Van Morrison Jon Landau - Essay

Jon Landau

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Tupelo Honey], like all of Van Morrison's albums, is both a synthesis of what has preceded it and a statement of something new. It has the musical compactness of Moondance and some of the spirited looseness of Van Morrison His Band and The Street Choir. It is also the best sounding recording he has done so far….

Thematically, Van's songs of dedication and devotion to women are elevated and transformed into an opus. Tupelo Honey is Morrison's "domestic" album and as surely as his earlier work often expressed frustration and despair over his mistreatment by others, Tupelo Honey revels in the happiness and appreciation he feels towards those people who now give him love and strength. It differs from other thematically related albums in its absence of any sense of complacency, smugness, or condescension to those who do not feel the same way. And, conversely, it is dominated by an air of intensity that tells us Van feels his current needs with no less passion than he felt past ones, even as the texture of the album sometimes passes into a bubbly lightness, uniquely reflecting Van's very personal sense of joy.

On the first few plays, Tupelo Honey might strike the casual listener as merely a superior collection of pop tunes but every repeated play reveals its deeper level of meaning. For nine songs Van consistently and consciously develops the theme of "starting a new life" through the growth of his own strength and confidence…. The cuts on the album are then arranged and structured like cuts in a movie: moods are built, lessened, and rebuilt until the album reaches an almost inexorable climax in "Moonshine Whiskey."…

Van's humor often takes a concrete form on this album as he makes two good natured references to Dylan's New Morning during "Moonshine Whiskey."…

"Wild, Wild Night," is a statement of the past, a song done almost from memory, encompassing the style and form of some of Van's earliest music. It is a remembrance of a different kind of need and the ultimate loneliness that always followed from it….

"Straight to Your Heart" transmutes the expression of generalized need for excitement and fulfillment on "Wild, Wild Night" into an expression of desire for a single person. By the time we get to "Woodstock" he is no longer flying down an endless street but being "blown by a cool night's breeze" down a country road towards a home and a family waiting for him. Thus in the space of three songs, Van has moved from a statement of...

(The entire section is 1056 words.)