Album no. 132/1001
VAN THE MAN! This is Van’s second solo album, sort of. The first one was a collection of singles and B-sides that he didn’t know about and wasn’t very happy with, so this is his first proper solo album.
Before going solo Van had been in Irish rock group Them, who had a string of hits from 1964 to 1966. Following a tour of the united states they had a fight with their manager and split up, and Van went to New York to make it on his own. He signed a dodgy contract with a small record label and did a few singles, then the guy who ran the label had a heart attack and Warner Brothers bought him out. This album is the next thing he did.
Fun fact about Van, my mum saw him in concert years ago, and she said that besides actual singing, he only said five words for the whole show: “Ladies and gentlemen, the band” when he was thanking his band. My dad saw him a couple of years later and that time, he had it down to two words: “The band”. I thought Irish people were supposed to have the gift of the gab.
Have you listened to this album before?
NK: I have! I quite like Van Morrison.
CL: My only previous experience with Van Morrison is the same as every person in the english speaking world – seeing middle aged people belt out ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ when they’re a few drinks deep. Thankfully that song is not on this album.
NK: Don’t forget the terrible easy-listening cover version of ‘Moondance’ that gets played at every goddamn wedding ever. Urgh.
NK: Only 8 tracks to choose from! The title track might be my standout, but it’s a tough call. I suspect you will not agree, but I think the best songs on this are the really long ones (‘Astral Weeks’, ‘Cyprus Avenue’ and ‘Madam George’).
CL: Well, I think the first thing to say is that it’s pretty damn bold to have a 7 minute song as your opener. You’re asking a lot of your audience straight up. I don’t know how I feel about it – am I glad he’s thrown caution to the wind and just gone for it? Or am I surprised and somewhat shocked at his arrogance? Probably both.
NK: I think the only weak link on this album is ‘The Way Young Lovers Do’, the weird lounge waltz thing. I don’t like it. Everything else is pretty good!
CL: It’s a lot folkier than I anticipated, actually. But luckily there’s one song on here that really sells it for me – ‘Sweet Thing’. That’s AMAZING. Listen to it just for that. It really reminds me of ‘These Days’ by Nico – I think maybe because of the little violin interludes?
NK: It’s really folky! Especially considering he was in Them before this, it’s a pretty abrupt change.
When would be the best time to listen to this?
NK: I have no idea. This is a really strange album. An Irish bloke singing weird stream-of-consciousness ramblings over jazz/classic instrumentation for eight minutes at a time. Not exactly a recipe for success, you might think. SOMEHOW IT IS. If it’s late at night and you’re already a bit confused I think this is a good album to put on. Even if you don’t catch a single lyric I think it’s really good at expressing emotion. There’s a really nostalgic vibe to it, his voice, the slow pace, the instruments that are all doing their own thing.
CL: I agree with you – it’s a really chill album. There’s a really interesting article from a few years ago by one of Pitchfork’s contributing writers where he relates his adolescence to this album. He hated it initially, but then it grew on him. So you know, there’s hope for me yet.
Why has this album been included on the list?
NK: I really like Van’s voice. Also his lyrics are really strange, really specific details that paint vivid images, but give you no idea what the song is about. This album really nails the vibe it’s going for (with the possible exception of ‘The Way Young Lovers Do’). It’s really consistent. Also, it’s pretty different! Van still has his old blue eyed soul/Irish R and B vocals, and the songs are a bit folky, but there’s a massive jazz influence here too, and some of the songs have classical style guitar on them…….it’s all over the shop! I don’t know what genre this is officially. I don’t know what I’d call it either, maybe jazz-folk?
CL: It’s definitely something we haven’t heard before. I can’t say that I like all of it, but I can appreciate the combination of jazz percussion with the folky acoustics and the little string arrangements too. I still can’t really understand what he’s on about, but that’s ok.
Will you be listening again?
NK: Yeah mate, I like this one. Don’t you worry about me.
CL: MAYBE the whole thing. ‘Sweet Thing’? Absolutely. It’s already one of my favourites.
Listen to Astral Weeks on Spotify or buy it in iTunes.