When I was young I associated Van Morrison only with “Brown Eyed Girl”. As my high school best friend might have put it, “Brown Eyed Girl” was a “12 year old girl song” and I basically ignored Van Morrison, despite liking some of his other songs I heard on classic rock radio, until I finally got around to listening to Astral Weeks approximately 9 years ago. Since then I’ve become quite the fan but nothing has ever approached Astral Weeks for me – despite having listened to 5 or more of his albums at this point, that record is clearly his best as far as I can tell. But I had heard that Moondance was its equal, and I must say that the title track had certainly encouraged that view for me.
But that’s really not true, at least musically. The title track is basically the only thing on this record that sounds like Astral Weeks, so much so it could be an outtake. (Though that would make zero sense. I just mean that the jazz feel is there.)
Instead, the music leans much more towards what Morrison’s ’70s music sounds like – a fusion of R&B, soul, folk and jazz. So it’s more conventional than the previous record and much more in line with what everyone thinks of when they think of Van Morrison.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing – based on my admittedly limited experience of his career, I’d argue that this is possibly his best set of songs in this more conventional vein. It’s certainly more immediate than some of his later albums.
But I can’t help but be just slightly disappointed. I was looking forward to something a little more ambitious, a little weirder. I still really like this record because I still really like Van Morrison, especially when his songs are as good as these are. But there is a part of me that sort of wishes this was Astral Weeks 2 or, better yet, something altogether different from either record.