Van Morrison

Poetic Champions Compose

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If the title didn't tip you off, the opening five-minute jazz instrumental "Spanish Steps" certainly reveals that Poetic Champions Compose is an art record. Of course, Van Morrison has been making art records since at least Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, perhaps Common One, so that shouldn't come as a surprise. What is a bit of a shock is that Morrison begins to shake off his self-conscious straitjacket here, letting a little more grit into the music, even if the record still is firmly ensconced in mid-tempos and ballads, with only Van's voice (soulful, yet not histrionic) to pull you in. Much of this tends to float by, with only the occasional song ("I Forgot That Love Existed," "Did Ye Get Healed?") distinguishing itself. The overly mellow atmosphere and Van's arch artiness may not make it universally appealing, yet this record is warmer, stronger than many of its predecessors, one of his highlights from the '80s.

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