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*** VAN MORRISON "Enlightenment" Mercury

RECORD RACK

December 02, 1990|RICHARD CROMELIN

It takes Morrison's most intense singing in years, and a return to his bedrock of vintage soul and R&B, to rescue many of the songs here. The record is full of spontaneous interjections and exhortations, and the long fade-outs have an immediacy and life that's rare on mainstream records these days.

"Enlightenment's" intriguing subtext is its focus on roots. The lyrics are often couched as reminiscences, the R&B sound recalls Morrison's formative days, and he even quotes some of his own early lyrics: "Baby please don't go" (from his days with the group Them), and "down by the viaducts of my dream" from his classic solo debut, "Astral Weeks."

But the main text comes up short. The spiritual soulster's reverie on a serene paradise, his latest visit to Celtic heaven, his surrender to a higher force, his love songs . . . all are over-familiar or underdeveloped.

The great exception is "In the Days Before Rock 'n' Roll," a prime piece of Morrison bravado and eccentricity. Irish poet Paul Durcan barks an unschooled, strangely cadenced narration (at one point he even come in a bar early, in the spirit of the Kingsmen's famous muff in "Louie Louie"), and Morrison captures a fullness of emotion in his detailed remembrance of his youth.

If you turn the volume way up after it ends, you can hear Durcan say, "You certainly got a lot of beautiful things in there, Van." He got that right.

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