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PERFORMERS AND INSTRUMENTS PLAYED:
VAN MORRISON: Lead vocals
NEIL DRINKWATER: Keyboards & synthesizer arrangements
GEORGIE FAME: Organ, electric piano, backing vocals
STEVE PEARCE, BRIAN ODGERS: Bass
DAVE EARLY, STEVE SANGER: Drums
BERNIE HOLLAND: Lead guitar
VAN MORRISON, PAUL DURCAN: Spoken word
THE AMBROSIAN SINGERS: Choir
FRANK RICOTTI: Vibraphone
HENRY LOWTHER: Trumpet
STEVE WATERMAN: Flugelhorn
STEVE GREGORY, DAVE BISHOP: Saxes
MALCOLM GRIFFITHS: Trombone
ALL SONGS WRITTEN AND PRODUCED BY VAN MORRISON
Van Morrison's "Enlightenment" album was released in 1990, reaching no.5 in the UK album charts in October of that year.
This is the penultimate album from Van's spiritual period (which lasted almost ten years), before he seemed to tumble from his higher plane, on a journey back down to a much earthier and basic mode of songwriting - basic and earthier, but no less appealing.
Here and there on this album, you can hear if you listen hard enough, the first little trickles of disillusionment with all sorts of things, but it is at the same time refreshing to hear a collection of songs from Van's later works that doesn't contain any references whatsoever to dissatisfaction with the music business and fame.
I was rather bowled over by this album when I very first bought and heard it (I always buy Van's albums without hearing anything from them first, as I trust him), and as I was in a very good place in life myself, most of the songs spoke to me and said pretty much what I was wanting to hear at the time.
It's so hard to believe that "Enlightenment" will be 20 years old next year...where the hell did those two decades go? It just whizzed past me faster than the speed of light....but, I digress. Here follows the track-by-track review, which of course I am aware some people don't like, but the majority seem to prefer it - so if it's not your thing, just scroll to the end.
1. REAL REAL GONE
This track begins with brass and piano, with a little intro that is very up in mood, yet contains an undercurrent of wistfulness. Van then takes the lead vocal, delivering us this simple, yet quite profound and fairly fast tempo love song. It's a vulnerable plea to a loved one for help when he's going through his more confused times. There is a reference to listening to Sam Cooke on the radio about halfway through the song - and the night is filled with space. Sam was a tremendous influence (amongst others) upon Van, and I feel certain it is from Sam who Van first picked up that "wistful bite" sound, adapting it to suit himself and injecting it into around 98% of his music. Later in this song Van mentions old soul legends Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke and James Brown. I could be very wrong here, but I have a feeling that bearing in mind this whole album was made towards the end of Van's spiritual phase, bringing Wilson, Solomon and James into this song could be a stepping stone towards his next phase, which has been very much back to the roots of R&B and soul, with a little Irish thrown in for good measure. Real Real Gone has a very happy-sounding middle of the road sort of tune, and I can remember it being played on Radio 2 quite a lot around the time of the album's release.
This song starts on a gentle note, played by synthesizer, then Van's voice sings the main tune. The track is a declaration on Van's personal feelings and understanding (or not, as the case may be), of the term "enlightenment". He describes how he does things which are recommended for greater enlightenment (such as meditation), but that he is still confused and suffering.....so, what can it (enlightenment) truly be? I see this song as Van almost challenging the words of the gurus, philosophers, visionaries etc., in that whatever they suggest, it won't work unless you are in the right frame of mind in the first place, and once that frame of mind shifts and possibly worsens due to outside influences, the state of enlightenment fogs up and sometimes vanishes altogether - or mutates into something else. Van also advises that whatever enlightenment is, it must come from within our own view and framework of life, and that it is up to us to define the word to suit ourselves. The song has quite a pleasant tune - very easy on the ear and almost middle of the road. The synthesized sounds roll steadily in the background, and the main tune is played on piano, punctuated by Van on harmonica in between his singing.
3. SO QUIET IN HERE
This track begins with guitar, synthesizer and gentle drumming. Van's voice dreamily joins in, singing of images of nature, weather, and man-made atmospheric things around him. Viewed from what is presumably his good frame of mind, he interprets the quiet within his own room compared to the noises outside, as paradise. Obviously he is with somebody in the song......someone very close, no doubt a lover, which enhances the feeling of paradise. This is a song of quiet, calm and peace - reaching that deep and serene place inside of us that is so very hard to find, and even when we do manage to locate it, it rarely lasts long. The words of this song are very poetic, holding nature up to love, comparing and harmonising the two. There is a slightly frantic piano middle-eight in this song, which I don't feel does it any favours - but that's a minor gripe on my part. Really, at core, I suppose the song is about paradise being the free and simple things in life, rather than our fast-paced, hectic and noise/angst-ridden modern-day society. For poetry alone, I'd want to give this track 10/10, but sadly the pianist who had a manic attack in the middle of the song, has rendered it so that I have to lop off a point. The song ends beautifully though, with Van winding the vocals down in a gently wistful scat-style singing, and all synthesized instrumentation blending and softening perfectly down to a final note.
4. AVALON OF THE HEART
This song begins with synthesizer, gentle drumming and piano, with an almost hymn-like tune that immediately injects a quiet feeling of elation. Van, straining his voice a little, begins to sing the main tune. The song is very spiritual and combines images of pagan type religions with nature inside of the human psyche - the viaducts of his dreams - seeking for ancient truths, following the path of energies down backwards along the road of time to find true peace. In the middle, Van quietly plays a harmonica solo, which sounds almost lost under the other, mostly synthesized instrumentation and choir-like backing vocals. It's my personal opinion that the backing is overdone on this song, and I'd love to hear it sung just by Van's voice, complimented by maybe a quiet guitar or even quieter piano accompaniment. All the same though, it's a great song - almost like an anthem, and it is as it stands, rather powerful. I just feel it would be even more powerful and moving if done quietly, as I just described.
5. SEE ME THROUGH
We begin here with sad-sounding synthesized violin and very gentle piano. On a cymbal stroke, Van begins to sing what must be one of his most vulnerable and heartfelt songs. Similarly to track no.1 above, it's a plea for help to get through day to day life, and to provide a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on when times get difficult and confusing. Van describes everything that can de-stabilise and upset our logical thinking patterns through our lives....such as childhood, stress, noise, depression etc., then repeats his plea for help to see him through those questioning and vulnerable times. There's a lovely, exquisitely wistful guitar break in the middle of this song, but like the last track, I feel that via the synthesizer, the song is over-instrumentalised. There is a different version of "See Me Through" on another Van album, which I shall be reviewing at a later date.....but I will say here I prefer that other version, and the arrangement of it on the other, later album is completely different to how it is here. On this album though, as the song winds to a gradual close, Van speaks a few words in an almost whispered, breathy voice, combining those words with a kind of a chant that contains some pure poetry down the road that every good love song should travel - even though I don't perceive this to 100% be a love song in itself.
6. YOUTH OF 1,000 SUMMERS
This track begins on what I believe might be a mandolin, Van mutters "yeah" a couple of times, and with full brass backing, he launches into this very uptempo song celebrating the young person who lives inside of us when our bodies have aged far beyond youth. Some of the images created with the words of this song are pure poetry and mind-blowing, describing that inner life force which just won't lie down. There's a rather energetic organ solo in the middle of the song, played by Georgie Fame, and it has a decidedly jazzy feel to it - though the overall genre of the song can't be described as jazz. On listening to this song, I almost feel young again - well young in mind, then I get a veil of slight depression descend when it dawns on me that though I'm still 16 in my head, my body is hurtling faster than I'd like towards 60. This is one of my favourite tracks on the album, and deserves full marks.
7. IN THE DAYS BEFORE ROCK'N'ROLL
This begins with gentle drumming and soft, somewhat heartfelt piano. The tune of the introduction sounds to me as if it's going somewhere that it doesn't go to - music buffs out there will know what I mean. Van's voice joins in, speaking, reminiscing about the days of Radio Luxembourg, trying to tune the radio in to the ever fading in and out pop music station of the 1950s and early 1960s. I love the way Van lists the various whistling and popping old radio stations which had to be traversed (such as Athlone, Hilversum etc.) in order to find the ever-elusive Luxembourg. This is a very unusual song about a topic that Van verbally expresses in rather an unusual way. Once Athlone, Hilversum etc. had been traversed, Van then goes on to inform us that without the old wireless knobs, Elvis, Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard (and a few others) would never have reached our ears. It's a kind of a celebration song dedicated to all the old musical masters who altered not only our music, but our whole mode of thinking and living, way back in the 1950s. This is the first time I've actually listened to this album for a few years, and I have to confess I like this track now a lot better than I used to......even Van at the end impersonating the tuning of an old-fashioned radio. It is a little over-instrumentalised though. One question Van asks at the end of the song is.... "where is Justin now, what's Justin doing now?" I have no idea who he is referring to.
8. START ALL OVER AGAIN
This song begins in a lazy way, with gently played organ and xylophone. Van then joins in, backed by jazzy-sounding brass, with probably my least favourite track on this album. It's a song largely about when life falls apart, it's no good trying to retrace our steps; we can't go back....we just have to start all over again. Van speaks of having made it through various good and bad times, only to find himself back at the beginning where, he must start all over again. If you don't listen to the words too closely, they can be misinterpreted as a romantic song where a couple are about to re-kindle an old relationship, but listen between the lines, and that's not what it's about at all. It's about life! The saving grace of this song is a lovely xylophone break in the middle, which I the only word I can use to describe, is refreshing....a bit like running your hands through a cool stream of water on a roasting hot day.
9. SHE'S MY BABY
This begins with gentle guitar and drumming, and a little almost imperceptible piano in the background. Van's voice joins in, supported by a synthesized orchestra sound, singing a song of feeling sad and lonely without his "baby" - having sleepless nights, missing her until their next meeting. Some of the lines in this song have a unique poeticism about them, but the track as a whole doesn't quite hit my spot. It's very middle of the road, very easy-listening and is rather repetitive. I get the impression, despite the words largely being excellent, that it's a space filler on the album, rather than what so very much of Van's body of work is - a profound journey into mind, spirit and all things mystical; this one isn't. There are some male backing vocals which pop up here and there during the song that I personally find rather irritating.
This song begins with accordion and gentle drumming playing a slow and sad intro; Van's voice joins in singing the main tune, backed with some almost heartbreakingly poignant/wistful guitar work. The words of this lost love song are very simple, and if you were to read them in print, they'd seem banal - but, sung by Van here with appropriately gut-wrenching instrumental backing and one of the saddest tunes ever written, makes this for me, one of the most poignant, soul-wrenching lost love songs I've ever heard. I speak from experience when I say that it cuts hardest and deepest when you are actually in that situation yourself. Somehow Van has here managed to turn the epitome of simplicity into a deep and meaningful masterpiece. I think it's fair to say there's a very slightly (probably it comes from the accordion) Irish feel to this song, but it is only slight. If you are in mourning after a broken relationship - or a worse kind of loss - I seriously advise you not to listen to this song.
After having listened to this album tonight whilst typing my review, I can honestly say that it fully stands the test of time, and would be a very easy on the ear and absorbable set of songs for any newbie to Van's music to begin on. My only complaint about the album is a whole, is that the synthesized orchestration is for my tastes, a little too overdone; but even bearing that in mind, this is a collection of pleasant - sometimes happy, sometimes sad - songs that could appeal across the spectrum of musical tastes, containing some very skilfully written poetic lines.
"Enlightenment" is still freely available for purchase, and both the cheapest and most expensive I've so far seen it advertised on the internet, is on Amazon, as follows:-
New: from £23
Collectible: from £39**
Used: from £1.48
** Amazon don't explain what is meant by "collectible". My possibly wrong assumption is that the album could contain at least one extra, previously unrecorded track.
It isn't clear on Amazon whether the above prices are CDs, DVDs or cassette tapes, nor whether the album is available for download as an mp3 from the Amazon mp3 store.
Thanks for reading and putting up with my all-consuming Van The Man obsession!
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Real Real Gone
3 So Quiet In Here
4 Avalon Of The Heart - Van Morrison, John McCarthy, The Ambrosian Singers
5 See Me Through
6 Youth Of 1000 Summers
7 In The Days Before Rock'n'Roll
8 Start All Over Again
9 She's My Baby
12 So Quiet In Here