Van Morrison is universally known as “Van the Man.” But maybe that should now change to “Pan the Man” following the release of his new album Latest Record Project, Vol. 1.
For at no time during his 50-or-so-year career has one of his releases been so ferociously panned by the critics
The put-downs probably came as no surprise to the recording legend. For almost 12 months, he has been skating on pretty thin ice. During that period, he placed a target on his back by openly criticising the COVID-19 lockdown and releasing four-related songs to boot - one of them featuring another music icon, Eric Clapton.
None of these numbers – “No More Lockdown,” “Born to be Free,” “Stand and Deliver” and “As I Walked Out” – have made it to the 28-track, two-hour album. But his conspiracy theories are still well illustrated by titles like “They Own the Media” and “Why Are You on Facebook?”
The wrath of the Media is typified by Bonnie Stiernberg, writing for InsideHook.
Under the headline “Van Morrison’s New Album Is Proof That It’s Never Too Late to Stop,” she wrote: “Latest Record Project, Vol. 1 is a total sham of a record, so bad that it actively taints the legacy of one of the 20th century’s finest musicians and makes the case that it’s time for him to hang it up.”
She summed up: “… it’s maddening to think about how good Latest Record Project, Vol. 1 could have been if he just gave a shit and didn’t spend so much time consumed by petty vendettas and baseless conspiracy theories.”
In The Guardian, Alexis Petridis had a similar summary: “It’s a genuinely depressing listen, but at least there’s a kind of purpose here, even if it isn’t the purpose its creator intends. The album opens with the title track, which demands to know why people are more interested in Morrison’s work “from long ago” than what he’s doing now. Should anyone be wondering the same thing, Latest Record Project then answers said question in the most exhaustive detail imaginable.”
Rolling Stone headlined its critique: “Van Morrison’s ‘Latest Record Project’ Is a Delightfully Terrible Study in Casual Grievance.” A sub-head added: “His repetition sounds less like the trance-like mysticism of a Caledonia poet and more like a furious customer demanding a refund.”
Critic Jonathan Bernstein added: “Morrison’s new record bears a strange resemblance to the unhinged, rambling feel of the pandemic-era internet: more often than not, its 28 tracks come across as a collection of shitposts, subtweets, and Reddit rants set to knockoff John Lee Hooker grooves.”
“At its best, Latest Record Project is a bizarrely compelling mix of dark paranoia and petty outrage so ornery that it feels playful. At its worst, Morrison’s album, with lounge-roots arrangements as half-baked as Morrison’s writing, conveys exactly what it wants to and nothing more: a laundry list of angry score-settling and vague financial complaints that amount to Morrison’s very own Inarticulate Checking-Account-Balance-Disputes Of The Heart.”
Despite the universal sledging, there is some redemption in the release, the most obvious being Van’s voice. At age 75, his vocal arrangements are as good as ever and at times the musicianship is top class, which is probably why the critics have become so frustrated about why these attributes have been misused by his seemingly unhinged ramblings.
And, as you might find in a listing of 28 songs, there are one or two excellent tracks, the best being “Love Should Come with a Warning” which has all the hallmarks of that work “from long ago.” There is also something endearing about the six-minute organ-infused ballad “Duper’s Delight” which sees Morrison – according to Rolling Stone – “letting his audience in on his own profound process of self-inquiry.”
Sadly, such glimpses of the “old” Van Morrison we all know and love are somewhat lost in the turmoil that currently torments him.
Editor Crossroads – Americana Music Appreciation