The New Zealand Stuff blogspot released the following review of Van’s Born to Sing: No Plan B (2012). Simon Sweetman is the journalist who concludes Born to Sing is well below Van’s best. Click on the link above for the full article.
Hearing the best and worst of Van Morrison
Van Morrison has just released the rather lacklustre Born to Sing: No Plan B. It might as well be Too Long in Exile or Days Like This or The Healing Game or anything else he's released across the past 20 years. That is to say there are glimpses, there are glimmers, there are slight reminders of that earlier, fearsome, wonderful, sublime and otherworldly magic. But it's a fading photograph. Mostly it's banal filler. Born to Sing has him creating lyrics to the song Close Enough for Jazz - an instrumental resurrected from nearly 20 years ago. The result is something Diana Krall would probably turn her nose up at - yet, earlier on this same album Morrison tirades against "phony pseudo-jazz".
Reviews for Born to Sing: No Plan B have largely been positive - including a 4-star Rolling Stone review from David Fricke. Fricke is still a trusted writer, an authority, a man of taste - but four- and five-star Rolling Stone magazine reviews reek of vested interest; of the powers that be assigning a rating and then a writer. In that order.
Born to Sing is no left turn here either. The title (and title song) gives an obvious clue and early on the record - when he's at least sounding passionate (the track where he bemoans the faux-jazz that he will go on to serve himself). Morrison spits out a line about "after everything I've worked for". You listen to his records post-1990 and he really hasn't done much work. He's talked a lot. But said nothing.
Too Long in Exile's title song was perhaps the nadir, "Too long in exile/Too long not singing my song" he said, barely trying. Announcing himself to the world - as if he'd been on anything but a self-imposed break (and it was only long by Van standards; a man who has pumped out far too many records for the good ones to stand up now and block out the bad). Too Long in Exile was dreary and lazy and it set a tone for albums with title songs that talk the artist up without really delivering anything to match the sentiment. Back on Top's title song has Van announcing that he's "Always strivin', always climbing way beyond my will" - in the middle of what would have been better titled Just Another Van Morrison Album.
Born to Sing: No Plan B makes you wonder what the Plan B might have or should have been - it reminds that this great contrarian, this all-too prickly pear, is a long way off that wild, mercurial sound that drove those wonderful records; albums that still allure, that still dazzle, that manage - still - to stand outside the time when they were created.
Astral Weeks is an album that still pulls me in every time; that mystifies, that conjures a range of emotions, that evokes a journey every time. And I could write at length about Moondance (the title track kills that record - just skip it and play everything else) or His Band and The Street Choir, Tupelo Honey, Saint Dominic's Preview, Veedon Fleece, A Period of Transition - and then the best bits of Common One, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, Hard Nose the Highway, No Guru, No Method, No Teacher and of course all of the live tour-de-force, It's Too Late to Stop Now - simply one of the great live albums by anyone. Ever.
There is so much to take in with Van Morrison - but he was always a grump so sure of his own importance. He even made up his own genre - Caledonian Soul Music - so as to stand out, to be clearly defined as the best at something. Thing is, back then, he backed it up. He delivered. He's been on glide time ever since...
Dr John worked with Morrison on A Period of Transition, a wonderful record that seems to have slipped under the radar in many ways. Dr John said of Van in his autobiography that he really was difficult to deal with, so horrible in fact, so cruel. Others have said the same. Arrogance taken to a new level, belligerence and stormy moods that threaten to unravel more than decent musicians doing their best to play for the cause and the song - but as Dr John said, every time Van opens his mouth you hear an angel - and it is as if all is forgiven; that horrible energy falls away, it melts. As people melt under that voice, fall prey to the inspiration of the music. To a sound.
Every time I hear a new Van Morrison album I'm sent back to the best material that he offered - records that stand up against anything offered by anyone, in terms of the true greats. But when I hear the worst of Van Morrison I am still inspired to go back and dig out the best of Van Morrison. It's just a shame that too many autopilot records and Brown Eyed Girl-milking compilations stand in the way of what was, at one time, an absolutely gobsmackingly brilliant, jaw-droppingly eclectic, electric body of work.
Rubbertoe - One of the best pieces of Van criticism I've ever heard was when Linda Clark was hosting Nine to Noon a few years back. Manu Taylor was playing some new track off yet another dull, irrelevant album. The track finished and Linda asked:
"How long was that song Manu?"
"Oh, about 4 and a half minutes I think Linda"
"Really? It seemed much, much, longer"
I too like Astral Weeks, most of Moondance, St Dominic's Preview, and lots not forget there are some killer Them tracks too, but, he does sound like a right bastard.
Dannydougherty - I don't know I thought Too Long in Exile was pretty good...and A night in San Francisco in my book is better than Too Late to Stop Now. What is the guy supposed to do stay home and watch TV? Also it's like Paul Weller said about Days Like This. It's got 3 brilliant songs on it, 3 more than most.
Elmore Fudd - Have another listen to Days Like This. It would be in his top 5. It's the only great album of his in the last 25 years though. His 70's live shows would have been great. He was incredible in The Last Waltz.
|The Heavy Weight of Astral|
GerardC - The 80's was Van's best period. He was easily the best performing of the the 60's singer/songwriters over this time.
Simplepartial - Veedon Fleece is Van's best record.
GerardC - Rubbish Simon. Van's last 20 years have been pretty good. A Night in San Francisco, Back On Top, The Skiffle Sessions are all great albums. I appreciate that Van is still making music and I would rather have the good material coming in patches over several albums than nothing at all.
Dr Zoidberg - Van Moro is well past his prime. If he were a deli salad, he'd be one of those ones that has been boxed up with a red, reduced sticker on it. Still edible, but highly likely to result in a stomach upset.
viffer - I have quite a few Van Morrison albums, mainly because some friends of mine at university in the late 70's / early 80's were HUGE Van fans. Otherwise I doubt I would have given him more than a cursory listen.
You're right that he's lost it over recent years; the last album we bought was Astral Weeks- Live at the Hollywood Bowl, and it's not the best. He sounds drunk (or else his false teeth don't fit properly) as his singing's pretty slurred (even more so than usual) and off-key, especially on the high notes. And there's one track in particular ("Beside You") that REALLY bugs me, as it sounds like his guitar is very out of tune, or the capo's not fitted properly.