Lester Bangs famously wrote of the euphoric experience Van Morrison could conjure on stage. His cut-off at the climax of a song that demanded more from himself and his audience must have been a feral, vibrant experience. No more. It is not possible to head back to the glory days of Moondance when the man himself is more interested in lining the skiffle genre with despondent covers and waxing off about how lockdown made him feel like a self-made prisoner. As I Walked Out is a culmination of three weak, specific protest songs that have a similar issue striking through them. His point is both contentious and drums up a crowd that agrees with him regardless. It is not protest, it is pandering.
As I Walked Out is likely the worst offender of that. Despite the lush acoustics that fool the returning Morrison fans into believing this could be of quality, the empty streets he sings of are a reflection of his vacant commentaries. Fear and loathing toward the government are part and parcel of living in the United Kingdom, but the laughable lyrics on As I Walked Out are stunning. Quoting directly from government websites and dating such quotes as if he were a columnist from The Guardian writing up their footnotes, Morrison winds himself up with his lack of perspective on the real world. No second opinions, no work, it is a fascinatingly terrible track that loses its way through a failure to understand what was going on at the time.
Even with a few months to reflect, dropping this lead weight track in October 2020, Morrison has nothing. The streets were not, as he explains, empty. Panicking and realising he has only filled a minute of a track, he spreads the message of “fear and loathing” found in the first verse for a second time, ironically drumming up loathing toward just about anyone that was even the slightest bit worried during a global pandemic. Morrison can say what he will about the lockdown, but even with the benefit of hindsight and reflection, there is no way to make post-lockdown art interesting. Frank Turner managed it by using it as a backdrop rather than a focus. Protest songs are meant to have longevity to them, to be applied to the world as timeless relics that both display the contemporary and have wisdom within.
Morrison has neither and as he dates his own track before release by referencing the specifics of an event that took place on March 2020, As I Walked Out becomes a laughable example of poor-quality protest music. Beans on Toast hit the nail on the head with his track Against the War, proving once and for all the genre is alive and somewhat well. But with the likes of Morrison and Eric Clapton waxing off against the government with all the cognitive thought of a man who very likely struggles to operate a television set, the dithering pace and instrumental lightness become frankly unforgivable. Expressionless despite expressing such specific anger, As I Walked Out is a light traipse through a dark time that has lived in Morrison’s mind, rent-free, ever since.