Sound — 9
"Astral Weeks" was Van Morrison's first solo album, and is today held as an underrated folk classic. So what does it sound like? It's sparse, very sparse, to the point that sometimes you don't even register that instruments are playing behind Van's voice. In all the songs we have an acoustic guitar and a bass - they're fleshed out with pipes, percussion, strings and brass, though never all at once. The music is hard to explain: it is neither tranquil nor chaotic, mainly resting somewhere in between. "The Way Young Lovers Do" is a great example: it starts gently and sneaks up on you, culminating in a jazzy trumpet solo rising above a pumping, crazy bass and a skillfully disorganised drum pattern. The production is average, as you'd expect from a '60s record, and sometimes it's difficult to pull individual instruments out of the haze. All in all though, the musicians create a perfect gypsy-jazz-folk backdrop for Van that never obstructs the main attraction, the lyrics.
Lyrics — 10
The lyrics are for a certain type of person. If you can't stomach lines such as "Clicking, clacking of the high heeled shoe / Ford & Fitzroy, Madame George / Marching with the soldier boy behind / He's much older with his hat on drinking wine" then stop reading now, as it won't get any better for you. The lyrics are poetry, genuine poetry - it's an overused expression, but on this album Van Morrison really transcended the cheap second-hand lyrics that were standard fare for a rock song at that time, and still are. The words read like an Irish Allen Ginsberg poem, without the profanity. The lyrics are the most important thing in the album; clearly Van doesn't give a toss about regular line lengths or rhyme patterns if they would mean adapting the words, and sings straight through. Morrison found a way of singing so uniquely in the same way as Dylan and Joe Strummer, that nobody can emulate, and molds the songs to fit the ragged phrasing of his words. A brilliant voice singing brilliant words - perfect.
Overall Impression — 8
The closest album to "Astral Weeks" (outside of Van's other work) would be "The Wild, Innocent and E-Street Shuffle" by Bruce Springsteen, but only in certain ways. Bruce was influenced by Van in his early years and it shows, but though the albums share similar jazzy music and Beat lyrics "Astral Weeks" is much quieter, calmer, more mature. If you've come for a "Brown Eyed Girl" or a "Gloria" you won't find it here, because this is as arty, as confusing as Van Morrison ever got. There's no single, no key song you can pick out of the album, as it must be heard as one, and everyone has a different favourite. I've given the album a 8/10 because "Astral Weeks" really isn't for every mood, it's not something you can listen to every day: sometimes I think it's really boring and can't get through thirty seconds. However, if you're in that elusive "right mood," there's nothing better. Give it a listen, you might even enjoy it.