Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Album Review: Van Morrison - Born To Sing: No Plan B

Rating: B+
When I heard my passionate man crush Van Morrison was coming out with a new album, I responded with screams of "NOOOO," whispers of "WHYYYYY," and maybe even a few humongous tears.  I thought that Van Morrison making an album in 2012 would be a shame because his earlier works had accomplished one of the rarest of rare musical feats: they had defined multiple generations.  With lyrical themes about love, joy, peace, and patience, a brilliant fusion of acoustic folk and jubilant jazz, and some of the most vivid yet simple songwriting of his time, Morrison's first four albums (Blowin' Your Mind, Astral Weeks, Moondance, and His Band and The Street Choir) were not only able to define the generation, but future generations beyond that.  The albums were filled with calming and gorgeous atmospheres, soaring and soulful choruses, and timeless track after timeless track.  The albums were not only classics of their time, but reminders that even though every passing generation will say it is the most significant and most important generation that has ever existed, we are really all going through the same struggles, same divisions, and same general experiences.  Van Morrison's music wasn't the product of his time, but time was a product of Van Morrison.  Because of his ability to make timeless music and his ability to make sure that music sounded great to any listener in any decade, Van Morrison was truly one of the more unique musicians of any time.

Because of the uniqueness of his canon it was hard to expect anything from Born To Sing: No Plan B but total disaster. I expect Morrison, the classic timeless yet time defining musician, to try to modernize and become a product of this generation. I expected Morrison to switch the algorithm that made me love his music so much and become a product of this time instead of letting time be a product of his every lyric, chorus, and relaxing guitar riff.  I was scared that a Morrison come back would result in Morrison trying to be the voice of a generation he was already the soundtrack to based on his previous works.  I was scared that Born To Sing: No Plan B was going to be the black eye, the asterisk, and the downhill spiral in a career that was filled with universality, timeless tunes, and four near perfect albums.

I am happy to say that I could not have been more wrong about BTS.  Instead of trying to modernize his sound, Morrison actually improves his previous soundscapes: the album fuses smooth jazz and "Into The Mystic" type of folk absolutely perfectly, every song on here is an absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous jam session that will make you want even more.  Morrison takes all of the qualities that made his previous canon so "non generational" and beautiful and combines them: the instrumentation on this album is more soulful then Astral Weeks, it combines folk and "sexy jazz" better than Moondance, and is produced better than Blowin Your Mind and His Band And Street Choir.  The result is a shocking,stimulating, and timeless musical experience: even though the album is over an hour long the instrumentation is so soulful and calming that the album could go on for another hour and you would not even notice, the instrumentation is so well done and diverse that you can cry to it, bang to it, or bang and cry to it, and the instrumentation combines Van's canon so well that it does an even better job at being "non-generational."  Instead of defining just this generation, BTS is a beautiful musical reminder of why Van could define any generation and why this album may be able to define any future generations.  Even the generations that do not have the pleasure of having Van Morrison.

Even though Morrison is 67 years old and lost his iconic Moondance mustache long ago, his songwriting style remains peaceful, transcendental, and universal.  Even though his voice is a little cracked and he might even sound a little grumpy, Morrison lyrics are still just as good as they used to be. They are still the lyrics that can be the soundtrack to the first time you fell in love, they are still the lyrics that combine imagery with simplicity better than the instrumentation combines folk with smooth jazz, and they still provide important commentary on issues that are important for any generation. The instrumentation on BTS may be the perfect combination of all of his previous works, but the lyricism is great because it reminds you of all of Morrison's previous songwriting yet none of it at the same time. If the stories are the same, the characters are different.  If the stories are different, the themes are the same. Morrison is still the songwriter who can make you fall in love, imagine places that are to beautiful for the human mind to comprehend, and provide you with catchy lines about current issues, but he is also a wiser and more experienced teller of these stories.  This means that Morrison is writing from his reflective "Retreat And View," and his words seem even more powerful and "non generational" then they ever did before.

On BTS the equation remains the same.  No matter how old he is, what year he is making music in, and what genre of music he is making, Van Morrison will always be one of the few musicians who makes time a product of himself instead of just being a product of his time.  When you expect Morrison to be washed up, boring, and a product of his generation, he comes back as more creative, more soulful, and even more reflective.  BTS is another Morrison album that is soulful, sexy, and personal enough to be the soundtrack to your personal life, but is universal enough to be the soundtrack the soundtrack to someone's life in 1968 and even 2068.  Even though Morrison confidently hoarsely yells about being "Born To Sing," he might be doing himself a drastic and embarrassing disservice. Morrison's legacy isn't that he was just "Born To Sing," it was that he was born to sing songs that anyone can make anyone from any generation can make theirs.  He is a mathematician who came up with the formula of musical universality that no one had been able to think of before.  The last powerful thought you will have after BTS is that one day he will be gone, but his music will literally continue to live on for any generation.  When Morrison is gone, the universe will continue to dance to his music.  Because he keeps making the soundtracks for it to dance to.


1. Open The Door (To Your Heart)
2. Goin' Down To Monte Carlo
3. Born To Sing
4. End of The Rainbow
5. Close Enough For Jazz
6. Mystic of The East
7. Retreat and View
8. If In Money We Trust
9. Pagan Heart
10. Educating Archie

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