Van Morrison has a new album out, and the initial reaction is pretty bad. And that’s not even including allegations of anti-Semitism made against him over a song called “They Own the Media.”
Since the pandemic hit, the “Brown Eyed Girl” singer-songwriter has been railing against lockdowns aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, putting out a handful of protest songs that courted plenty of controversy.
But “Latest Record Project, Vol. 1,” a new two-hour, 28-track double album, doesn’t include those tunes. Instead, it veers off in a conspiratorially cranky direction with songs titled “The Long Con,” “Big Lie,” “Why Are You on Facebook” and “Stop Bitching. Do Something.”
The Guardian (“depressing rants by tinfoil milliner”) and Rolling Stone (“a delightfully terrible study in casual grievance”) have already savaged it.
Pitchfork actually liked it a little, in an extremely qualified way, calling it “a risible and intermittently lovely 28-song collection which, in its bonkers way, brings Morrison’s tumultuous career full circle.”
“To be a genius is not the same as being a sophisticated political thinker, as we keep learning again and again, to the point of exhaustion,” Elizabeth Nelson writes for Pitchfork. “In his press materials for the LP, Van hilariously valorizes himself as the only living protest singer, by which it appears he means he is the only gazillionaire rock star to be a pandemic denier besides Eric Clapton.”
Noting that Morrison has gone conspiratorial in the past, the Guardian proclaims that “on Latest Record Project Volume 1, the sheeple are truly awoken.”
“It’s MI5 this and mind-control that, secret ‘meetings in the forest,’ mainstream media lies and Kool Aid being drunk by the gallon,” the Guardian’s Alexis Petridis writes.
“On ‘Western Man,’ there’s some troubling alt-right-y stuff about how the west’s ‘rewards’ have been ‘stolen by foreigners unknown’ and we should be ‘prepared to fight.’ And he’s convinced that the shadowy forces of the establishment are engaged in efforts to silence him.”
Worst of all, Petridis says, “The tone isn’t anything as stirring or exciting as anger, just endless peevish discontent and sneering dismissal.”
Rolling Stone‘s Jonathan Bernstein says, “Morrison’s repetition sounds less like the trance-like mysticism of a Caledonia poet and more like a furious customer demanding a refund.” He does laud the song “Duper’s Delight,” saying it “shows Morrison at his best: letting his audience in on his own profound process of self-inquiry.”
Bernstein sums up the album as “a sometimes amusing, sometimes frustrating, sparsely thrilling, and largely unlistenable collection of rants and riffs.”
And about “They Own the Media”? While the song doesn’t explicitly name Jewish people as its “They,” it does elevate an anti-Semitic trope that has recently been revived in an even more malicious form by QAnon followers.
Sample lyrics: “They control the narrative, they perpetuate the myth / Keep on telling you lies, tell you ignorance is bliss / Believe it all and you’ll never get the truth / Never get wise, wise through their lies.”
“Well,” tweeted British writer-presenter Matthew Sweet, “the new Van Morrison album will certainly satisfy anyone who’s wondered what the Protocols would sound like with a sax accompaniment.”
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