What does it sound like?:
Well I put my best foot forward, girded my loins, stiffened my resolve, and had a listen to this so you don’t have to.
I’m afraid it’s every bit as depressing as the album cover and song titles like ‘Fodder for the Masses’ and ‘Fighting Back is the New Normal’ might suggest. Yet more vague conspiracy theory winges. They are largely stimulated by Morrison’s objections to lockdown but with just a few minor changes most of these songs could equally be left wing protest songs about the likes of Johnson and Murdoch. Unfortunately that doesn’t make them any better; it’s actually part of the problem. Whatever it is he is protesting about, it is so unformed and uninformed that it is rendered meaningless.
But that isn’t the worst of it. The really depressing thing is how utterly lacking in inspiration this is musically. Mid tempo plodder after mid tempo plodder. Melodies ripped off from, but a shadow of, his own past material. Dull arrangements. Vocal performances which rarely rise above the perfunctory. He can do so much better than this and as recently as 2019 he did.
Two thirds of this record is wretched. But, this being Van, that isn’t quite all the story. In the final few tracks things become a little more Interesting. In ‘Absolutely Positively the Most’ Morrison channels Ray Charles in a song which offers joy and blessed relief from the ranting old man in a pub who everyone is trying to ignore.
And the final run of songs takes us back to a familiar Van trope, the horrors of being a celebrity and in the public eye. Of course the genre of rock star complaining about how hard it is to be a rock star justifiably produces derision and the worlds smallest violin. But at least he isn’t complaining about governments imposing lockdown. And it’s clear that he genuinely isn’t in a great place. On the one hand he knows nothing other than to get on stage or in the studio and perform, and it takes him away from everything else. On the other hand he hates being in the public eye (several songs here and on the last album reference his acrimonious divorce being contested in the public courts) and even hates what it takes to be on stage. Just listen to ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’, probably the best track on the album. He delivers a monologue about trying to relax before showtime – massage, read a good book, meet Bill Medley, avoid his agent – anything to get rid of self loathing before he goes on stage. And then on the final track he is pretending – ‘Pretending my life is not in ruins ‘Pretending I’m not depressed/Pretending I left it all behind/Pretending most of the time’. He craves being on stage but he’s even pretending on there. It’s brutally honest and it’s Van Morrison laying himself open in a way that at his best he always does. For better or worse (and lately it’s mainly been worse) he has no filter.
What does it all *mean*?
The biggest problems with this and the last record are Morrison’s irredeemably self centred griping and the musical dullness of too much of this material. But the other problem is that there’s so damn much of it. In the last year he has released the equivalent in old money of five – five! – albums. He couldn’t have done that in his prime without a reduction in quality and he certainly can’t now. But if he’d only ditched most of it there’s actually a pretty decent album – maybe even, at a push, a double – to be found in ‘Last Record Project Vol 1’ and ‘What’s it Gonna Take’. At the age of 76 he’s still capable of writing and performing songs which are worthy of his astonishing body of work. He’s still out there, on stage and in the studio working hard, and paying his dues. It’s just that 80% of these songs are decidedly not worthy. But in the other 20% there are still glimmers of what has made him one of the most compelling artists of the last 50 years.
Goes well with…
A lot of tolerance
Might suit people who like…
Van Morrison, through thick and thin