Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Van Morrison 20: Avalon Sunset

For fans of aging rockers, 1989 was a boon of a year. Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and the Stones all returned to both the charts and popular favor. Even cult guys like Lou Reed, Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson made a big leap towards mainstream notice as well. But one of the biggest surprises was Van Morrison, who didn’t do anything too different from the bulk of his ‘80s output, but managed to serve up a recipe that resonated.
Avalon Sunset begins, improbably, with a duet featuring Cliff Richard, one of the first pop stars to be knighted by Her Majesty and a long time away from the pop charts, in America at least. “Whenever God Shines His Light” sets up a pious mood that will last for the duration, but most directly in the moody “Contacting My Angel”. That song is more of a meditation, but only if you listen closely. “I’d Love To Write Another Song” is only another in a growing line of disgruntled complaints about the record industry, here suggesting that he’s stuck. Which is why “Have I Told You Lately” makes such a nice choice to hear next; the sentiment had been used by other songs for years, but somehow Van’s actually seems heartfelt. Then he sits down for a two-chord meditation about “Coney Island”, obviously some place local to Belfast as opposed to the amusement park us Yankees know about. Just as we’re getting lulled into the wonder of this particular never-never land, the tearjerking theme of “I’m Tired Joey Boy” comes in, and we’re baffled by the philosophy of this particular character’s head.
Lest anyone think his piety was too much to follow, “When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God” shows that Van is still struggling, but at the very least, he can get an album title out of it. “Orangefield” brings him back to the fields wet with rain on a golden autumn day, and yet he can still get another decent song out of it. The celebration of existence continues on “Daring Night”, an incredibly simple song caught up in, well, a sense of wonder. And finally, “These Are The Days” provides another reminder of what there is to savor, while we can.
He may not be doing anything new or different, but Van was able to build on his best work of the decade into something completely palatable (read: sweet) for those who might have only known him from Moondance. The image of the world painted by Avalon Sunset is very enticing; one wonders if the world he sings about actually exists. Or, as one of the songs says, “Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?” Truly, and I ask you.

Van Morrison Avalon Sunset (1989)—
2008 CD reissue: same as 1989, plus 2 extra tracks


  1. His last great album. The next two have their moments, but mostly are deeply flawed. After Hymns to the Silence, it is pretty bleak indeed.

  2. The line that has resonated and stayed with me all these years from this terrific album is "Wouldn't it be great if it was like this all the time?" His phrasing is perfect and telling. Excellent review.