Thursday, November 30, 2023
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Van Morrison – Born to Be Free Review

Lockdown moved people in different ways. Fending off an airborne virus pushed most to performing workouts with Joe Wicks or getting back into reading. For others, or rather, for Van Morrison, it was a time to hit back at whatever was ailing him at the time. So specific his protest tracks were, with all the aplomb of a legacy artist and all the respect for subtlety as a blow to the head, to the cause of his anger. Born to Be Free is admirably terrible. Not just because of what it rails against or how Morrison projects it, but because, like the other tracks he and his contemporaries may have worked on at the time, the toothless knockback peddled its woes to those that were already set to agree with whatever vomit of words poured out. 

Like a thick porridge, Born to Be Free is hard to wade through. It is constantly reminded of its barbaric simplicity. Gone are the great protest tracks of before. Born to Be Free would have been far more impactful, far more interesting, had Morrison stopped writing after he stuck the title together. He gets more from that statement, likely done up in white calligraphy on a black background and posted to Instagram, than he does with this song.  Morrison’s vocals are all over the place and the instrumentals are phoned in. Rigid guitar elements sound as though they are trying and failing to recapture the spirit of their music. 

But that spirit has long passed, and now Morrison takes intangible shots at a government body who were worthy of ridicule. His protest against them as a body is fair game, but the “amnesia” and “psychology” he sings of are full of crackpot lyrics. Embarrassing bits and pieces that have no focus to them. It is hard to care much for the latter stages of Morrsion’s work at the best of times, but these lockdown tracks feel like empty vessels meant to conjure up some jab at contemporary relevance. They fail. Comparing coronavirus to the Berlin Wall is a stretch and a half, and as many just cracked on as best they could, millionaire Morrison found himself shaking the gates, demanding to be let out as though he were the opposite of an iconic Eric Andre sketch.  

Apologies, Van, but the coronavirus not only “cramped your style” but crushed your talent. Another problematic excursion into the bitter looks at lockdown, inspired by a kneejerk reaction to a global pandemic. Born to Be Free, even if it had a leg to stand on, would sound very “me, me, me”. It is the equivalent of Imagine where celebrity after celebrity joined together to sing a track about there being no heaven in the middle of a deadly virus spreading itself around the world. Out of touch, out of tune and it should be no surprise that this Morrison tracj is as dire and dull a time as lockdown itself. Borderline parody, and at times feels as though the beat is stripped not from a formidable, legendary songwriter, but a Kevin Macleod archive ZIP file. 

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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