The worst of Covid’s over, but singer just won’t leave it alone
It’s my anything but humble opinion that Sir Van Morrison is one of the finest songwriters in the world.
In my estimation, Tupelo Honey ranks alongside the greatest love songs of all time, Gloria is up there with the best rock anthems and Brown Eyed Girl, whether Van likes it or not, is the catchiest pop song that’s ever been composed.
I could have been picked dozens of songs to put up there in my lists of classics that make him stand apart from his peers, yet I know that in Northern Ireland there are plenty of detractors who have no time for the man from Belfast’s Hyndford Street because they don’t like him.
Me? I don’t care about his social graces or lack thereof. But what I do care about is how Van seems to have lost the run of himself of late as a songwriter.
Ever since Covid-19 restrictions were imposed, he has taken to writing songs attacking the lockdowns and the science surrounding them.
Some of the tracks on a double album last year were dreadful dirges, but now Van has released another album called What’s It Gonna Take? It came out a month ago and, having read largely critical reviews, I listened to the album with a sense of dread, but I didn’t rush into judgement.
I’ve now given the 15 songs on the 80-minute recording a fair wind. Sadly, I have to say that many of them lived down to my expectations, but not all of them.
Most of the opening songs are depressingly disappointing vehicles for Van to let rip with his now all-too-familiar whining about the media, fake news, the ‘lying’ government and lockdowns. There’s also the already well-publicised song Dangerous, which has echoes of his row with Health Minister Robin Swann.
Even Prince Charles, who gave Sir Van his knighthood, gets a touch in Money from America, alongside Vallance, Hancock, Ferguson and Whitty.
Online, Van’s fans have been divided in their critiques.
One of the most negative responses came from one who wrote: “On Dangerous, he wants proof of Covid. I could have told him myself that it was real. At the time Van was sat at home sulking because he couldn’t play live, I was on the front line, working in a nursing home.
“He also calls Covid the common cold, but I’ve never lost as many patients at one time.”
On the other hand, another reviewer described the album as “classic Van”. They wrote: “The lyrics are spot on. [It’s] so refreshing to find a brave artist who is awake to what is going on the world.”
As I say, not all the songs on What’s It Gonna Take? are grim. Van has also managed to come up with a few crackers that stand up to comparison with a lot of his earlier work.
Pretending is a soulful gem and the brilliant Fear and Self Loathing in Las Vegas is a deeply personal and introspective song in which he sings about learning “to love myself to get rid of the self-loathing” and how good it is to be “above ground”.
He also references preparing an affidavit for a court case (against Robin Swann, presumably) and about his need to see his two children, who live in Dublin.
With Van playing in Vegas and embarking on an extensive tour of the States ahead of a busy summer in Europe, it’s clear he’s making up for time lost during the lockdowns that annoyed him so much.
Another song on the new album is intriguing. A few months ago, Van told an acquaintance of mine that his friends call him Ivan, and on Stage Name, he sings about his nickname not being his real name, just in the way that the likes of Cliff Richard performs under a moniker.
Unlike the mixed reactions to the album, the response to Van’s live shows has been almost exclusively positive.
Having seen him in Derry, I can vouch for his continued brilliance on stage, but from one Ivan to another, I just wish he would change the record now that the worst of Covid appears to be over.