On The Insufferable What's It Gonna Take?, Van Morrison Declines Even Further

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Van Morrison just released his new LP What's It Gonna Take?, his 43rd studio album and the follow-up to last year's Latest Record Project Volume 1. That album was 28 songs and over two hours of grouching about computer-assisted modern music, expensive divorce proceedings, being "a targeted individual," Saturday nights ruined by lockdowns, the debunked theory of white men supposedly being oppressed, the mainstream fake news media controlling people's thoughts, how Facebook users need to get a life, and how you, dear listener, should get up off your ass and actually do something about all of this. Yet somehow, What's It Gonna Take? is even worse, and it's shocking to think that it's by the same artist who made Astral Weeks, Saint Dominic's Preview, Veedon Fleece, or, hell, even the Bang Contractual Obligation Session.

For as lyrically awful and musically generic as Latest Record Project was, it at least had a few listenable, maybe even slightly redeemable, moments. "Love Should Come With A Warning" could've been decent if it didn't sound so bitter, and "Thank God For The Blues" might've been fine if it was two minutes shorter and in a different context. As recently as 2019, Van Morrison made thoroughly listenable—if often sleep-inducing—records; just listen to Three Chords And The Truth, which while far from spectacular is a respectable enough late-career effort.

What's It Gonna Take?, however, lacks a single redeemable quality. It looked awful from the start—the singles were more glorified Facebook rants set to bland blues backing tracks, and the song titles include "Sometimes It's Just Blah Blah Blah," "Fighting Back Is The New Normal," "Fodder For The Masses," and "I'm Not A Celebrity." The full 79-minute album is a grueling, insufferable experience, and you might wonder if Morrison is simply trolling us. But if that was the case, you'd think he'd stop before a public health official sues him for defamation.

Which is exactly what he whines about on the opening track, "Dangerous." For nearly eight minutes, Morrison alludes to his ongoing conflict with Robin Swann, the Northern Ireland Minister of Health. In fall 2020, Swann expressed disappointment with Morrison's anti-lockdown stance, to which Morrison responded by calling Swann "very dangerous" and a "fraud." Swann is now suing Morrison, who on this song asserts that he's "getting close to the truth" and "was just looking for the evidence." The title track, "Fighting Back Is The New Normal," and "Can't Go On This Way" find him asking listeners to fight against taxes and lockdown measures and "realize this is fake," "Fodder For The Masses" complains about how the media "[lies] to you continuously" and only serves to "fill you up with fake news for their masters," and "Money From America" revisits his "there's no such thing as free money" grievance (the last record's "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished" already mentioned how "there's no such thing as a free lunch"). Of course, Morrison takes great pains to emphasize the "freedom" of his "thinking," such as on the self-explanatory, six and a half-minute "Not Seeking Approval." "I'm having a nervous breakdown/I'm having some kind of breakthrough," he sings on the lead single "Nervous Breakdown." No, he is not having "some kind of breakthrough;" he is simply losing his mind, as further confirmed by his further diatribes about mind control, government overreach, and everything otherwise being "blah blah blah blah."

Van Morrison's political and societal views might be objectionable, but that's not what makes What's It Gonna Take? a steaming pile of shit; rather, it's his inability to express those views in an interesting, artistically thoughtful manner. All he does is whine and complain nonstop for the length of an entire CD, because he thinks his insights will encourage listeners to fight against this system that he so often yet so vaguely refers to. For an artist whose last record has a five-minute song called "Stop Bitching, Do Something," Morrison certainly can't take his own advice. Some listeners argue that if you can get over the political stuff, Latest Record Project has some value. Yet, I don't enjoy even my favorite artists listing every last personal annoyance, nor do I like politically-minded works that I find artistically mediocre, even if I agree with the message. Separate an artist and their politics from the art, sure, except when the politics becomes the "art" itself and said "art" is a grumpy old man berating you nonstop (at least Latest Record Project gave you a break every now and then) for 79 minutes, it's a failure in every way, and a depressing one at that.

The sound quality on the 96/24 Apple Music stream is fine, if a bit sterile and compressed, but none of that really matters here. Please, do not buy this record. Spare your wallet and your ears from this utter crap, which becomes musically blander and lyrically even more pathetic when you revisit Morrison's poetically written, beautifully arranged classics (which at this point might as well include songs like "The Big Royalty Check" and all the out-of-tune one-minute improvisations about some idiot named George, because Sir George Ivan Morrison is now that "Dum Dum George"). 79 minutes of recorded farts and burps pressed on vomit-scented vinyl would be eons better than the painful What's It Gonna Take. That's how unbearably awful this is.

(Malachi Lui is an AnalogPlanet contributing editor, music obsessive, avid record collector, and art enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.)

COMMENTS
Martin28's picture

Is this a record review or a whiny, left-wing meltdown? Stick to music and audio, kid, and you won't alienate your readers.

Michael Fremer's picture

The review is about music. You made it about politics. Malachi states that it's not about politics and I think fair minded readers will read it as such. And please: he alienated a reader or a few readers not his readers.

grantgg's picture

sorry but I think any fair minded reader would see this as a no holds barred takedown. let's call it what it is.

timware's picture

based on the artist’s lack of subtlety in his lyrics and musical creativity. ML doesn’t attack the politics and clearly states his is an artistic and NOT a political judgment. Others here, in a very hypersensitive and snowflake-y way, just can’t help themselves and must invent a straw man to attack. Too f*kng funny, and sad…

Thomas Siebert's picture

You write: "ML...clearly states his is an artistic and NOT a political judgment."

So do you believe EVERYTHING people tell you when it suits their and your motivations? This is an incredibly naive statement. This review is clearly political, and he convicts himself: "Van Morrison's political and societal views might be objectionable"..."Separate an artist and their politics from the art, except when the politics becomes the "art" itself and said "art" is a grumpy old man berating you nonstop," etc.

So even if he tells you the politics aren't influencing his review, it's clear that they are. "Dangerous" is a great song, no two ways about it.

The fact this brutal review from a fringe publication is the #1 response on Google is a key indicator that the bad take is exactly what it's supposed to be: Directed propaganda to steer people away from listening to one of the few artists challenging the Great Reset and ridiculous unscientific and deadly lockdown. The only good thing about it is that the author is clearly a blind follower of government and Big Pharma, which means he's almost surely vaxxed and boosted which means we'll only have to suffer through another year or two of his bad takes!

Daniel Emerson's picture

...the review nailed a conceited old fraud who's been phoning it in for decades, and who deserves to be called out on his opportunist attempt to drag his bloated fat arse aboard the anti-rational, shouting-not-thinking bandwagon.

DigitalIsDead's picture

Left and right refers to your economic views ie Adam Smith or John Maynard Keynes. Idiots have turned something this basic into a culture wars thermometer. In the US left means you give a fuck about your fellow man and right means fuck your fellow man. So ended the lesson.

garyalex's picture

I have no problem with Malachi's review. Given that this album is so politically motivated it's hard to avoid including that in a review. I listened to as much of it as I could stand on Qobuz. Van is truly full of himself. He delivers that up in a dreary, whiny fashion. Musically, I think it's awful. I had to listen to selections from "Astral Weeks" to wash way the stink of this one.

Fsonicsmith's picture

about your detractors and I once did a wee scooch of critique as to your level of experiential reference myself. Please-overall I love your approach of reviewing younger person's music and your tough grading scale. My support is only buttressed by the fact that I have always despised VM. For me, his style evokes images of someone attempting to vocalize the playing of bagpipes on quaaludes.

Michael Fremer's picture

I didn't know bagpipes could inset quaaludes! lol

rich d's picture

You're obviously unfamiliar with the work of The New Quaalude Pipe and Drum Highlanders. Top drawer stuff, and beautifully recorded.

ivansbacon's picture

Thanks Malachi. As an old curmudgeon i appreciate you calling out a bland, to be avoided diatribe in the guise of music that gives us curmudgeons a bad rap :)

BruceN's picture

A song is composed of lyrics set to music. Criticizing the lyrics is as valid as criticizing the music.

I think this is a great, honest review for which no apologies or qualifications need to be made.

Excellent work, Malachi!

Frank Sumatra's picture

Place tonearm on arm rest. Grab record. Take it outdoors. Place on concrete sidewalk. Stomp on it. Place in trash. Dig out your stereo copy of greatest hits on Bang. Enjoy!

rich d's picture

...G-L-O-R-I-O-U-S, glorious

SoreFinger's picture

... set to terminally unimaginative backing tracks that make me skip so fast it's impossible to write a review is exactly what I thought about the previous LP. So to think Van could double down again to paint a picture with fat fingers in bold strokes about the state of the nation means I am unable to even attempt to listen to this one. Your description is so on point as to how I imagine this LP will sound that I am more entertained by the thought of it than I ever could be by listening. And I adore many of his LPs and still listen regularly.

I don't want to ever endure the disappointment of his previous LP, at least not until the taste has gone from my ears or I feel curious enough to engage with it one drunken evening.

Thanks for the review Malachi.

Rashers's picture

would be to have my legs waxed while having an awake colonoscopy listening to this record. Thanks Malachi for listening to this - so the rest of us don't have to.

rich d's picture

If you're having a colonoscopy, it's not your legs that need waxing.

adw's picture

This is gorgeously written, truly, I discern real evolution on that score, and as for the vinegar involved, well, the young have passion and ardor and can bend towards a quantity of rage, it is one privilege the young enjoy. Just don't forget this period 55 years from now. It may humble you by that point. As we age, we can definitely become pretty kvetch-y. C'est la vie. I personally ceased having any interest in VM after Poetic Champions Compose, which is a long time ago. But he played an important set that broke lots of hearts, mine included, at Jazz Fest after Katrina, and brought a tender note to the occasion, which was deeply appreciated, we were still pretty raw. I'm sorry to learn that he has descended to this, but again, c'est la vie. The key point is that if you are fated to become a writer like MF, who writes exquisitely very often I think, has for decades, it strikes me that you're off to a very promising start indeed. Congratulations. Write whatever you want, your opinions are yours.

BAL's picture

I've been pissed at him for about a year now, but I listened to some early stuff last night and DAMN....He's great.

PeterPani's picture

I listened already in the record. Happily enough I don't have to review it, so I stopped after four songs. But the fourth song I listened to was What's It Gonna Take. And had I read your review soon enough I could have avoided the mind boggling experience traveling my brain through swampy space.
Really great review, fully on point! Congrats!
You take risks ;-)

Tom L's picture

Morrison has always been a bit of a crank, but his early work revealed a unique genius. His mid-period releases still satisfied, although he had obviously stopped reaching for the stars musically or lyrically. Now the crankiness is all that's left. Truly one of the saddest creative declines of the last fifty years.

Daniel Emerson's picture

His last release that had any artistic merit was "Ringworm". Whether he was right or not about the contract he was in, you could tell he actually felt an identifiable human emotion when he recorded it.

Anton D's picture

Thank you.

I am hoping he does a full duet album with Eric Clapton so I can more efficiently avoid both these dopes in the future.

MalachiLui's picture

but i'm not sure van morrison wants to get clapton's covid right now...

https://www.npr.org/2022/05/18/1099842280/eric-clapton-covid-cancels-shows

Ted Clifton's picture

Malachi is spot on in this review but not the right messenger to bring us the news. Kind of like old men whining about today's music but in reverse. Let the old men call out their own.

MalachiLui's picture

i disagree. i love A LOT of older music, and older artists can make excellent albums late into their careers (a few examples are bowie's 'blackstar,' lou reed's 'lulu' collaboration with metallica, leonard cohen's 'you want it darker,' and dylan's 'rough and rowdy ways' - i'm actually going to a dylan concert later tonight). i acknowledged van morrison's earlier excellence as well as the fact that i can at least appreciate some of his later period works prior to the anti-lockdown songs. none of this had anything to do with age or generational differences - if van dropped a record expressing these anti-government grievances but made it as good as 'lulu' (not that i can ever imagine him making a dark concept record with metallica haha), i probably would've given it a good score.

Anton D's picture

Like, if Kanye did something that stupid, Malachi wouldn't get upset at you calling Kanye out.

PeterPani's picture

a religious experience as usual in the later years? Driven by the sound of this wonderful musicians? Got the feeling being a fish in the waves of spot on elongated rhythms?

MalachiLui's picture

it was... alright. far from a religious experience, and i'm surprised the audience didn't fall asleep. dylan's clearly going for a more chill old school tavern band sorta vibe, so it was all very loose and he blanked on a few lines, had some memory delay on others (he's got boomer weed brain, as i call it). to say he "plays" the piano would be a bit generous, he just happens to slam the right keys in a proper order. when he stood up to sing a couple times, it almost looked like he'd fall over, he was really bent over. his voice is in fine shape though, and the 'rough and rowdy ways' material sounded good. happy i went and was able to see him live but it was just okay.

PeterPani's picture

I know what you mean. I see him once a year. And I guess, I got into the mood of this late stage of his career. Maybe in every song I listen to all the intermediate moods of his last twenty years and find something resonating in me.
Maybe its only a big thanking from my soul to him that I am always very satisfied after his gigs. Maybe he does it different here in Europe. Last time was - because of Covid - two years ago. He was surprisingly fit then.
Thanks for answering!!

Glotz's picture

I just shook my head for an hour afterwards.. and I LOVE Van. There is a song or two that doesn't induce complete cringe.

He really wants to become the Trump of music. There is no truth in this album whatsoever. That is the saddest thing about this release.

For anyone to suggest that older people should only review older music is super asinine.

His perceptions as a younger person matter, and he probably do it without the 'memberberry' biases.

Ted Clifton's picture

Super asinine is pretty harsh, didn't say his opinion didn't matter, agree it is a terrible album, recognize Malachi has varied musical taste and is a thoughtful and passionate reviewer. Just thought it would have been more appropriate for someone closer to VM's age to lay the wood to this album. That's all.

Glotz's picture

You give some comments directly stating (twice) that an older adult would have been more insightful somehow.

What would that look 'wood' like? (No pictures please)

estimatedprophet's picture

I would never leave the house without "Moondance" and "Tupelo Honey" on my iPhone, but at this point, I really wish Van would slither away ... the guy spent decades building an awesome legacy, and he's destroyed it in 24-months - Van and EC are reasons #4,414 and #4,415 why Trump is the Worst President Ever.

Anton D's picture

Cheers.

Glotz's picture

NT

BillK's picture

Perhaps, just perhaps you shouldn't review an album where your judgement is clouded by your politics.

Of course Michael would agree with your assessments, but at least he would likely realize he couldn't review this because of his pre-existing biases.

Michael, you say it's about the music, but the statement:

"Which is exactly what he whines about on the opening track, "Dangerous." For nearly eight minutes, Morrison alludes to his ongoing conflict with Robin Swann, the Northern Ireland Minister of Health."

indicates it's about politics, not the song per se.

If a reviewer complained that "Marvin Gaye whines about civil rights and ecology throughout "What's Going On"" would that be a review of the music or of its viewpoint?

MalachiLui's picture

there's actually one record of an artist whining that i really like: lou reed's 1978 live LP 'take no prisoners.'

he spends half the record ranting about people and things he doesn't like, and i'm not sure i agree with all of it, but it's certainly entertaining.

if van morrison made a long ass record of him ranting about lockdowns and made it as entertaining as 'take no prisoners,' i'd love it. but he's yet to do that...

Glotz's picture

AND Reed's justification for hating Robert Christgau then was justified.

His reviews, along with Lester Bangs, always came off reaching and insulting.

Tom L's picture

really has little to do with politics as such. It's more personal than that. For one thing, they really hate one another. Also, Morrison has made it clear that he has no belief in science, especially epidemiology, but considering that to be "politics" is a very recent and strange development.

Biff Jones's picture

Correct on every point. Well written, and well deserved (for Van, that is). A very good read.

M1chael's picture

Not sure about whining but the Hate America crowd is out in full force. Racism still existed in this country but it’s on the left not the right, as exposed by the Democratically run Chicago.

Glotz's picture

What does Chicago have to do with this??

They are a great band for decades and this is the thanks you give?!

I will go back and listen to all 37 albums and look for all of this racism that you accuse Chicago of...

I think there maybe something in the vinyl that turns Boomers into crazy people...

Ivan Lietaert's picture

I've always been a fan of Van the Man, and I must agree this is not his best work.
As for the political side of all this, it is interesting to see how this hate between the two antagonists came to be. Correct me if I'm wrong, but VM used his right to freedom of speech to express his concerns about the lockdown measures. Robin Swann, a politician, called him 'dangerous' for expressing that opinion. VM first wasn't targeting Swann in particular, but the general political class in the UK and Europe, who initiated lockdowns, locked old people in 'solitary confinement' in caring homes, forcing them to die alone. The lockdowns brought the cultural sector to its knees. In my own country, Belgium, a politician decided to destroy a strategic stock of face masks shortly before the pandemic broke out, and 'forgot', for budget reasons.
All this while the political class themselves kept on partying and without blinking confessed they didn't realize their lockdown laws also applied to themselves. Read about Boris Johnson's partygate here: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-61578618
Eric Clapton is not vaccinated because of medical reasons. He 'came out of the closet' because he's not the only one in a 'dire strait' and wanted to raise awareness. Often, this is not mentioned, he's simply labelled an antivaxer or conspiracy theorist.

Is all this 'shit' and 'whining'? (your words)

Mr. Morrison said: “I have tried to be constructive over the past fifteen months in engaging with government to propose practical suggestions as to how we bring back live music events based on robust individual health and safety risk assessments. I played at the London Palladium in front of a live audience earlier this month. I can’t play in my hometown to a limited audience. Where is the scientific or medical evidence to support this blanket ban on live music? After over a year, they still haven’t provided the evidence.”
https://www.vanmorrison.com/news/2021/van-morrison-launches-third-hardsh...

Anton D's picture

If he had an issue that precluded vaccination, then why the bullshit about refusing to play where vaccines or masks were required for attendance?

What would an unvaccinated person at medical risk actually do or say?

Don't let Eric blow more smoke up your bum.

Ivan Lietaert's picture

In May, Clapton said that he had experienced a "severe" reaction to the AstraZeneca vaccine and that he was afraid that he would "never play again." He also said he was inspired by another musician turned anti-vaccine activist, Van Morrison.

I guess they don't want to discriminate against people who can't be vaccinated for medical reasons?

Please take note of the fact that back then, reputable vaccinologists claimed that vaccinated people could not spread the vaccine, which later was corrected.

Anton D's picture

Keep in mind, he had no issue with injecting himself with who knows what in the past and now he starts wailing about a vaccine.

To top it off, he extrapolates that to venues and audiences.

He's a befuddled old racist crank.

AnalogJ's picture

Musically, the posted song is fine. It's got an upbeat lilt. I like the instrumentation. I like the organ, giving it a bit of a retro sound. And Morrison is in fine voice.

But lyrically, it's heavy-handed and simplistic. It's sort of a sweeping anti-anything. If the government is involved, it has to be bad (as if there's no such thing as an interwoven society. We do not operate in a vacuum.). The problem is that there's a lack of poeticism, a beauty to the lyrics which Morrison, at his musical height, is known for. I think this is what Malachi is trying to say. I only listened to that song, so I can't comment on the rest of the album.

But Morrison and Eric Clapton don't exactly win over the masses by taking a stance that is unthoughtful about the effects of their actions on others.

Lemon Curry's picture

I listened to a few tracks, individually they aren't horrible but it gets relentless.

I think if Van got all the venting in one or two strong tracks, with all the remaining tracks non-political, he would have had something more powerful.

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