Sunday, June 04, 2006

Stop The Presses And Hold The F*cking Phone

Run, don’t walk. Get your hands on the first available copy of Van Morrison’s ASTRAL WEEKS (1968). Once again, my memory has proven to be worth exactly shite. In fact, I’m no longer altogether convinced that I ever actually listened to this album before. Man, I must’ve had me head up me arse, if I did.

What an album! I’ll try to describe it. But, you really should listen for yourself. I think of almost nothing with which to compare it. I can think of a multitude of things with which to contrast it. But, I’m not sure what else really compares. Again, I say that you really should listen for yourself.

Side 1 (“In The Beginning”)
Astral Weeks – 7:00
Beside You – 5:10
Sweet Thing – 4:10
Cyprus Avenue – 6:50
Side 2 (“Afterwards”)
The Way Young Lovers Do – 3:10
Madame George – 9:25
Ballerina – 7:00
Slim Slow Slider – 3:20

(All songs written by Van Morrison.)

The title track opens things up with an excellent example of what’s in store. Acoustic guitar, Van’s amazingly soulful vocals and emotionally vivid, lyrical imagery, accompanied by what seems to be improvisational jazz music. And, yes, there are some strings. But, this is certainly not an orchestra, but rather a small ensemble – very understated and well done. Oh, and did I mention that the bass player (Richard Davis) is out of this world? Wow. When Van sings, “Ain't nothing but a stranger in this world/I'm nothing but a stranger in this world,” it certainly rings true. I suppose the best way to describe this song (and album) is that you could easily lay back, close your eyes and drift off to a new, imaginary universe without a care in the world. Or, you could spend a seemingly infinite amount of time studying this music, painstakingly deconstructing and analyzing every ingredient. I would think it would work on either level, or just about anywhere in between.

“Beside You” continues in the same vein, and has a haunting aspect to it. Van’s vocals are so amazing. “You breathe in you breathe out you breathe in you breathe out you breathe in you breathe out you breathe in you breathe out” – just reading that, it becomes obvious that there are scant few singers in this world that could deliver it worth a damn. Thankfully, with Van it’s transcendent. Have I mentioned how soulful Van’s voice is?

“Sweet Thing” might well be the catchiest tune, not that it (or any other song on this album) was released as a single. I think that had to do with the legal agreement involving Van, his former record label (Bang) and his new record label (Warner Bros).

“Cyprus Avenue” is a song dedicated to that street of the wealthy, influential, “right side of the tracks” residents. The song, like the others on this album, is filled with wonderful imagery (e.g., “And the leaves fall one by one by one by one/Call the autumn time a fool” and “Yonder comes my lady/Rainbow ribbons in her hair/Six white horses and a carriage/She's returning from the fair”).

Side 2 begins with “The Way Young Lovers Do”, which is an upbeat number. I’m tempted to call it a “rocker”, but that would seem to stretch the definition of the word well beyond its standard usage. It does pack a bit of a punch, though.

“Madame George” brings us back to Cyprus Ave. This time, we are placed in the presence of the colorful character, Madame George. I’ve read that Van denies the character was a transvestite, although I’m not sure how else to interpret the line “In the corner playing dominoes in drag.” In any event, the song has a longing, nostalgic feel (“Dry your eyes for Madame George”).

“Ballerina” is yet another wonderful example of this unusual folk-rock-jazz fusion that Van and company concocted. It’s so mellow, and yet starkly powerful. It really defies description. Or, rather, my description does it little justice. You really have to hear this album. Have I mentioned that?

“Slim Slow Slider” presents another great opportunity to mention how phenomenal the bass player on this album is. Wow! Also, this song is as powerful vocally as any song on this album, which is certainly saying something. As with others here, this song is sung by an individual (Van) who appears to be dealing with incredible heartache (“I know you're dying/And I know you know it, too/Every time I see you/I just don't know what to do”). From what I’ve read, this song really took off on a long instrumental ending that would probably be interesting to hear. Alas, the producer, Lewis Merestein, determined that it was too sloppy or unrelated to the song itself (or some such shit). Thus, the song is faded out rather abruptly after the last lyrics are delivered. In any event, it’s a wonderful song.

This album is amazing. I’m really not sure what else to say. I don’t back off my earlier recommendation of Moondance at all. However, I can’t disagree that Astral Weeks is at least as good, if not better. I think both should damned near be required listening for any music fan. I’m still reeling over the fact that I went so long between listens. However, the joy of the re-discovery is fantastic!

Just a quick housekeeping note: I'm posting this on Sunday night, because I have a breakfast meeting in the morning (a fucking "breakfast meeting"--apparently, work knows no bounds). Next up is my last remaining Van Morrison album (well, not counting his earlier group Them).


Blogger rabidt said...

Nothing to add, really. Just wanted to say I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed this one. I knew that you would - I mean, how couldn't you! It's just too damn good!

10:24 PM, June 05, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

It didn't even sound familiar! The album was opened, and I think I listened to it at least once, way back when. Not sure what happened there...

I listened to it 4 times the other is AMAZING!!!

7:33 AM, June 08, 2006  

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