First of all, lest I be accused of burying the lede once again, Keep It Simple is the most consistent, most enjoyable Van Morrison album for my money since 1991’s Hymns to the Silence. Stop what you’re doing right now (OK, not what you’re doing right this second) and beg, borrow, or download it.
I have to admit, even a die-hard Morrison fanatic like myself kind of lost track of the wee man after the turn of the new century. While his output during the ’90s had been consistent—records like The Healing Game and Back On Top had moments of sheer brilliance—things usually came to a screeching halt whenever Van decided to return to the bitter theme of how he’s been screwed over by record companies and the music business.
Morrison himself takes an unrepentant yet balanced look at his habit of occasionally slipping into solipsism in the title track.
Illusions and pipe dreams on the one hand
And straight reality is always cold
Saying something hard edged is off the wall
And it might seem too bold
Mocked me when it got out of hand
Nobody tried to understand
Now we got to keep it simple and that’s that
The advance press on Keep It Simple quoted Morrison as saying that for the first time in a long time, he felt he had something to say and actually sat down to write a cohesive batch of songs expressly for the album. Hell, getting Van to say anything is just short of miraculous, so my curiosity was peaked for this disc, his 32nd by most counts, to drop.
The first thing that grabs you about the new record is the resurgence of that voice—Morrison’s main instrument has only deepened and aged like a fine whiskey. To draw conclusions from the lyrics (which I realize is a fool’s game at best), he doesn’t drink or “go to nightclubs anymore.” Whatever his new regiment may be, his voice has rarely sounded better.
After opening with the slow blues of How Can a Poor Boy?—featuring some smoking organ work by John Allair—Morrison reaches all the way back to the bucolic landscape of records like Tupelo Honey for the tongue-in-cheek titled That’s Entrainment. Webster’s defines entrainment as “to draw along with or after oneself” and that’s exactly what he seems to have had in mind for this outing.
Guitarist John Platania, who accompanied Morrison during his incredible 1970-1974 run, is back in the flock—as is intermittent stalwart David Hayes on bass. The most surprising instrumentation on Keep It Simple, one that adheres to the new mantra while providing an immediate, homespun feel, is the ukulele, played by Morrison himself.
Some reviewers have pointed at Behind The Ritual’s chorus of, literally, “blah, blah, blah” as proof that Morrison isn’t taking any of this seriously anymore. I disagree. I think it’s the most punk rock thing he’s written since his days as a snotty garage rocker in Them.
And the chorus goes
And the chorus goes
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah—bang
And then a whimper
And that’s that.