Sound — 10
Released in the winter that followed the summer of love, "Astral Weeks" is the seminal second album of Northern Irish superstar Van Morrison, and perhaps his biggest contribution to music. The album was made by musicians who had never met and were without sheet music, which contributed to the free-flowing, improvisational manner of the many lead parts on the album.
Not only is every track beautiful, but even every instrument. Fluttering acoustic lead lines, swinging double bass slides, tooting, whistling and chirping flutes and heart tickling harpsichord - these are the album's staple. "The Way Young Lovers Do" stands out as different for having more of a jazz feel and hi-hat driven rhythm that feels like a glimpse into later hit "Moondance." Otherwise the album is somewhat in the vein of a more aggrandised Neil Young or Bob Dylan. The arrangements grow into elaborate tapestries that really bend the mind and can't help conjuring images of the hippies, sitting in fields and around campfires, smoking pot and feeling free. Van Morrison is so free in his compositions; changes are imaginative and unpredictable, each instrument is given its chance to step into the foreground, speak, and then bow out for another. For this reason I would argue that that the arrangements are not overkill. They are cluttered but in a stimulating way, offering multiple storylines that run concurrently.
Lyrics — 9
The songs are often mystical in nature, pointing to the enormous mystery of what is being observed in this life, and its defiant refusal to be pinned down. Van Morrison impels us to "never ever wonder why it has to be." Van Morrison's signature vocals are raw and emotionally charged, yet there is no strain to achieve this. "Beside You" chronicles a disenfranchised runaway named Johnny, "wrapped up in a magic shroud" with "scraps stuck with glue," a perfect song to capture the hippy emotion and those who find religious experience without religion.
Overall Impression — 10
Despite being voted album of the year by Rolling Stone, "Astral Weeks" did not storm the charts and is a major stone left unturned by plenty of hard-line music fans. Van Morrison was only twenty-four at the time of recording, and many say he never touched this standard again. One criticism could be that the album is somewhat uniform in it's style - although some tracks have more space, there is no solo acoustic. Other than "The Way Young Lovers Do," every song utilises a similar down tempo that crescendos as the instruments become more intense and Van Morrison's vocal turns into passionate cries. My favourite is "Beside You," but not track really stands out from the pack as one you would skip the others for. The album can be pigeonholed as a lazy Sunday afternoon listen - but it is the perfect album of this kind, and lovers of pure musicality will be enthralled. Students of sixties culture and the hippy movement have no excuse.