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Van's latest is a throw-away

Van Morrison - Keep It Simple
(Lost Highway)
1/2 star (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: May 26, 2008
Van Morrison

Review by John Halverson

Van Morrison has gotten what he always wanted. Popular acclaim. His latest CD, Keep It Simple broke the top 10 on Billboard's album charts - the first time he's scaled such heights. Too bad it stinks. Maybe a Van newbie will love it but after years of living with Van's music, I found it derivative, lazy and downright lame.

In his 2006 Live at Austin City Limits, Van proved he still has a vibrant voice and delivery and even his ability to put new energy into old songs remains intact. But the operative term is "old songs." Van's written some great ones, but not lately.

In recent years, he's become a label switcher as if to say it's the record company's fault. Each time there's an announcement for a new CD it claims that he's back on top again. In fact, 1999s Back on Top was his last great CD of new songs. The next, Down the Road wasn't bad. But the trend line on original albums is in an almost a geometric downslide and Simple is at the bottom.

He's done some good "hits" albums but that doesn't do much for those of us who have the originals. He's done some genre CDs, too - country, skiffle, a Mose Allison tribute-and deserves credit for being so willing to experiment outside of rock. But, they have mainly curiosity value for those of us who loved his larger body of work which is firmly steeped in rock, soul and blues. So, that brings us back to Keep It Simple I'll give it that. It is simple. It's as though Van made it from a checklist of "types" - soul, blues, early rock, country, jazz. The first cut, "How Can A Poor Boy?" is the blues entry and probably the CD's best. "Lover Come Back" is the early rock tribute. "Soul"...hmm...let me think. And the list goes on.

His delivery seems listless - as though he were more conscious of getting the CD in the can than creating something heartfelt and original. His lyrics are hackneyed or near copies of things he's written before. "Soul is a feeling, feeling deep within Soul is not the color of your skin" Come on Van, tell me something I don't know. I understand you have to make a living, but don't turn into Willie Mays dropping fly balls at the end of his career. If you can't bring your "A" game, stick with the greatest hits and live performances, and leave originality to the kids.

Related articles:

Live at Austin City Limits - Album review - Aug. 2007
At the Movies: Soundtrack Hits - Album review - June 2007
Live At Montreux 1980/1974 - DVD review - Nov. 2006
Pay the Devil - Album review - May 2006
Magic Time - Album review - May 2005
Concert review - Rosemont, IL - Jan. 2001
Back on Top - Album review - July 1999
Guinness Fleadh - Festival review - June 1999

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