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An Album You Must Own: Astral Weeks

posted Mar 25, 2011, 10:01 PM by Golden Knight

By Christian Romo


It’s difficult to elaborate on the beauty and importance of Van Morrison’s second album Astral Weeks, partly because it’s one of the most under-the-radar iconic albums ever, and partly because it sounds like nothing created since. It’s a well-orchestrated mix of folk, classical, and jazz with enough soul to melt the hearts of the most hardened Irishmen. It’s the beautiful masterpiece of the anxious perfectionist Morrison that never topped charts but made Van the Man a legendary singer/songwriter.

It’s a weird album; that should be known before first listen. There are only eight songs, but half of them eclipse seven minutes (“Madame George” nears ten). They are all laden with Morrison’s iconic singing style, which seems to have no flow or sense of direction, made even more impressive by the absence of a rhythm section in nearly every song.

The opening title track is bliss. Morrison’s voice takes center stage while flutes and strings give the listener a sense of freedom before being transported back “to be born again”. “Slim Slow Slider”, the album’s closing song, is also perfectly placed. It brings the lows to new heights and finishes the album in appropriate fashion: beautifully cryptic.

The only misstep is the album’s shortest track, the jazzy “The Way That Young Lovers Do”, a song that would fit much better on his next iconic album, Moondance. “Beside You” is soulful and hectic, and while it’s a decent track it’s placed in between “Astral Weeks” and the classic “Sweet Thing”, the album’s strongest songs. “Ballerina” can also be forgettable, but it’s Morrison’s wonderful songwriting that mellows out an otherwise upbeat song.

“Cyprus Avenue” and “Madame George” are creative equals without being considered identical. “Cyprus Avenue” gives the vague description of the more tempting other side of the road while “Madame George” just tells a simple love story. Both are slow enough to allow a string ensemble to set the tempo and Morrison’s eccentricities allow for a unique listening experience. Both songs could have taken an entire side of an album, but as you near the end you approach the exit of a sad world that you don’t want to leave.

It’s difficult to describe the album because it’s in its own league, even considering the amazing rap sheet of Van Morrison. It’s beautifully depressing, but turns out to be more of a celebration of life than an acceptance of pain.