Wednesday, 21 September 2011

"No Guru, No Method, No Teacher"

Who said the nothing good musically came out of the 80s?  No Guru and U2 are a good start in proving that statement wrong. 

No Guru, No Method, No Teacher from 1986 is Van's 16th album.  It was recorded at the height of his 'spiritual quest' period where he pursed inner happiness and pondered what contribution music could make to the quest.  Eventually he would claim on Enlightenment that all this seeking had brought him no nearer to any profound truth.  Lyrics like "enlightenment, don't know what it is" and "I'm meditating and still I'm suffering" show Van to be a pretty dissatisfied pilgrim.  This spiritual quest seems to annoy a lot of reviewers for whom the combination of the twin theories of the big bang and evolution have closed their minds to the idea that anything spiritual exists.  (To anyone out there who seeks the spiritual, keep going.  I believe the Universe is no accident 'created out of nothing'.  I used to believe that.  But a belief that says everything is one big accident and millions of smaller ones sounds crazy to me now.  Can anyone explain why there is a something and not a nothing?  We shouldn't exist but here we are.  After years of reading and searching I now believe that the miracle of everything on our planet points to an intelligent and deliberate design.)  Anyway ...   

Also featured on "No Gurur" is Van's notion that we're healed, humanized, whatever by 'going back' - reclaiming the previous.  The album was under appreciated at the time of release and generally given 3 out of 5 stars or 6 or 7 out of 10 ratings.   But the album has stood the test of time and retrospective reviews rate it as one of Van's Top 10 albums.  For most hardcore Van fans the album is considered a classic. 

Track 1 is "Got to Go Back." It's a deceptively simple song with an apparent appeal to the gentle joys of reminiscing.  But the appeal here is not soft and accidental. " We've got to go back" the lyrics tell us for healing and for the dreaming.  It features acoustic piano, accompanied by a solo on oboe by Kate St. John.  There are autobiographical musings here.   "When I was a young boy back in Orangefield/I used to look out my classroom window and dream/And then go home and listen to Ray sing/'I Believe to My Soul' after school/Oh that love that was within me/You know it carried me through/Well it lifted me up and it filled me/Got to go back/Got to go back/To the feeling." Belief, his early life in Belfast as some sort of source and of liberation from earthly constraints are all touched on in this under-valued song.  

This is followed by "Oh the Warm Feeling," which only underscores the notion of memory and loss of innocence amid lovely oboe, acoustic guitar, organs, and vibes.

Track 3 is "Foreign Window" and is among the album's finest tracks. One reviewer called it Van's most nakedly spiritual cuts Van has ever recorded, looking at a person or Muse, coming once more out of his past that is at once part of his eternal present, where he weaves some of his finest lyrics with one of his more dynamic and texturally varied compositions".  It's another Van love son g with interesting lyrics that can be interpreted in various ways.  

Track 4 is "A Town Called Paradise" and it's a classic midtempo rocker that contains the words "squealin' feelin'".  Van's unexpectedly funny at times. It has layers of acoustic guitars, though punctuated by female backing vocals, tenor saxophone, and an electric solo guitar.

Track 5 is the classic "In the garden" and contains one of Van's best used phrases - "in the garden wet with rain".  Here nature enduces a meditative state where Van contemplates the trinity.  No mention of a shamrock though.  

Next up is Tir Na Nog.  It's a slow but strident example of Celtic soul.  He teases the people who make meaning of his lyrics.  vvordslike contemplation andmeditation are splashed about.  Next up is a song whose title is references a hit from his Them days.  Here Comes the Knight resembles the Them song Here comes the Night in title only.  The song combine horns with some Medieval imagery.  

Track 8 is Thanks for the Information and details the pitfalls of the spiritual quest.  

One Irish Rover is a wistful folk oriented track with accoustic guitars to the fore.  Van's gypsy theme is featured here.
The final track on the original version is Ivory Tower. It fits into Van.s bulging file of 'complaint songs'.  He urges someone to come down from their ivory tower so they can see how hard it is "to be like me".  Fans have heard it all before but we forgive him.  No one's perfect and if he can't see or appreciate the advantages he has had in in his life then who are we to tell him?

The remastered version of this album contains two additional songs.  Track 11 is an alternative version of Oh the Warm feeling.  It;s stripped back and includes an annoying little percussion sound that sounds like someone left the metronome on 'rapid'.  Lonely at the top is  a more satisfying extra.  But Van isn't lonely because he's in the upper echelon of his profession.  Rather he has demons which cause him to act abominably to strangers, acquantances and even friends.  Most people don't give 'hotheads' a second chance to humiliate them.   

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