in CAT

C.A.T.: Astral Weeks

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks (1968)

Well it’s taken about three years, but we’ve finally reached 100 CAT’s, and we’ve still yet to post one that actually seemed worth writing.  For this 100th CAT I’ve picked somewhat of a doozy, as Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks is one of those great albums that really defies any sort of categorization, so I’m sure I’ll fail to even crack the surface of what makes this a great album.

Coming off of the success of the single “Brown Eyed Girl”, Astral Weeks saw Morrison in the wake of a dispute with Bang Records, who had released a bunch of Morrison’s older songs as 1967’s Blowin’ Your Mind unbeknownst to Morrison.  Displeased with the result of that album, Morrison decided to release Astral Weeks on Warner Bros. Records.  Unsurprisingly the album was met with little fanfare or success, and it’s kind of easy to see why, as there really isn’t anything resembling hit single material on Astral Weeks.

But the beauty of Astral Weeks lies in the swirling musical textures of the album, while Morrison’s nostalgic lyrics are often evocative and abstract at the same time.  There really aren’t any verses or choruses on any of the songs, they kind of just slowly unfold over long stretches, leaving the listener with plenty of different sounds to swim around in.  Much of the album revolves around Morrison’s acoustic guitar, but this isn’t your typical ’60s singer-songwriter album, as Morrison is often accompanied by harpsichord, flute, and most prominently Richard Davis’s jazzy double bass.

Astral Weeks has often been described as a song cycle, and it definitely has that impressionistic quality that gives it a sound that isn’t really like anything else in the realm of folk, jazz, rock, or any other genre that the album skewers.  I’m certain that the Astral Weeks‘ odd sound and structure is what caused me to be a little perplexed by it’s reputation when I first heard it a few years ago, but it seems each time I return to it, I find myself being even more drawn into its strange beauty.

Favorite Tracks: “Astral Weeks”, “Sweet Thing”, “Madame George”