ALBUMS: A Van for all seasons

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The Independent Culture
Van Morrison

Days Like This

(Polydor 527307 2)

From the swingy guitar and innocent, open-hearted harmonica of the opening "Perfect Fit" to the relaxed conclusion of "Love in the Afternoon", Days Like This is a delight, the best album has made in years. Perhaps reflecting his romantic hook-up with an Irish beauty-queen, Van sounds happier here than he's been for decades - indeed, since celebrating his love for Janet Planet on the warm, seductive Tupelo Honey, the closest comparison to this new work.

Whatever the reason, his new mood has brought a clarity of vision, even on the more introspective pieces like "Melancholia" and "Underlying Depression": the latter, especially, finds this legendary grump in remarkably insightful mode, acknowledging his natural propensity to gloom, even in "times [which] ain't even so hard; Lord, I was born with the blues, and blue suede shoes, and underlying depression". There's a lightness of spirit, too, to songs like the gently exuberant "Raincheck" and "Songwriter", on which Van respectively assures us of his refusal to fade away and his reluctance to over-intellectualise his concerns. It's as if, after years of febrile, often tortuous questing, he's suddenly been unburdened of some terrible weight.

It's not perfect - a possible classic cover of Ray Charles's "You Don't Know Me" is spoilt by Van's decision to duet with his daughter Shana, whose tart, twangy voice curdles his sweet caramel tones - but there's much more to enjoy here than on recent Morrison releases. Even on the more religiously inclined material, the tone is untroubled. "There's no mystery, and there's nothing hidden, and there's no religion here today," he sings on "No Religion", though his jaunty, chipper delivery leaves his intentions uncertain: is he lamenting the absence of religion's moral certitude, or - given the unusually cheery aspect - cheering the absence of organised religion?