Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Just when you think Van Morrison has gone to peat once and for all, the old gnome rubs his eyes, looks around the bog, and tramps into the light of a brand new day. Many took his would-be Irish folk record with the Chieftains last year as a renewal, but it sounded more like senility to rootless dogs like me--a final desperate attempt to liven up the sodden pleasantries of all his albums bad and OK since 1982's Beautiful Vision. So along comes one called Avalon Sunset (Mercury), and the only question is whether it'll be a nice snooze or a fitful sleep. Until cut one, the latest of Van's songs to God, who really doesn't need the attention, which features none other than Cliff Richard and turns out to be Van's liveliest tune since Cleaning Windows on Beautiful Vision. There's a poem about Coney Island, an Irish birdwatching spot rather than the one in Brooklyn, and doesn't that sound like fun--only actually it's about contentment and ecstasy and all that good stuff. And I'd Like To Write Another Song, which of course is more inspired than the song he writes immediately thereafter. And oh yes, the Irish folk number, more lyrical than lively--superb. By the time you reach side two you're softened up for some sodden pleasantries. These are OK.

Like Van, Al Green is an old pro who now praises God with his product, but he keeps his energy higher, most recently on I Get Joy (A&M), as pure an example of his bastard gospel music as he's ever recorded, though he's pumped it higher. For those who prefer him secular, at least in part, MCA has compiled Love Ritual, a mostly uptempo collection of outtakes and non-LP singles with some good stuff and some genius on it. If you love Call Me or The Belle Album, you wouldn't mind collecting this one.

Playboy, Aug. 1989

July 1989 Sept. 1989