Van Morrison

Cul de Sac

Composed by Van Morrison

Song Review by

The opening piano strains of a warm soul groove open up "Cul de Sac" and we find a weary traveler welcomed back to a place where, "We don't care who you know/It's who you really are." Often overlooked in favor of the critically lauded Astral Weeks -- Van Morrison's critically lauded artistic breakthrough -- Veedon Fleece picks up where the former record left off and continues to realize and refine the spiritual and musical quests set forth on Astral Weeks. Though there are four satisfying and solid records of more well-known and commercially successful material (plus a live album) in between these two records, Astral Weeks and Veedon Fleece really are two sides of the same coin and high points of a brilliant career. Morrison's narrator on the latter record is a man in search of the Veedon Fleece, a seemingly invented personal grail. The journey on the record in general, and on "Cul de Sac" specifically, can be seen as a spiritual journey as well as the literal, geographical travels Morrison undertook after the breakup of his seminal R&B outfit, Them. Throughout Veedon Fleece, Morrison's narrator pivots not so much between the songs of innocence and experience that his less-mature narrator explored on Astral Weeks; rather, he swings back and forth between worldly and holy, or spiritual, symbols. And his literal travels take us to Ireland, Morrison's homeland -- where the bulk of material was written for both Astral Weeks and Veedon Fleece -- and America, where most of the songs for the intervening records were written. Through it all, we find an artist grasping for meaning and finding it in the unexpected: taking joy in life's small pleasures and ultimately discovering what he had been searching for back home in the seemingly dead-end cul-de-sac -- a place with no outlet, where the subconscious stores its memories and dreams and where one can find one's source, one's essence. The band kicks between the slow, descending classic soul progression and a chorus that builds into a climax. Morrison seems so swept up at one point that he lets out a full-throated howl, a scream, actually. The song as well as the album as a whole show Morrison as a man following his muse and not commercial dictates. Good business would have had him pumping out a few more of his straight-up R&B singles and not a complex song cycle such as this one. Morrison has never been a man that seemed in charge of his art; he always appeared under its spell, channeling rather than writing or producing. He has tried to get as close to the source as possible, leaving his art in its most raw form. Though not always successful artistically or commercially, "Cul de Sac" is an example of how he succeeds at pure art: as direct a line as possible into a man's soul.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Veedon Fleece 1974 Polydor / Universal 2:55
blue highlight denotes editor's pick