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VAN MORRISON Album by Album Discussion: Part 2 (Wavelength 1978 - Enlightenment 1990)

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Clarkophile, Nov 26, 2007.

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  1. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Through the Morning, Through the Night Thread Starter

    St. Thomas, ON
    Terrific, look forward to your dropping by.

    All right then, seeing as how my esteemed colleague wants this ship outta dry dock and it's my turn again, I'll throw something together and we'll recommence our Mutual Edification Society in the Study of Advanced Vanotology on Friday afternoon (tomorrow), say around 1:30. Cool?
  2. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Through the Morning, Through the Night Thread Starter

    St. Thomas, ON
    If the name Alice Bailey means nothing to you and you're worried about doing well on the Beautiful Vision quiz tomorrow, here's some CliffsNotes:

    :shh: I've heard Associate Professor DJ Wilbur will be patrolling the room to ensure no one is looking on his/her neighbour's paper. Pass the word.:shh: :angel:
  3. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Through the Morning, Through the Night Thread Starter

    St. Thomas, ON

    Side one
    1. "Celtic Ray" - 4:11
    2. "Northern Muse (Solid Ground)" - 4:05
    3. "Dweller on the Threshold" (music: Morrison; lyrics: Morrison, Hugh Murphy) - 4:49
    4. "Beautiful Vision" - 4:08
    5. "She Gives Me Religion" - 4:33

    Side two
    1. "Cleaning Windows" - 4:43
    2. "Vanlose Stairway" - 4:10
    3. "Aryan Mist" (music: Morrison; lyrics: Morrison, Murphy) - 4:00
    4. "Across the Bridge Where Angels Dwell" (music: Morrison; lyrics: Morrison, Murphy) - 4:31
    5. "Scandinavia" - 6:41


    * Van Morrison - Guitar, piano, saxophone, vocal
    * David Hayes - Bass guitar
    * Mark Isham - Synthesizer, trumpet
    * Rob Wasserman - Bass guitar
    * John Allair - Organ
    * Herbie Armstrong - Guitar, vocal
    * Pee Wee Ellis - Saxophone
    * Tom Donlinger - Percussion, drums
    * Sean Fulsom - Pipes
    * Chris Hayes - Guitar
    * Mark Knopfler - Guitar
    * Pauline Lozana - Vocal
    * Gary Malaber - Percussion, drums
    * Chris Michie - Guitar
    * Bianca Thornton - Vocal
    * Peter Van Hooke - Drums

    Neither holding pattern in the vein of A Period of Transition, nor challenging, audacious step into the extendo-mystic a la Common One, 1982's Beautiful Vision attempts to blend taut-'n'-smooth radio-friendly arrangements with Van's then-current obsessions, new girlfriend Ulla Munch, and Alice Bailey's work, Glamour-A World Problem, along with trusty standbys Ireland and spirituality.

    There's a slickness to the production on this album that tells me Van might've felt slightly humbled by the commercial failure of Common One; all of the songs except the instrumental closer, "Scandinavia," run, on average, around four or five minutes. There is no track continuing the ambitious, sweeping grandeur previously evinced in "Summertime in England", no soundtrack for personal contemplation like "When Heart is Open." (Although it should be noted there were reels and reels of lengthy takes for each song; the material was edited after the fact into bite-size pieces) In fact, in terms of production, there is nothing really to distinguish one song from another. (I used to entertain the cynical notion that one could lift the drum track from "Northern Muse (Solid Ground)" and place it onto the backing track of "She Gives Me Religion" and there would be no noticeable difference.)

    Such admittedly glib and smug notions aside, I have come to appreciate Beautiful Vision much more in the last few weeks than I have in the past, because, quite simply, Van is one helluva songwriter. These are all fantastic songs which approach spiritual subject matter without proselytizing. Van continues his theme of the man-woman-God relationship with "She Gives Me Religion," which is unfortunately marred by what sounds like some off-key singing by Van.
    The conscription of Alice Bailey's theories in "Dweller on the Threshold" are not particularly off-putting; the song stands on its own and continues to be performed to this day, and has become one of Van's most bullet-proof, enduring compositions. All of the live versions I've heard make the album version sound limp in comparison.

    I guess my problem with the production--quite apart from the songs which I've already indicated are uniformly strong--is that it feels clinical, safe; there's no edge to these performances. The drums, to conscript a term used by Sneaky Pete to describe the playing on A Period of Transition, sound four-square, laid back, perhaps even a little draggy in spots. Occasionally Van's personality brings a welcome tarnish to the antiseptic sheen: the chugging rhythm guitar on "Northern Muse (Solid Ground)" brings a semblance of personality to the proceedings, and I think there's a couple of spots where Van pops the microphone (from being too close, I would imagine), which creates a feeling of intimacy and immediacy.

    Van was indeed a working man in his prime, but far less inclined to undertake risks as he did on Common One. This is not necessarily a criticism, merely an observation, but a shift does appear to have taken place. On record anyway (as distinct from live performance), the Mystical Workout was now largely a thing of the past. Van would return to this style intermittently in the years to come, but never with the same spirit of "F-you" to anyone who questioned such pieces as an exercise in self-indulgence.

    Daring Night 1
    Daring Night 2
    Cleaning Windows 1
    Cleaning Windows 2
    Down the Road I Go
    Celtic Ray
    All Saints' Day
    Real Real Gone
    Tore Down a la Rimbaud
    Still a Man's World
    Lovin' You

    And is that one cheesy cover or what?:laugh:

    Attached Files:

  4. elborak

    elborak Forum Resident

    There are many reasons that a particular album (Van or otherwise) speaks to you. It may be the lyrics echo your own pain/joy; the mood fits yours; the artist fascinates you. One certainly, which is to a degree only evident in hindsight, is timing.

    This album was the first Van albums that I bought new. I was experiencing it not as a product of Van's past, but of his (and my) present. And it was a time of significant change in my life; graduated from HS in '80 and off to college with all of the upheaval (both good and bad) that brings with it.

    It's hard for me to be objective about this album. Van's best works have been a part of my life for nearly 30 years now, and I've already described how much Saint Dominic's Preview affects me, but there's more here. When I listen to this music, it takes me back 25 years to all of the events, all of the feelings, all of the friends that were part of my life. Some are still part of my life, most are not. Had I been born a year sooner, I'd probably feel less about this album and more about Into The Music (which I do feel is a better album in most ways). But I wasn't. And so this album, more than any in Van's catalog, has a direct tie to me.

    Another interesting aspect is that I can't think of the songs out of the context of the album; it's a whole work that has a place in my mind and heart independent of the qualities of the individual songs.

    That said, I don't want to give the impression that the only reason I love this album is the memories. It really is a fine effort from Van (albeit a notch below his absolute classics). "Cleaning Windows", while perhaps a bit trite or obvious, nonetheless works. "Dweller on the Threshold" is also strong. But it's more the slower pieces that really work for me. "She Gives Me Religion" & "Across The Bridge Where Angels Dwell" are simply beautiful both in writing and in performance. The sequencing feels perfect. Perhaps the only weak song would be "Scandinavia" and even that works fine as essentially a long closing fade.

    Bottom line is that this is one of the top 3 or so Van's to me, right up there with Astral Weeks and Saint Dominic's Preview. Not for reasons that will necessarily resonate with others, but I can't separate the emotion of the time from the album that was its contemporary.

    Time to go listen again... it's been too long.
  5. curbach

    curbach Some guy on the internet

    The ATX
    Yeah, me too.

    I'm not a great fan of this one mostly for all the shortcomings Tom cites (it's eerie how frequently Tom's mini-reviews echo my own thoughts on these albums). An additional problem for me is that I heard Live At The Opera House, Belfast first which includes most of these tracks. Thus, there was not much joy of discovery for me upon hearing this album--and most of the songs sounded better live.

    That said I absolutely love "Dweller On The Threshold", "Across The Bridge Where Angels Dwell", and "Vanlose Stairway". I also enjoy "Scandinavia" (spoiler alert: if that sounds like a hint to you that I might also be a big fan of Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart, you're right). But on the whole this album has never fully engaged me.

    I have the un-remastered Canadian Cinram pressing of this disc and I do not think sounds too great. As noted above I haven't listened to it in awhile and my sytem has changed, so it is due for a reappraisal. One thing I've learned from the discussions here is that Canadian masterings often do not match their American and European counterparts. So I'd be curious what other versions people have heard and their impressions (including the remaster).
  6. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Through the Morning, Through the Night Thread Starter

    St. Thomas, ON
    Anyone else think the cover looks like a third-rate New Age album you would see in the cut-out bins?

    Every time I see it, I imagine I'm looking through the screen on the bridge of the Enterprise.

    MR. SPOCK: Scanners detect something dead ahead, Captain.
    CAPT. KIRK: Put it on screen, Mr. Spock.
    DR. MCCOY: What in blazes is it, Jim?
    CAPT. KIRK: I...I...I...don't...know, Bones. Evasive action, Mr. Sulu.

    ...and so on.:laugh:
  7. curbach

    curbach Some guy on the internet

    The ATX
    Agreed. Not one of his better covers. But there are worse to come :sigh:
  8. elborak

    elborak Forum Resident

    Very soon, in fact... ;)
  9. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Through the Morning, Through the Night Thread Starter

    St. Thomas, ON
  10. elborak

    elborak Forum Resident

    I do agree with you, Tom, that the overall feel of the album was as if Van were trying for radio success (if I interpret your comments correctly). The tightness (or, if you prefer, sterility) of the production, song lengths, minimizing of the "rambling Van" style, all point to an attempt to reach (probably unsuccessfully) a different or expanded audience.

    Personally, the slickness of it doesn't bother me for most of the tracks. It intrudes a few times, such as on "Scandinavia", but never to the point of completely breaking the mood. And the tightness works well in other spots, such as "Across the Bridge Where Angels Dwell", with the entrance of the flute early in the song, the way the background singers are mixed pretty far back so that they only really stand out when Van gets soft, the flute returning for the bridge, magic. :love: There are moments when the tight arrangements and production are reminiscent of Moondance, which may have been the goal.

    The album cover would be merely generic 80s if it weren't for that stupid hand! One of the advantages of the CD over the vinyl I guess is a smaller cover in this case. I have the 1990 Warner CD release and have never noticed any issues with the sound, but haven't done any sort of critical listening for any flaws. My old vinyl is in mothballs somewhere, likely pretty beat from years of heavy rotation.
  11. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Through the Morning, Through the Night Thread Starter

    St. Thomas, ON
    Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against the "raddio";) or Van's attempting to reach a wider audience. I guess I was just lamenting the fact that the chances he took with the Common One experiment had now been, for all intents and purposes, effectively abandoned, and a more conventional, MOR sound/approach now carried the day. Acch! Call me crazy, but I still say it would be thrilling to have had an album consisting entirely of extended mood pieces/Mystical Workouts.

    Cut it out, man, you're killing me here.:laugh:

    DJ WILBUR The Cappuccino Kid

    this is one of the Van records I explored right after Poetic Champions Compose came out and when I gobbled up all the early 80s work. Beyond the heinous album cover (and really just how many of Vans album covers are heinous...this thread is making me realize more than I woulda guessed :D )

    I completely connected with "Cleaning Windows"; immediately and its become one of my guilty van pleasures and the highpoint of this album for me. I guess my years "scrubbing pots" in the Booth Memorial hospital kitchen made me pretty humble to identify with the message of this song, the breath and be in the moment vibe.

    Other than the common man vibe of that song this album always seemed to stride along that romance and spirituality high wire Van always seems to be teetering on with all the records I seem to most admire in his cannon. This is the kind of Van album I'd put on in the background if I had someone over who "knew" Van but didnt really. A great background or foreground listen this one....

    Celtic Ray, wow, what an opener. I was a tres celtic music fan when I got this record...exploring things like Enya (no craics), Clannad, Chieftians, the Pogues, it was much appreciated, this celtic energy of the celtic rays. the mystical and spiritual on the Stairway, the Mist and the dwellers....the majority of this album is well written and crafted and a fantastic band backing him up.

    I love this album, just not his stop over in Scandinavia :eek: , god its like Yanni invaded this great listen...

    .....I think, for me, Beautiful Visions greatest charm; and one of the things that made me a Van fan, is here is a guy who proved once again he's not too 'glamorous" to be cleaning them windows!

    DJ WILBUR The Cappuccino Kid

    :crazy: ok, I call you crazy.

    whats becoming apparent from this thread is the man takes a right or left turn with just about every album release and no two albums in this period seem to be a logical progression to me. Hey, maybe Van is the crazy one.
  14. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Through the Morning, Through the Night Thread Starter

    St. Thomas, ON
    This comment made me craic a smile.;)

    "Across the Bridge Where Angels Dwell" feels like the natural album closer. It's got that "Amen" feel that you sometimes get at the end of a cohesive work.
    "Scandinavia", one can now see with benefit of hindsight, acts as like a bridge to the New Age Yannification of the next album.
  15. tfarney

    tfarney Active Member

    I can often scan reviews of a familiar artist on allmusic.com and find myself nodding my head. Other times they just confuse me. Beautiful Vision is a great example; at 2.5 stars it is the lowest rated Van album in the first 15 years of the man's solo career. I don't get that. Then, to confuse me more, they open with this:

    OK...someone is gonna have to 'splain that one to me. What I hear is nothing like Common One but, rather, a hard right turn. If Into The Music already had one foot in the territory Van would occupy throughout most of the 80s, Common One represented one quick step back and Beautiful Vision is a full arrival. With its neat, conventional song structures, Celtic and spiritual themes, spirited side steps into R&B and concluding lush instrumental, Beautiful Vision has much more in common with Poetic Champions Compose, No Guru, No Method, No Teacher and Inarticulate Speech of the Heart than it does with Common One or any of its cosmic soulman precedents. I don't think it quite lives up to the albums in its vein that will soon follow, and I'm not sure what the problem is. Slick production, as Tom says? Dated production as allmusic supposes, after they completely misunderstand everything else? Maybe. I do know that a few of these songs turn up on Live At The Grand Opera House Belfast, and they seem to have grown in substance and impact with time.

    Beautiful Vision is still a good listen though. It may be a weak spot in this period, but it could have been a career-defining leap of faith for many lesser artists.

  16. curbach

    curbach Some guy on the internet

    The ATX
    Allmusic is often difficult to take seriously :rolleyes:
  17. albert_m

    albert_m Forum Resident

    Atl., Ga, USA
    I don't see how this one was aimed for the radio. I felt like he was transitioning towards the light new agey/adult contemporary sound that would dominate from here through Hymns to the Silence. That said Mark Knopfler and some of the others involved gave it a little more soul.

    For me Celtic Ray, Cleaning Windows, Beautiful Vision,Vanlose Stairway
    and Aryan Mist are fine songs.
  18. curbach

    curbach Some guy on the internet

    The ATX
    So I gave Beautiful Vision a spin last night and was immediately reminded why I don't like the sound of this disc. The high-hat is ridiculously high in the mix. By midway through "Northern Muse" I'm ready to pull a John Belushi and grab the entire high-hat assembly and start smashing it against the wall. Note that this problem is not present on the two tracks recorded with the alternate drummer. But even beyond the high-hat from hell the recording just isn't very good. Kind of thin generally, and a lot of the instruments sound muffled (strangely including all of the drumkit except the high-hat). Only the organ seems to have been captured very well.

    I also listened to "Cleaning Windows" and "Dweller" from the remastered Best Of cd and they sound better in some ways, worse in others (overall I would say worse due to excessive brightness). Anyway, given the recording/mix/production of this album I doubt any mastering is going to turn it into a sonic marvel.

    I also discovered I like "Celtic Ray" and "Cleaning Windows" a lot more than I remembered. I was pondering Tom's tidbit that all these tunes were edited down from much longer takes as I listened. "Vanlose Stairway" really stood out as a song that probably suffered from the editing. That one really could have been afforded some more time, and when it ends it feels like it's ending due to time constraints rather than any artistic intent. Like the engineer said "Oops, we're out of time. Start the fade".
  19. MikeP5877

    MikeP5877 Non-essential

    I like Beautiful Vision overall but for the most part I prefer the live versions found on Live In Belfast, especially Northern Muse and Vanlose Stairway. And yes the high-hat is way too high, though I liked it back in the days when used to play cassette tapes in my car.

    I didn't know Daring Night originated from these sessions. I'd love to hear those early versions. It's one of my all-time favorite Van songs.
  20. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Through the Morning, Through the Night Thread Starter

    St. Thomas, ON
    Oh, me too!

    Theoretically anyway, it seems one would be able to assemble deluxe editions of all of Van's records with what's in the vaults, which makes the few additions to the forthcoming re-ishes look even skimpier.
  21. MikeP5877

    MikeP5877 Non-essential

    Maybe he's saving the extras for Philosopher's Stone Volumes 2 through 10.

    DJ WILBUR The Cappuccino Kid

    i'm beginning to think we'll never see this stuff....based on the bonus tracks on the reissues....he's probably not keen on all the vault stuff coming out.
  23. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Through the Morning, Through the Night Thread Starter

    St. Thomas, ON
    A lot of regulars we haven't heard from---Sneaky Pete I'm looking in your direction, sir.:D :thumbsup:

    DJ WILBUR The Cappuccino Kid

    Rolling Stone album review for Beautiful Vision

    Last winter at the Great American Music Hall, Van Morrison shushed his band to a whisper and let the Bay Are a faithful in on a secret: "Listen to the quiet ... that silence is the heart"–or did he say "art"?–"of my songs." On the farewell fade of "When Heart Is Open" from 1981's Common One, Morrison's moody moans locked horns with that same solitude, and it sounded as if he'd been abandoned at midnight to sweep the echoes from the studio. "Number thirty-six," Morrison boasts, referring to his age amid the serious silliness (and vice versa) of Beautiful Vision's "Cleaning Windows." "What's my life?" asks the man who's followed many paths to seek a few basic answers. "I have been cleaning windows," he continues. "Take my time, I'll see you when my love grows/Don't let it slide, I'm a working man in my prime/Cleaning windows."

    Morrison aficionados (those likely to be on their fourth copies of Astral Weeks and Moondance) have long known to ask of a new record: is it mellifluously introspective or upbeat and self-absorbed? But since his last demonstrably Astral Weeks-like work (1974's Veedon Fleece), Morrison has mixed his palette and blurred these distinctions. What's remained constant is his emotional blending of the heart's romantic and spiritual concerns. For Van Morrison, romance is religion, and there's nothing more religious than a woman. Beautiful Vision is so emphatically half-great that if you dumped the four bad tunes, put the borderline case on hold and didn't judge the instrumental, the LP's sequential and thematic integrity would be strengthened. What's left – "Celtic Ray," "Dweller on the Threshold," "Cleaning Windows," "Across the Bridge where Angels Dwell"–is a cogent statement of belief that finds Morrison touching his dangerously dogmatic themes with the grace of God.

    Van Morrison's honey-cut blues voice aims for an emotional Esperanto, so it's no surprise that the words Celtic, Aryan and Scandinavia crop up in song titles. "Celtic Ray" opens the album like a sunrise. Adorned with jazzy bagpipes and a rich, rhythmic hook in the chorus, the composition moves from a bucolic morning into an evening of dark vearning. Morrison hears the mothers calling the children and recognizes their maternal voice–is it the call of love? family? country? "How could you leave America? How could you let me down?" asked Morrison in "Street Choir." Today, he's grateful that Europe hasn't let him down. And he's forgiven America, too.

    "I heard Leadbelly and Blind Lemon," sings the Irish soul man in delicious self-harmony in "Cleaning Windows," nodding to those American artists as he did to William Blake and other eternals. The night questioned all of their souls, and "Dweller on the Threshold" finds fellow disciple Morrison expressing his love-lust with Biblical fervor. He's a realistic creature, possessing both doubt ("I have seen without perceiving I have been another man") and faith ("I will sing the songs of ages/And the dawn will end the night"). Swinging atop a staccato horn arrangement, Morrison is seduced by the search, and when he innocently wishes to "travel even higher," the romantic effect is just like Jackie Wilson said.

    Hung on a metaphor as clear as glass, "Cleaning Windows" applies one night's notions to a lifetime. It's the LP's musical highlight as well, with a guitar-organ combination reminiscent of the Band, and a jumping sax solo to boot. Shaking himself awake each morning, the dedicated romantic looks to see how he's grown. Peppered with fraternal details that recall "And It Stoned Me," "Cleaning Windows" boldly restates the self-help maxim that you are your own best friend.

    As sure as the work bell signals quitting time, the satisfied mind must eventually look "Across the Bridge where Angels Dwell." His voice floating above chiming guitars and rippling flutes, Van Morrison effectively resolves Beautiful Vision's song cycle with this tune. (The concluding instrumental, "Scandinavia," is used as a laconic coda.) "Across the bridge where angels he," he sings, "children play." Here's where the kids went in "Celtic Ray," but their mothers needn't worry, because even beyond death's door, little boys like Morrison find comfort in the company of women.

    "Aryan Mist" is the best of the lesser numbers, and its talk of "gurus from the East, gurus from the West" underscores the international nature of Morrison's concerns. Though heavy-handed, it's positively lightweight compared to "She Gives Me Religion," in which the singer is like a poker player showing the dealer his cards. Eschewing art for the obvious. Morrison's baldlaced lyrics belittle the organic depth of the album's finest compositions. The three female backup singers, whose stilted style is lethal when they serve as more than window dressing, toss additional salt into the wound.

    Similar damage is inflicted on "Vanlose Stairway," though a moment of grace is achieved when the artist follows a guttural request to "send me your Bible" with "send me your guitar." Van Morrison's voice can usually salvage even his most tepid material, but nothing less than a rewrite could save "Northern Muse (Solid Ground)," a dizzying string of clichés from Morrison himself ("She makes me whole ... lifts me up, fills my cup") and others (including Bob Dylan's "If you see her, say hello"). The effect is that of a man looking for his romantic roots and tripping over his shoelaces.

    When Morrison covered Ray Charles' "I Believe to My Soul" on 1974's live It's Too Late to Stop Now, he was testifying to the same female mystic as on Beautiful Vision. Sometimes he stumbles when he lets his brain trivialize his heart. His successes, however, stand tall above a general stream of transient pop that wouldn't know soul from strawberries. Glamour is the LP's buzzword (the liner notes refer to a book called Glamour: a World Problem), but Van Morrison remains impervious to fickle fashion. He is simply one of rock & roll's greatest singers, and his special charm is that he's not too proud to clean windows. (RS 364)

  25. Sneaky Pete

    Sneaky Pete Senior Member

    I've been reading but I haven't had time for a proper post. I'll try to weigh in tonight.

    Let me just say this album is a real sleeper. It grew on me over time and I found that I listened to it a great deal. It was similar to Poet Champions Compose in that respect.
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