Van Morrison Peter Knobler - Essay

Peter Knobler

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

People had started talking about Van Morrison in the past tense. In the three years since his last album release [Veedon Fleece] his presence had grown to become some vaguely attainable level of excellence it seemed no one, not even Morrison himself, could ever truly achieve, or had ever truly achieved. Bruce Springsteen acknowledged him and Graham Parker took his rough edges as a persona. His albums, grown familiar after so many years of constant play, were beginning to be referred to as classics and, as happens with the greats of the ages, were more discussed for impact than actually listened to for pleasure. Van the Man became an Influence—like Beethoven, Chuck Berry or Lenny Bruce—not on the scene and increasingly hard to conjure as a real human being….

A Period of Transition is Van Morrison's comeback album and with it he steps from influential absentia directly back to the top. It is far and away the best album of the year. It is better than any record released last year. Quite simply, it shows everybody how this sort of thing is supposed to be done.

Transition is a throwback to Morrison's classics, Moondance and His Band and Street Choir. After some years fooling around, experimenting with combinations of cosmic lyrics and strings, Morrison has apparently decided to return to basics…. The transition … is back to the land of the living.

Morrison has generally appeared to be a morose, diffident figure, not easy with his intimacies. On A Period of Transition, though, he's pouring it all. The first thing that hits you about the album is its tone; from open to close it is confident, polished, accessible—fun! The agonies of Morrison's earlier works are submerged—not obliterated, mind you, or denied, but not crowding out the obvious pleasure that carries the album forward….

Throughout the album Morrison's writing is sparse; he doesn't throw around many cute phrases or catchy concepts. The very simplicity demands attention, makes one stop and listen to the sentiments, which are similarly uncluttered….

So, Van Morrison has returned with a flourish. He is still very much a mystery, but at least these days he seems a happy mystery and somehow that is very uplifting.

Peter Knobler, "The Van Who Would Be King," in Crawdaddy (copyright © 1977 by Crawdaddy Publishing Co., Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), June, 1977, p. 82.