Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Is Astral Weeks a "10"?


Adrian Denning’s Album Review site mentions a few Van Morrison albums among its huge archive of material.  Click on the site name if you want to read his reviews in full or check out around the site for albums by other artists.  I’ve 'lifted' a few things from there – a list of his Van album ratings, an edited brief review of Astral Weeks and some reader comments about the world's greatest album. 

Part A   -   Adrian's Ratings List of Van’s Albums

Astral Weeks (1969) - 9.5
Moondance (1970) - 9.0
His Band and Street Choir (1970) - 6.5
Tupelo Honey (1971) - 8.0
Saint Dominic’s Preview (1972) - 8.5
Hard Nose the Highway (1973) - 8.0
Veedon Fleece (1974) - 9.0
A Period of Transition (1977) - 7.5
Wavelength (1978) - 6.5
Into the Music (1979) - 8.5
Common One (1980) - 8.0
Beautiful Vision (1982) - 7.0

Part B   -   Astral Weeks Review

In another world and in another time, coming home high. In another place, sits Astral Weeks. No way to follow-up Brown Eyed Girl of course, and no way to follow-up his early band Them.  Almost too much is here. A voice rises through the blues, a heart seeping through - "beside you, beside you" - like a mantra. It stays with you, rain falls right on time. There's such devotion, emptiness, yet utter beauty expertly expressed. Little details, "a scrapbook stuck with glue" - distinctive, exotic guitar, yet delicate, then rising to meet Van's extraordinary vocal performance. Flute, superb jazzy bass lines - so very much going on, quietly, perfectly complimenting the vocal performance. My, my, my - tears of sadness, loss - mixed with memories of joyous happy times deepening the loss. Beauty and soul, that's Beside You

Cyprus Avenue seems like an impossibly magical place to be . You can be in the song and everything is real - yet glorious daydream. Romance. Imagine writing a song about a street from your hometown, describing it so evocatively and beautifully. Sweet Thing makes me cry, Sweet Thing makes me smile, Sweet Thing is my post to lean upon when nothing is ever going right, everything is black - impenetrable fog - yet this sheer happiness comes through and again, evocative images and glorious vocals. These vocals.... and these vocals. Van Morrison sings so much from the heart here, that it's sometimes too much. Devotion to music, devotion to feeling and soul. A glorious place to be, and I love the strings, oh I love the strings! "Misty wet with rain"? I'm crying again. Oh, the title song has nice string sections too. The album sold poorly at the time, but it's still here, all these years later.

My tongue gets tied every time I try to speak and my inside shakes just like a leaf on a tree. The way young lovers do. The jazzy lines return, the exotic sunshine and magic is all here and the sound is fuller, with brass instruments, and the song just over three minutes long. Variety, lengthier excursions with the title song, Cyprus Avenue and the sheer glory of Madame George sat between shorter songs perfectly complimenting them. Madame George? It's a folk song, yet extended with subtle, very subtle Jazz bass lines - flute and another extraordinary from the heart and soul vocal and lyric. I fall into a trance..... Madame George captivates so much, poetry, love and joy - sadness - more tears. A masterpiece for each and every single one of its five hundred and eighty five seconds. 

Lewis Merenstein - dead at 81
The blues is expressed, yet the bass and delicate exotic nature - this strange of its own nature - of Astral Weeks is still right there all through Slim Slow Slider. Ballerina invites you to step right up, invites someone to step right up, but the imagery isn't quite as evocative, or beautiful lyrically, as elsewhere. The sound is here, the vocal is more than here, but the heart isn't so much here - Ballerina is just a beautiful painting in song. Astral Weeks is one of those albums, timeless of course - disappointing if you walk straight into it as if blindly walking drunkenly into a wall, but that's only natural. Astral Weeks is something to be unravelled.

Part C   -   Reader Comments

Ruth McNerlan   -   This is a excellent poetic review of a beautiful, emotional and highly underrated album. Van Morrison is someone who has never been given the credit he deserves and its good to see someone do him justice for once. I'd give it a 10, but being someone who spent her childhood just a few streets away from Cyprus Avenue and many of the other locations Van Morrison maps out in his songs, I think I have his music ingrained under my skin.

Kevin Baker   -   Your review totally captures the essence of the album. Astral Weeks, while I don't listen to it often, is a beautiful, poetic masterpiece of introspective, emotional songwriting. I give the album a perfect 10!

Agnes Frechette   -   This is a 10. This album can take a listener through life, through friends' deaths, breakups, withdrawal of all sorts. It can be listened to lightly, or very heavily. This is the best album to listen to on a hot summer day when it begins to rain and thunder, much like the sound of Van Morrison's utterly poetic and magnetic muse. 

Michael   -   There's just something about this record, something beyond the individual songs, something about the atmosphere that runs through the whole thing that totally enchants me. After four or five listens I couldn't recall most of the melodies to save my life, but while they were playing they were achingly beautiful. The arrangements are wonderful too; the songs never get boring. The way he uses his voice is amazing. This record is so incredibly emotional, and perfectly beautiful. This album is its own place, somewhere in the first days of spring where young love is blossoming just as innocence is dying. It's like Van captured a certain kind of melancholy joy, the feeling that goes with the excitement and uncertainly when your life changes and everything is apprehensive but also hopeful. I really don’t know how to explain Astral Weeks. Astral Weeks completely validates my obsession with popular music. This is what art is supposed to do.

Bill Oberg   -   "And I will raise my hand up into the nighttime sky..." sings Van's soul in Sweet Thing. And when I'm driving nights that's exactly what I do. Usually after I roll the window down first. Always after I check and make sure I'm alone. It's Catcher in the Rye set to music. It's indescribable. So much spirit bared. Thanks, Adrian, for hitting the review spot on (almost anyway –– it's a 10) and pointing this one out to me.

R.L.Hynes   -  Every time I walk into a record shop I wish I could buy this again. I never need to hear any other music for the rest of my life. The greatest album ever recorded. By a mile.

John Doyle   -   I heard this baby on CD, wailing in tune with the funky rhythms of Mother Earth and all the fluffy clouds that hung overhead in competition for the sun, as Anne Marie and me drove through the Wicklow mountains, last Sunday in her brand new jeep. We had to stop on three occasions, as I was feeling rather queasy from her excesssssssssssive use of speed, hell it is a NEW jeep.... As I puked my guts up in a field near Punchestown (Kildare, NOT Dublin!), She compared me to Richard E.Grant, and her herself to Paul McGann, driving up to Penrith to engage in God only knows what kind of tomfoolery. Yeah man, those sure were groovy days, all those hours ago. Thank you, George Ivan Morrison. 10/10.

Brennan   -   Five years ago while I was a senior in college, my older brother introduced me to this album. My brother and I are what many would consider "music snobs" or maybe just jerks, that is if you don't appreciate "good" music. Due to the fact Classic Rock radio stations Brown Eyed Girl'd me to death, I pretty much wrote Van Morrison off as "accessible music that the whole family could agree on". After the first listen, I was blown away. I honestly started to realise that my generalizations where causing me to miss out on so much in life. While owning and listening to this album countless times and always loving it, I had no idea what the songs meant. 

That summer my family and I took a trip to Ireland to visit the county of our heritage. Driving through the countryside of Ireland listening to this album was the most surreal experience of my life. I thought I had finally figured out what Van Morrison's poetic lyrics meant. Just recently, my brother who had introduced me to this album unexpectedly died. While going through his things, I came across this CD. Having not listening to it in years, I decided to play it in my car after the worst experience of my life. My interpretation of this album changed dramatically, and I realise this is the most beautiful, romantic, meaningful music I've ever heard. Perfect.

Ross Upchurch   -   Now here is a masterpiece! It gets better and better and better and better and giving it a piddly 9 when your handing out 9's and 10's to all and sundry. Appreciate your site but Astral Weeks is a classic albums that you have overlooked with a 9. It retains its majesty 30 years later. There are a few albums that manage that, but bands like Pulp, The Stone Roses, Squeeze and Killing Joke (with equal or better ratings) aren't even close to the classic category. If pet Pet Sounds and Revolver are 10's (The White Album missed out?) along with others through the decades,(Closer,The Boatman's Call, OK Computer) hey Astral Weeks is easily a 10

Gary Hess   -   Astral Weeks, eh? Firstly, Van's previous band THEM were one of THE greatest r'n'b bands ever, rivalled only by the Yardbirds and The Animals. After being screwed again by another music biz mogul Van got free and made this. I confess I still find it hard to listen to, there's a lot of pain here and Van's voice is strained and abrasive in places. Also the playing is rather one dimensional although the strings are nice. Good things are here too Van singing "we are going to heaven" on the title track while the strings cushion him like a big fat cloud , sweet things euphoric existential joy. I don't like "lovers do" much, its supper club arrangement does it no favours either. What is great about this record is how it tries to articulate the impossible , like trying to describe a dream. Madame George finds a lonely transvestites story caught up with a dream of a childhood train journey to Dublin - the incredible climax sounds just like van sobbing as the train vanishes into the distance, the arrangement again outstanding. Cypress Avenue is another great track Van's schoolgirl love from the other side of the tracks watched helplessly from a car seat. Ballerina goes nowhere in particular rather prettily. Van's never returned to this sound and rarely plays anything from it live possibly because the record was so spontaneous and so personal to him. Ah well, it was a start to a great career but I'm that rarity - a Van fan who doesn't have astral weeks as one of his favourites !

Stewart   -   A friend lent me this record in 1970 and I was knocked out by it. The album is not from this world and it remains, 37 years later, my favourite album and in my opinion deserves 10 (and a bit more).

Captain Chaos   -   When I first heard this album as a impressionable teenager in the very early seventies I thought Wow! what an amazing album. I am now in my early fifties and when I hear this album I think Wow! What an amazing album. This still remains my most favourite album of all times. Fantastic stuff in every track. Must be a 10!

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