Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Van Morrison 16: A Sense Of Wonder

Was Van Morrison still relevant in the ‘80s? It’s a question only his fans can answer, and if you really want to trip them up, start with the cover photo of A Sense Of Wonder, depicting the Belfast Cowboy peeking through a tunnel of leaves, and smiling, which doesn’t lend comfort so much as make one nervous. (Elsewhere he poses somberly in an outfit that resembles that of a bullfighter, so maybe he should let the music do the talking.)
The album wanders closer to his Celtic roots, with still more references to writers and poets. To wit, “Tore Down A La Rimbaud” was a daring choice for a single, mostly because people knew neither how to pronounce it nor what it meant. Catchy as it is, the backing continues on “Ancient Of Days” in a forced 6/4 meter, rubbing it in too much. The instrumental “Evening Meditation” follows the same template as “Scandinavia”, with Van humming along on top for a nice change. “The Master’s Eyes” begins with a neat guitar part that’s not at all as smooth as the rest of the album, giving something of an R&B touch to set up the cover of Ray Charles’ “What Would I Do”.
The second side almost suggests that it began as a suite. The title track (with its “didn’t I come to give you a sense of wonder” recalling “didn’t I blow your mind this time”) is a lengthy wander through mystical territory. The monologue near the end incorporates some references in the prose included as part of the liner notes, which have something to do with the Irish-flavored instrumental “Boffyflow And Spike”. Another cover, this time of Mose Allison’s “If You Only Knew”, was allegedly included because a musical interpretation of a Yeats poem was blocked by that estate. Which is too bad, because “Let The Slave”, a musical interpretation of a Blake poem, is fascinating. Finally, “A New Kind Of Man” brings the program to a close with a soulful, could’ve-been-a-hit-single if it were a different decade.
A Sense Of Wonder is a nice, inoffensive album, just on the verge of breaking through to more. Maybe he’d get the recipe right the next time. After all, he was probably going to keep making albums, right?

Van Morrison A Sense Of Wonder (1985)—3
2008 CD reissue: same as 1985, plus 2 extra tracks

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