The Rewind Button – Van Morrison, Astral Weeksby LefebvreDave on Jul 20, 2012 • 7:34 am No Comments
(The Rewind Button is a group blogging project. Every week we review an album from Rolling Stone magazine’s greatest albums list.)
What a shift from one week to the next. To go from listening to Born to Run to Astral Weeks is like trying to shift from fifth to first gear on the highway.
I am however also recovering from four days at the Calgary Stampede and, to be quite honest, I can use some easy listening for the next week. Perhaps Van Morrison can be my lullaby.
Released in 1968, Astral Weeks wasn’t a chart topper. It was a slow burner. This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s listened to this album. No one song stands out, which explains why years after its release people can name the album but few can point to a specific song that inspires them. A Brown-eyed Girl, there is not. Thankfully.
I write thankfully because, as much as it is a classic song, the world only needs one. That this is Van Morrison’s first solo album and he chose to forgo a hit makes this effort a courageous one.
The strumming is beautifully intermittent in its force and rhythm, with hints of Spanish guitar peppered throughout. His voice as expressive as Springsteen’s without ever straining. The accompanying musicians lent a jazzy sound to his celtic tendencies. It was a marriage of motifs.
The title track opening the album is a sprawling seven minute journey. Lyrically, we’re in the land of Dylan – artists who puts both music and words on equal footing. Though his wailing at times borders on annoying, this could be due in part to my recovering, post-Stampede state. When he sings soulfully, he’s like Advil for my aches.
I’ve read people’s thoughts on what the cover of the album represents, but it really doesn’t do anything for me. It looks exactly as the esteemed reviewers describe: earthy, heavenly and misty. It probably looked dated even at the time.
Van Morrison’s influence is obvious in the works of Damien Rice, Ryan Adams and so many others. In my world, there will always be room for a man, his guitar and the feelings that pour out of both.
I hesitate to draw a comparison to Marvin Gaye, but I feel it’s worthwhile since both What’s Going On and Astral Weeks seem to share so much in common. What is different, however, is the social backdrop that influenced the former, the power of the lyrics that inspired others to pull social commentary into their music, and yes, the presence of a resounding hit. For this reason, Gaye belongs ahead of Van Morrison on this list.
While I could easily listen to this album over a candlelit dinner or while sipping a glass of wine, I can’t lose myself in it. My appreciation remains superficial. For this reason, I certainly don’t believe it belongs higher on this list of greatest albums, and I suspect it will fall lower as this experiment continues.
Astral Weeks is Rolling Stone Magazine’s 19th greatest album.
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