Tuesday, 17 July 2018
Van Morrison - Beautiful Vision (1982)
Released February 1982
Recorded in Sausalito, California
After the deeply spiritual quest that was the holy incarnation of 1980’s “Common One”, a work of genius to some, an intransigent indulgence to others, Van Morrison was off on the road in 1981 and 1982 before returning with this considerably more accessible album in 1982. A series of critically acclaimed gigs had seen Morrison, now 37, attain a position of respected elder statesman/great survivor in the music scene. Pun had been and gone, morphing into “post punk”, new wavers diversified and “New Romantics” preened around like pretty-boy peacocks, their dandy finery actually helping to give reliable old Van considerable appeal to anyone over the age of 23-23. I fell in to that category and he, and other artists cut from a similar cloth - Dylan, Young, Springsteen - provided an antidote to current “pop” trends, something people like me now wanted to eschew.
Van was Van. He would carry on doing what he wanted to do, irrespective of contemporary fashion. He felt like livening things up with this album and, to a certain extent, resisting some of that Celtic soul that had proved so popular ten to twelve years earlier. In some respects, then, this album was something of a throwback. There were airs of the Caledonian Soul Orchestra is the use of vibrant horns once again and the (comparatively) shorter length of some of the songs. Four or five minutes is short compared to the two fifteen minute tracks that were part of “Common One”’s six tracks only. It is certainly not a r’n’b album either. The music is Celtic and jazzy in much of its ambience.
1. Celtic Ray
2. Northern Muse (Solid Ground)
3. Dweller On The Threshold
4. Beautiful Vision
5. She Gives Me Religion
6. Cleaning Windows
7. Vanlose Stairway
8. Aryan Mist
9. Across The Bridge Where Angels Dwell
There is still a spiritual feeling to some of the album, just as Bob Dylan was going through his “Shot Of Love” religious phase in 1981, Morrison was contemplating religious matters on most albums now. He was also regularly ruminating on the beauty of the British Isles, and the years sent in the USA seemed to find him wanting to return home. In the laid-back, low-key but very Irish opener, “Celtic Ray” he references “Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales” and the next track, “Northern Muse (Solid Ground)” features some Celtic pipes in the wistful backing and has lyrical references to County Down. This is Irish as he has been since 1974’s “Veedon Fleece”. “Dweller On The Threshold” is a marvellously funky and jazzy, saxophone-driven piece of spiritual rumination with an absolutely infectious melody. Some great cymbal work on it too. The title track “Beautiful Vision” is vibrant and entrancing, all confident backing vocals and captivating refrains. “She Gives Me Religion” is all that and more, a celebration of a track with a superb vocal from Van and another addictive hook. It also has a sumptuous horn solo in the middle.
“Cleaning Windows” is a quirky addition - sort of funky and lively, it tells of the teenage Van’s time as a window cleaner, cleaning “number 36” while humming Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee blues songs in his head. Van namechecks so many blues and literary figures on this too. Again, it is infuriatingly catchy. No streams of consciousness here. Just fun. Yes, this, of all Van’s albums, is one of the most fun and generally happy. That is “Van happy” remember, which is probably not as happy as many of us.
“Vanlose Stairway” is another stately, dignified, backing vocal enhanced anthem, this time to a flight of stairs in Copenhagen, Denmark. It is a very uplifting track, largely due to Van's vocal soaring above the sweet saxophone backing and the the gospel backing voices, which send shivers down the spine. “Aryan Mist” is a musically jaunty and vocally sleepier reflective number. Van goes on about “going to the river to get clean”, “gurus” and a “fog of confusion hanging over the world”, as if he is back on his spiritual journey. After this, things go a bit more contemplative with the soothing “Across The Bridge Where Angels Dwell”, which is a peaceful track that would not have been out of place on “Common One”. The album ends with the peaceful instrumental, “Scandinavia”, which maybe gives a hint as to the direction the next album would take.