real World Studios, Bath and Musicbox Studios, Cardiff mainly. Some if it was recorded in the renovated Bath Spa Hotel. Presumably not in the bathing areas.

Well, I liked it very much. I’m with the positive ones. It might just be that I’m also an irascible old bastard of a similar age.

I have zero sympathy with Covid-deniers, or anti-vaccers. I go back to the cartoon.

Van’s beef seems to be with lockdown rather than vaccines, or Covid denial. The negative reviews tend to mention the four Lockdown songs as a stick to beat him with.

The lockdown songs- from the iTunes Mosaic print out when I put them on CDR

Van released Born To Be Free, No More Lockdown, As I Walked Out and with Eric Clapton, Stand and Deliver. Not one of the four is on this album.

A selection of lines:

From Born To Be Free:

Don’t need the government cramping my style
Give them an inch, they take a mile
Take you in with a phony smile, wouldn’t you agree

The new normal is not normal
It’s no kind of normal at all
Everyone seems to have amnesia
Just trying to remember the Berlin Wall

From No More Lockdown:

No more lockdown
No more government overreach
No more fascist police
Disturbing our peace

No more taking our freedom
And our God-given rights
Pretending it’s for our safety
When it’s really to enslave

As I Walked Out is quite funny in being a re-write of Streets of Laredo to the original tune:

As I walked out all the streets were empty
The government said everyone should stay home
And they spread fear and loathing and no hope for the future
Not many did question this very strange move
Well, on the government website from the 21st March 2020
It said COVID-19 was no longer high risk
Then two days later they put us under lockdown
Then why are we not being told the truth?

When a songwriter has to put did question instead of question to make it scan, they’re not at their best.

And Stand and Deliver:

Magna Carta, Bill of Rights
The constitution, what’s it worth?
You know they’re gonna grind us down, ah
Until it really hurts

The duet with Eric Clapton, Stand and Deliver aroused especial ire comparing Lockdown to slavery … Do you want to be a free man, or do you want to be a slave? Two very wealthy and successful musicians have had their tours taken away (and probably domestic help too!). To the Woke reviewer, the comparison with slavery created fury. Then people said it was an extension of Trump politics. Definitely an extension of Trump attitudes. To others, it’s just a language point like I’ve been slaving away in the kitchen for hours. You choose. I have no sympathy with the viewpoint whatever, though not being Woke, I do believe they have a right to say it.

There has been an extreme reaction, but let’s repeat: Not one of the four is on this album.

Recall that he was born in August 1945. He’s entering his 76th year and nothing like the Lockdown has ever happened in his lifetime, nor mine. Maybe like the mad scientist in Dan Brown’s Inferno he thought it better to let it run its course as in the 1919 flu epidemic and kill several million people in the UK alone. A lot of reviewers can’t get past the lyrics in some of the songs. Note, it is NOT all the songs, though you might think from the reviews that it was.

The band is consistent, much more ‘fixed’ than usual, and it’s an advantage. They’re comfortable together. Richard Dunn’s Hammond playing is superb. Van makes great use of his backing vocalists.

Tom Jones released his Surrounded By Time a couple of weeks before. Both Van and Tom retain full vocal power, unlike Bob Dylan or many of those “my last album” artistes of recent years, like Glen Campbell and Neil Diamond.

Van and Tom’s friendship dates back to arriving in London from Northern Ireland and South Wales, and they have recorded together. Interestingly, Tom has gone for the hipper production. Van has gone for a classic small band sound. Say what you like about the Stop Bitching / Do Something lyrics but these guys really can play that Bo Diddley beat.

THOSE LYRICS

OK, we should not be surprised after his trio of Lockdown songs plus the Clapton collaboration. The man is into conspiracy theories. Remember, he flirted with Scientology and was seen stopping passers-by in Tottenham Court Road. That seems ripe for gullibility and paranoia. But then we get the reverse message … No Guru, No Method, No Teacher.

As to his place in the political spectrum, I always wondered about the cover photo on The Healing Game. It’s one of his best five to ten albums, which is high praise. It has five essential songs for me … It Once Was My Life, The Healing Game, Sometimes We Cry, Burning Ground, Rough God Goes Riding. So it was recorded in Dublin. It includes a W.B. Yeats lyric (Rough God Goes Riding).

The Healing Game: 2019 CD de-luxe reissue / original CD single

But what is that cover photo saying? In some photos it’s a trilby. On the front cover it looks like a bowler hat … symbol of the Orange Order. There are two photo sessions too, because on the CD cover he has a white top (or a scarf) under his coat, on the CD single cover he has a black top. The more I look, the more I think it IS a trilby, but at first glance it’s perilously close to a bowler hat. The top of the photo cuts off enough to make it hard to know (but the rim doesn’t curl up like a bowler). Did no one notice the similarity or comment? The dour expression is there.

The lyrics to the new one really pissed off reviewers, so much so that I think some of them went wildly over the top, especially in reference to They Own The Media.

His most controversial and angriest songs are lumped at the end of CD2 … Western Man, They Own The Media, Why Are You on Facebook?Jealousy.

CD ONE

Latest Record Project
A gentle starter with insidious bass line. It sets out his stall:
Not something from so long ago
Not something that you might want to know
But something I can relate to
In the present …

Not something from back in the day …
Not something when I gave it away … Long ago!

If you’ve been to enough Van concerts you’ll have heard the audience calls for Madame George, Cyprus Avenue, Caravan … and Van gets nothing from those first three Warner Bros albums. He gave it away to get out of his contract with Bert Berns.

Listening to the backing singers, I can see that gentle back up sing sway even. Like Leonard Cohen, Van is aware that a deep older male voice is accentuated by female vocals la-la-la ing behind.

Where Have All The Rebels Gone
Lovely early 60s guitar part. Dave Keary with Van. The solo takes you right back – the tone as well as the playing. A homage to the early 60s in the sound of it:

Were they really all that tough?
Or was it just a PR stunt?

One for the money, two for the show
Where have all the rebels gone?

One for the money, two for the show … the first of many references to lyrics. This to Blue Suede Shoes … which continues Three to get ready and go man go!
Carl Perkins. Elvis.Sweet Gene Vincent. Eddie Cochran. All the rockers.
The Larry Parnes stable of boys … Marty Wilde, Billy Fury, Dickie Pride, Vince Eager. Leather jackets.
Were they really all that tough?

Then Van takes it to the present to describe today’s youth.
Hiding behind computer screens
Where’s the spirit, where’s the soul?

Psychoanalyst’s Ball
The languid melody is so familiar … it reminds of Larry Jon Wilson’s Americana classic Sapelo which meets Van’s own Why Must I Always Explain? one of his greatest songs.

Namecheck Freud and Jung. You have the feeling he’s addressing himself, though his greatest hate is reviewers interpreting his more personal lyrics.
Tinkling vibraphone from Teena Lyle.
This is a marvellous song and performance. A full five stars for me.

No Good Deed Goes Unfinished
Richard Dunn’s opening organ part manages to make the Hammond sound like an early 60s organ (that’s hard) then you have solid piano riffing. It’s the second in a row where the melody is familiar, especially the piano part and organ … I’ll tell you what it reminds me of so strongly, Mark Germino’s Fire In The Land of Grace. A song about the horror of visiting Graceland, and burning down the place!

Booked her to the top restaurant table
But she said she didn’t like the meal
I got her tickets for the opera
But she complained about the VIP seats

Gave her a million Euro
Said that it wasn’t enough
How come when she’s still fit and able
She’s still too lazy to go out and work

Would this be addressed to a lady of his past aquaintance? Interesting that he chose euros (Ireland) rather than pounds or dollars. So the sequence of songs here appear to reference Michelle Rocca, who was Miss Ireland when Van first met her. They were divorced in 2018, after years of wrangling. It is said (by the media) the divorce settlement was ¢20 million.

Van Morrison said in 2018:

“At my age, I have found it to be a hugely wearying, protracted experience and I’m relieved that it has finally reached a conclusion.”

The fourth very strong song in a row.

Tried To Do The Wrong Thing
Bluesy, slow, brushes on the drums. Classic R&B in Bobby Blue Bland mode, with the female chorus repeating the end of each line in time-honoured style. It’s much more like the last three albums.

It seems to continue the storyline straight on from the previous song, nothing political at all:

Tried to do the right thing for my baby
But it all gone wrong
And I just got conned

A positive … we get Van scat singing the ending. It’ll go down a storm live.

The Long Con
Van on harmonica. A recitation. It’s actually an episode title from Lost TV series. I didn’t know that but it came up right away when I Googled the lyric:

Targeted individual
Got caught up in a long con
Then four judges screwed me over
Backed me up against the wall

He’s had a few legal cases in his life, so it’s unfair to describe it as paranoia rather than experience. The organ solo is stellar. This is what Wiki defines it as:

The long con refers to any of a variety of cons which require more planning, preparation, a longer window of interaction with the con’s target, the mark, and a longer period of time to execute. The long con may also require a large crew or a larger number of involved people to pull off the deception needed to relieve the mark of their cash or other valuables. Unlike a short con, the long con requires time to slowly draw the mark or marks into the con, but often result in very large pay-outs.

Thank God For The Blues
The title says it. It’s the sort of song like Help Me that Van enjoys performing live. It’s somewhat generic, but the call and response with his backing choir lifts it way above average.

Big Lie
Chris Farlowe opened for Van Morrison on many shows, and then would join him for a couple of songs. They duet here.

Reviewers tracing the idea of Van’s lockdown conspiracy theory seize on the title, but to me it continues that domestic / legal line (There was no heart to break) and has nothing to do with lockdown. The lyric fits Farlowe’s shorter career more than Van’s fifty-seven year career:

I was king for a day
I was just making hay
They hung on to every word
Oh yes they did

Van is self-quoting one of his bigger hit singles, Precious Time from 1999:

Precious time is slipping away
You know you’re only king for a day …

Mojo cites Big Lie and Long Con as examples of Van’s lockdown rants. WTF? They’re absolutely nothing to do with it. LISTEN TO THE SONGS.

A Few Bars Early
Hugely dramatic organ intro. Propulsive bass guitar.

This seems a suite of songs about a relationships to me:

I was a few bars early
Whеn I had that very last drink
And you said play that song called
‘It’s Later Than You Think’

The guitar solo could be Dave Keary or Van, but having seen Van solo on guitar on stage, I think it’s Van.

It Hurts Me Too
(Traditional, new words and arrangement by Van Morrison)
Ah. The one that was originally by Tampa Red. Or Leroy Carr. Or The Mississippi Sheiks. Or Big Bill Broonzy. Or Elmore James. Or on Self Portrait ‘by Bob Dylan.’ This is a new lyric with the old verse end punch line.

Been turned over
Can’t see my child
Is it any wonder that
I’ve got a troubled mind

Ive been to the Court of Appeal
I’ve been back to the High
My bank account keeps on getting drained dry

There’s too many pigs feeding
Feeding out of the same trough
Will it ever get to the stage
When enough is enough?

None of the other singers knew those words. Its not a rearrangement so much as a rewrite.

Only A Song
The bouncy intro reminds of Moondance. It was around in March as pre-publicity for the album. Terrific sax solo from Van.

Only a song, it’s not set in stone
it’s only a song
It’s only a poem,
it could change in the long run
it’s only a song
It’s what I said then just to make it rhyme

Could have been on my mind at the time
Putting paper to pen,
it’s only a song, it’s only a song

So much in the lyrical area of Why Must I Always Explain, stepping back from interpretation. It’s also a way of closing off Van’s “Divorce Suite” by saying of each of his tirades, “It’s only a song.” An argument he has used before. Van Morrison has obviously read much on the mind and the unconscious. I’ll agree that Roses are red, violets are blue by Bobby Vinton is ‘only a song’ but Van Morrison? Bollocks

The sentiments takes us back to Why Must I Always Explain? On the Jazz Tour in 1995 Van was very pissed off as the audience were sitting on their hands. I was there, Bournemouth BIC, 16 September 1995. The audience were bemused by an evening of unfamiliar jazzy material, and Van sang during the song:

It’s just a JOB you know, it’s not supposed to be sweet fucking Lorraine!

Then Michelle Rocca ran on stage to implore the audiences to applaud, ‘He’s a good man!’ she shouted into the microphone which may number among the more embarrassing moments in a long career. And it was bootlegged on CD as Not Sweet Lorraine.

Diabolic Pressure
A touch of Latin beat and choppy guitar, very nice sax. Lyrically I suspect we’re still in the marital breakdown area.

This is with a different band, and is the only track recorded in Belfast, at the Culloden Hotel. (What’s with hotels as a recording venue?) Why does a Belfast Hotel take its name from a Protestant victory over Highland Catholic Jacobites in 1745?

Van Morrison and Paul Moran both play piano. Paul Moore is on bass, Jeff Lardner on drums. They add Christopher White on tenor saxophne and Alistair White on trombone. Crawford Bell is a prominent male voice among the backing vocalists.

Ain’t gonna be your boy no more
Ya’ got one less foolin’ behind the store
Tried my best to please you, please you to the letter
Anything is better than this diabolic pressure

Deadbeat Saturday Night
This one does address Lockdown in a loose, rolling but generic R&B song, using just the basic band.

I’m alone, telephone
Virtual reality
It’s no life, no gigs
No choice, no voice
It’s no dice
Deadbeat Saturday night

It does have a line about rural hicks being pricks. Well, I guess he has a rural abode somewhere. The real irritation is No dough, no show. I would have guessed that Van tours and gigs because he loves touring and gigging rather than for the money. If I compare Bob Dylan, who has insisted on all-standing to increase the capacity of my local BIC from 4045 to 5500 plus at full price, then Van has deliberately avoided one night there in favour of two nights at the much smaller Pavilion with better sound (except for the last show in 2019). I don’t think it’s about the money.

Blue Funk
The basic band again. It seems to be what we all feel as the lockdown has gone on and on. Again, somewhat generic R&B. These last two songs are addressing lockdown as personal reaction, rather than (as on the 2020 virtual singles) protesting its existence. They’re the dullest songs on the side too. There are so few double albums that would not be improved by cutting tracks and releasing as a single album.

Not preaching to the choir
Talkin’ bout a blue funk
Move on up a little higher
Got to get out of this blue funk
Stop listening to the mainstream media junk
Look how far we’ve sunk
Blue funk

I’m also totally fed up with watching TV. Normally it would be theatre, concert or cinema at least once a week, usually twice for me. Then add just socializing.

CD2

Double Agent
A very strong start indeed. Perhaps my favourite track. Jim Mullen adds intriguing guitar lines.

One must succumb to the mind control
One gives his all to rock and roll
One is an asset of MI5
One keeps on looking at stars in their eyes

The lyrics are more enigmatic, going from spies, MI5, taking the Kool Aid (the Jonestown massacre when 918 members of the People’s Temple drank cyanide-laced Kool Aid and died) , MI5, smoking the weed, taking cocaine. It’s all concluding with got to go Renegade … and he murmurs Renegade Sir. In 2019, the MD stressed ‘SIR Van Morrison!’ in the show, instead of his traditional ‘Mr Van Morrison’ and Van is a knight of the realm. A renegade “Sir” then.

Drinking the Kool-Aid has been used since to describe blind obedience and loyalty to a cause.

Double Bind
A lazy R&B bass and guitar line. This is the side of the album that caused the offence.

Mind control keeps us in line
That’s why we’ve got to think outside the blind lеading the blind
Why we’ve got to think outsidе the box

Then we get Nigel comes on strong then backs away. Is that a reference to the horrible Nigel Farage?

Love Should Come With A Warning
(Van Morrison / Don Black)
What a great soul riff and opening this has. It was another drip-fed before the release of the album. Rolling Stone described it as heartbroken soul. Superb song. Jim Mullen joins Dave Keary on electric guitars

Bitter? Moi?

She was smoking and drinking
And I just can’t get to sleep
Man, she’s a better actress
Than Meryl Streep
I should see her right up there
On the silver screen
I’m telling you now
She’d steal every scene

Breaking The Spell
The tune’s familiar. The surprisingly cheery lyric is not familiar on this album!

Can you meet me on a Sunday?
Sunday morning if you’re free
You don’t need no umbrella
Meet me by the greenwood tree

It’s a welcome change.

Up County Down
The title reminds of his version of Star of The County Down with The Chieftains on Irish Heartbeat. It also quotes Irene Goodnight, another he’s done. Though now he’s Deep In The Heart of Texas and on Highway One.

It maintains the upbeat bouncy feel of the previous track. There’s a lot of autobiography in there:

I was playing at the Whiskey
When The Doors were opening up
Sometimes I sat there drinking
From a poisoned cup


The Van Morrison / Jim Morrison drinking sessions in LA are legendary. Highway One is California’s drive from San Francisco to LA. I do wonder about his memory:

I’ve been there in the beginning
When twelve shillings was a pound

Um, no. Twelve pennies was a shilling. Twenty shillings were a pound. Never mind, another first rate song.

Duper’s Delight
This is another outstanding track, the longest. Slow, much more reminiscent of the Summertime In England era. He’s still flogging himself with the personal betrayal theme:

You don’t notice when she keeps on telling those lies
You don’t notice when she hides behind the media
You don’t notice when she smiles, they call that duper’s delight

Note this reference to ‘the media’. I think back to various episodes when newspapers have exposed his personal life … whether incidents at a Warminster hotel, or Linda Gail Lewis telling tales, or the paternity claims, or the divorce. “SHE” could any one of them, or others we don’t know about.

Yes, a woman / women have pissed him off. He feels he has been duped. It’s creating marvellous music. It worked for blues singers and soul singers through the ages. Baby Please Don’t Go (this is where he started), Cry Cry Cry, My Baby Left Me, Don’t Start Me To Talking, Here My Dear … I could list hundreds. Reviewers of 2021 have called that sexist or misogynistic, but I’d guess Van calls it The Blues.

The basic band, with Teena Lyle on vibraphone.

My Time After A While
Another long blues song. The first four lines are the same as the Buddy Guy song, then the words change. Any blues singer could handle the new lyric. The backing vocals shift it from blues to soul. It’s still vehement:

Somebody gonna catch up with your evil eyes 

Richard Dunn’s organ solo blends into Van’s sax solo.

He’s Not The Kingpin
An odd chant start. The 60s visitor this time is P.J. Proby, who was seen with Van on Whatever Happened to P.J.Proby? way back in 2002 on Down The Road.
It’s about the media, a traitor, an agenda. I’d see this as a journalist or other underling (he’s not the kingpin) taking the rap which should be directed at the shadowy puppeteer behind him.

Follow the media
What’s their agenda?
How do they frame it

Mistaken Identity
(Van Morrison / Don Black)
A scatty blues with jazzy guitar, it takes me to the 1995 jazz tour era. The lyric is pretty non-specific:

Mistaken identity
Man I get that a lot
You think that you can read me but
But you just cannot

OK, he hates being interpreted.

Stop Bitching Do Something
Bo Diddley beat. Great driving band. The reviewers found this one deeply ironic from someone who likes and indulges in so much bitching. The:

Doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo)

From the backing singers is the best bit.

Western Man
Stylistically more mainstream “Van-land” than straight R&B or blues. This is the start of the sequence that rubbed the reviewers up so badly. Richard Dunn again shines on Hammond.

While he was dreaming
Others were scheming
Doing deals behind his back
Now Western Man is adrift, and under attack
What happened in between?

It seems fair. The Decline of the West, and not going back to the way it was seems likely. When reviewers muttered racist (as well as sexist) they may have been thinking of this lament for the downfall of Western Man, perhaps in the face of Wily Pathans, lascivious Lascars, dubious Dagos … that’s the kind of thing reviews suggest. It’s pushing it more than a bit I feel.

They Own The Media
Matthew Sweet compares it to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion plus saxophone. Variety accuses him of anti-Semitism (a hard one ever to shake off). I don’t get it. Totally unfair.

For years he’s railed against biographers and journalists. See Duper’s Delight. He’s British. The main “media controller” is the Aussie Rupert Murdoch (The Sun, The Times, Sunday Times). The Barclay Twins (or rather the surviving twin) own the Telegraph. The aristocratic Harmsworth family own The Daily Mail group. The Daily Mirror and Daily Express (opposite sides) belong to a PLC, Reach, who also own a number of magazines. As far as I know, there is no Jewish connection to any of them. His obsession with a Lockdown plot would lead me to conclude that “They” as so often is “the government” not a cabal of owners. Dictionaries say that … “they” often means an anonymous and generalised “government.” Possibly it will stretch to the BBC as right-wing conspiracy theorists always accuse the BBC of left bias and lockdown applauders. Then the left-wing conspiracy theorists accuse it of right wing bias. To me that proves the BBC is doing a good neutral job.

Why Are You On Facebook?
That doo-doo-doo chorus wins again. I’m on Facebook, but he has a point. You have heard it.

Nowadays you carry a small device in your hand giving you access to all the information, music and films in the world. And you use it to take photos of your pet cat and get into arguments and insult complete strangers on Facebook.

Why are you on Facebook? (Doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo)
Why do you need those second-hand friends? (Doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo)
Why do you care who’s trending? (Doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo)
Or is it something that you’re defending? (Doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo)
Get a life, is it that empty and sad? (Doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo)
Or are you after something you can’t have? (Doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo)

I don’t think it’s as grumpy as people say.

Jealousy
Another in the suite they reviled. A follow up to Professional Jealousy back on Hymns to The Silence?

You say you never got the breaks
Or you just don’t have what it takes
To make the grade
You think that I’ve got it made
‘Cause I’m not a slave
To the system like you

How many Van Morrison lyrics include too blind to see? (or slave?) Anyway, if you criticize him, you’re simply jealous. Kind of annoying because you can’t refute it without proving it (to him), but it’s not a bad song, and the cooing chorus supports it.

OVERALL

I think it is his strongest album in several years. It benefits from the sense of “a band” and like The Band, most songs utilise piano and organ. The backing singers are a major positive.

My review of the reviewers? Mostly they’re reviewing those four anti-Lockdown songs which aren’t even on here. They’re ‘Going off on one.’

MY RATING:

Unjustly reviled
**** 1/2


1 thought on “Latest Record Project volume 1 – Van Morrison

  1. Peter,
    I made a nice playlist of about 15 tunes from the album that I liked. Enjoyed your analysis. Didn’t agree with all of your assessments, but it many cases it gave me some good insight. (They Own the Media and Why are you on Facebook, didn’t make the cut.)
    Joe Frey

    Like

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