Friday, June 15, 2007

No. 19: Astral Weeks

Band: Van Morrison
Album: Astral Weeks
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Morrison's transition album has some excellent storytelling, shown by "Madame George." Vocally, Morrison is uniquely soulful. To be totally honest, this is my first real exposure to it, so I'm still digesting it.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: If you're going with boomer singer/sonwriter pained records, "Blood on the Tracks" is probably better. Again, I'm not a big supporter of the "folk rock" thing, so a lot of this stuff goes over my head. Plus, "Moondance" is, in my mind, a better album.
Best song: The title track's lyrics are pretty awful, but it's a pretty good song. "Madame George" is epic.
Worst song: None of the songs are particularly terrible, but I'm not fall-down blown away, either.
Is it awesome?: I'm not sure. I'm just hearing it in full now and I do enjoy it. It's taking a bit to grow on me, but I'm leaning towards "awesome."

Some songwriters write disjointed lyrics in a way that the short clauses and sentences make sense, on the whole. Some have clever one-liners (think Pavement), while some are smart references to modern times (Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues"). Van Morrison's, however, seem to just be a phrase or two, repeated over and over.

The more I listen to "Astral Weeks," the more I believe Van Morrison when he says some of the songs were written in a "stream of consciousness" situation. "Cypress Avenue," nominally a song about the street where Morrison grew up, is like this. He says "Baby" a lot. He repeats lines. A lot. Van Morrison is one of the artists I expected to learn a little about in doing this project. "Astral Weeks" fits into this folky rock/soul thing and that's a genre to which I have never really warmed up.

With that said, one of the things I mention in my biases is that I prefer a record that experiments. "Astral Weeks" experiments. This record came out in 1967 and he took a songwriting route that only Dylan (a big experimenter himself) had done much of. His voice lilts and carries the lyrics with an intensity that most rock and roll singers can't even touch. Comparing what Morrison was doing on "Astral Weeks" to what Donovan was doing at the time, it's not even close as to who was more adventurous.

Which is to say that "Astral Weeks" is growing on me. I don't know if it belongs here, but it's certainly an interesting record and that's a huge compliment from me.


brix said...

I don't know Van Morrison that well, except that I really enjoy Astral Weeks. Part of that is definitely context, though, as I have a great vinyl copy that only really gets listened to in the summertime. It's a great album for fresh vegetables and beers on a June evening...

As far as justifying it on a Top 500 list, whatever. I don't feel the need to go into that.

R.J. said...

At the risk of getting into a topic that I'll address (basically) daily for the next year, the concept of a list of "greatest" albums is total bullshit. There's no accounting for taste and this project is largely a testament to that (my tastes clearly are different from the RS editors).

With that said, I think I need more time with "Astral Weeks." t was growing on me towards the end of my several listens and I imagine I could enjoy it more if I listened to it in a less hurried manner.

Still, I prefer "Moondance."

fft said...

Your instincts are right...this is a great album especially given when it was written. It does take some time. That said, this does fall into the category of "mood album" for me (like Pet Sounds imo). Sometimes you are in the mood for this dreamy, free-form stuff and sometimes you're not.