Monday, 20 August 2018

Van Morrison - What's Wrong With This Picture (2003)




Released October 2003

Recorded in Somerset and Kilmurray, Ireland

Van Morrison went full on down the jazz route with this album, even so far as getting it released on the legendary Blue Note jazz label. There had been hints of jazz leanings in several of his previous albums, but on this one there were several jazz/laid back rock songs. Van can never steer far from the blues, however, and, by the end of the album, I find I feel far more bluesy than jazzy. For me, it is a blues album with quite a few jazz influences.

The opener, "What's Wrong With This Picture?" fits the description perfectly of a laid-back piece of jazzy rock. It has a firm drum sound, some excellent jazzy guitar, plus a bit of background typical Morrison blues harmonica and a good vocal in which Van even starts laughing at one point. It is clear from the very outset that the musicianship and sound quality is going to be of the highest quality. "Whining' Boy Moan" is a jaunty piece of fifties-sounding jazz, with Richard Dunn's Hammond organ to the fore and Van delivering an enthusiastic, confident jazz vocal before giving us some wailing saxophone. "Evening In June" finds us in more familiar territory - a reflective rhythmic song celebrating nature in a romantic fashion, as Morrison had done on many previous albums. It is far more melodic, slow tempo rock than jazz, although there are jazzy influences in the saxophone backing and the smoky solo.

Just when you thought Van had stopped his griping about this and that - misconceptions about him, the music industry and so on, he gets a little dig in about there being "Too Many Myths" concerning him that are eating in the way of a relationship. It's all about the pesky "fame game" with Van in these later years. He won't let it rest. No matter, really, as it sounds bluesy impressive and powerful. He could sing the telephone directory over this backing, to be honest, and it would sound good. "Somerset", however, is a return to a smooth, romantic feeling as Van waxes lyrical about "sipping cider in the shade..." over an addictive saxophone, bass and drum brush backing. It also features the legendary Acker Bilk on clarinet. Kudos for that one. It is a nice, relaxing song. Very chilled out and summery. "Meaning Of Loneliness" continues the quiet ambience with Van ruminating about solitude, frustration and the fact it takes "more than a lifetime to get to know yourself...". There is some delicious saxophone and organ on this one. He still finds time to namecheck philosophers Nietzche and Hesse and then going all "scat" at the end. The tempo changes now for the frantic, almost jazz meets skiffle "Stop Drinking" - a old blues song about giving up wine and drinking gin and champagne instead. It is an immaculately played piece of upbeat fun. Van is audibly enjoying himself, growling, blowing saxophone, controlling the band effortlessly.

Having to much of a good time, Van? Time for another moan, surely? Here we go - "What will it take for them to leave me alone - I'm just a guy who sings songs..." he complains, going on about living in a "Goldfish Bowl" and the pitfalls of celebrity. It's a great blues song, for sure, but the message is starting to grate somewhat by now. It's been a feature of most albums since 1991's "Hymns To The Silence". "I don't have no hit record, I don't have no TV show, so why should I have to live in this goldfish bowl?..." he muses, again and again. I think he does a pretty good job of staying out of the limelight, actually. The lively, pleasant "Once In A Blue Moon" is the obvious commercial song on the album - like the previous "Hey Mr DJ" and "Precious Time"). It is a singalong number and most pleasant on the ear.

Over the years, Van has liked the odd "death and illness" song, and he goes us one here now, with a cover of the old blues "Saint James Infirmary". He does it brilliantly, full of gravitas and New Orleans blues dignity. Great stuff. "Little Village" has Van going Celtic for the first time on the album, harking back to some of those great seventies/early eighties albums. It is laid-back Celtic soul of the kind he just does so damn well. It builds to a really beautiful climax, certainly one of my favourite tracks on the album. One more song about fame? sure, ok. We get "Fame" where Van tells us not to "buy any of that old Andy Warhol guff...". Come on, Van, you love it really. It is another good blues number, though. "Get On With The Show" has a horn intro worthy of Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes and it has a late fifties-style Drifters-style hook and a sumptuous brass backing and a strong soulful vocal, but there is a gripe under all that musical magnificence. Van just wants to be left alone to get on with the show....

B

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