thu 19/05/2022

Album: Van Morrison - What's It Gonna Take? | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Van Morrison - What's It Gonna Take?

Album: Van Morrison - What's It Gonna Take?

Pernicious lockdown conspiracies, leavened by depressed confessions

The mystifying chasm between Van Morrison’s personality and music became total with last year’s Latest Record Project Volume 1, as masterfully sung, textbook R&B rolled under biliously paranoid words.

This 28-song more than double-album was loaded with the likes of “The Long Con”, which found Van “targeting individuals” who are “pulling the strings” and “trying to erase me”, as he came out fighting mad at lockdown, and the pandemic’s temerity in keeping him offstage. Despite singing “Why Are You On Facebook?”, Van seemed to have swallowed the social media Kool Aid.

Now, here are 15 more songs, several not much shorter than “Madame George”, but misplacing its choleric grandeur and humane ache. What’s It Gonna Take?’s cover – Cold War-era sheeple manipulated on a hidden puppet-master’s strings – is Van’s equivalent to Born Again Dylan’s Saved, in which God’s hand pointed down in blazing judgement, demolishing any possible doubt as to where he’s at.

Near eight-minute opener “Dangerous” finds Van quietly satisfied at his last opus’s savage reviews – clearly, he’s doing something right, “too close to the truth…calling them on all their lies”. “Somebody said it was about the da-ta,” he says, ironically spitting and snapping the last word, before asking for “proof” which will never satisfy. The Hammond-heavy music and Van’s singing are meanwhile buoyant and wholly at ease, stretching out as if at a gig. Though this album is on the planet’s biggest major label, he’s making records with a liberty matched only by Neil Young.

Anyone still pining for the Sixties generation to re-engage, for Jagger to write another “Sympathy for the Devil” or McCartney a “She’s Leaving Home” – well, Van is absolutely plugged into the nightly news, furiously taking notes. “No more Economic Forum,” he declares on the brooding, Ray Charles-like “Money from America”, which finds “Prince Charles…at the burning Gates”. “Gates is playing God/Government keeps lying,” “Can’t Go On This Way” says, ramming the conspiracy home. “Don’t know what to do about the common cold in the head…”

It’s easy to pick button-pushing lines, as the album’s monomania sinks in. On “Fighting Back Is the New Normal”, he’s “gonna stop sitting on the fence…take a tip from the French”, also quoting from James Brown’s Nixon-era “I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I’ll Get It Myself)”, as he imagines himself on the barricades with the gilets jaunes’ Civil Rights frauds. “If you don’t accept the drip, gonna call you a conspiracy theorist…” “Fodder for the Masses” advises. “Fill you up with fake news for their masters”; “Damage and Recovery” castigates “snowflakes hiding in their houses”. Messianic conviction that only he and his fellow travellers can see clearly, and contempt for the “masses”’ blind ignorance, permeates every line.

And yet, the oppressive cloud lifts as this album heads home. “Absolutely Positively the Most”, with its Latin Hammond groove and gospel harmonies, preaches that “love is the law”, and “we’re all part of the same whole”, and the country swing of “I Ain’t No Celebrity” returns to the relative comfort of abiding Van gripes.

Then, with the staccato stream of consciousness of “Fear and Self-Loathing in Las Vegas”, we’re abruptly in the emotional heart of things. Thin Hammond stabs and tense beats stalk Van as he awaits showtime in the Nevada night, trying to “learn how to love myself” and taping new songs just to “pretend everything’s alright”, a lugubrious sax solo bringing the steamy atmosphere of Mob-era showbiz, before a crystalline haze of piano conjures true R&B beauty. “Pretending” is still more nakedly personal, a confessional of depression and professional displacement, vaguely blaming a woman, but really stewing in introspection at a life “in ruins”: “pretending I’m in the present tense/I’m really miles away in a trance”; “pretending I’m sleeping at night”. The music’s rolling grace brews up into Too Late To Stop Now-style brass. Avalon Sunset or Enlightenment at their best also come to mind, as Van lets go of his prosaic rage, and is transported.

Listen back to earlier lyrics here - “You can’t go out dancing/Can’t find any joy” on “Can’t Go on This Way”, or “Nervous Breakdown”, where “breakdown” and “breakthrough” blur, and Van is saying that being prevented from performing has literally made him ill. After being denied live music’s healing for so long, millions would sympathise. His song avalanche’s response is typically egocentric, pernicious, and already outdated, as his current US tour continues unimpeded. Hope also remains for his art, despite its current, bizarre terminus.

Van is saying that being prevented from performing has literally made him ill

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters