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Van Morrison – Problems Review

Another set of covers from the once great Van Morrison provides a clear indicator of his next steps. There is no trouble with a collection of singing the late greats, big names did it well before the Astral Weeks legend. Bob Dylan may boast the best of the bunch when it comes to covers though there is a larger market for it in contemporary charts and indie. Yard Act and Elton John worked in tandem, and a collection of Paramore tunes made their way into the inbox of various artists who begrudgingly said “yes, we will cover your tunes.” Van the Man Morrison does not have this trouble. His covers are from people who are dead. Artistry in covers is much harder than original material. To give a new intonation to an established lead and track is not for everyone. It does not work for Problems 

Morrison covers offer little to listeners. This background music swinging jazz collection holds all the tones of an advert for Rough and Rowdy Ways. Morrison has lost his way. Neutered beyond repair and never quite mounting any sense of exciting prospect, this Everley Brothers cover is given a clumsy, saxophone-led beat. Problems all day long? With this track, there is no doubt about it. It may be a failing but, like his earlier miseries from March, Morrison still holds a strong voice. Wasted here on a familiar collection of backing instrumentals which never sway into something exciting or interesting. Lounge music for when you want to clear a room. 

At least Problems, with its repetition and desire to last far longer than the bunch of dull covers from earlier this year, are of an enjoyable length. Problems is perhaps too long for its own good, running itself into the ground with a cliché display of electric keyboards and a drum beat close which lends itself to hokey Christmas flicks. All it needs is a fireplace and some pre-purchased font packages, the glittery glisten of Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick fighting over Christmas decorations. It is a whiny and gluttonous saxophone which drives through the core of this track from Morrison, and the electric keyboard and bits and pieces have the same half-hearted feel to the intermission vagueness this piece screams of. Perhaps this should not be much of a surprise though, Morrison warned of the problems from word go.  

Solving his problems with a love that rings true, Morrison joins a collection of legacy acts flat on their back and trying to recoup some of their late-stage career losses. Through a series of futile lockdown tracks to a condensed and dreary exploration of hits from his youth, Problems is part of a much bigger issue for legacy acts. Morrison is just the flag bearer for this lack of quality. At least when others run the gauntlet of the tracks which formed them, there is a sense of intimacy and favour to them. With Morrison, there is never a hint of his personal attachment to a track. Even here, where it is clear how the Louvin Brothers left their mark on his work, it feels distant and cold at the best of times.  

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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