Why We Should Be Wary of Van Morrison’s “Latest Record Project”

With song titles like "They Control the Media" and "Why Are You on Facebook?" we're not expecting great things

Van Morrison performs on stage during Music For The Marsden 2020 at The O2 Arena on March 03, 2020 in London, England.

By Bonnie Stiernberg

Van Morrison has announced a new double album, simply titled Latest Record Project Vol. 1, and while that might normally be good news for fans of the legendary singer-songwriter, everything we know so far about about it has us hoping there isn’t actually a Vol. 2 in the works.

The 28-song project, slated to be released on May 7 via Exile/BMG, was written and recorded during quarantine. Morrison has been outspoken about his anti-lockdown beliefs during the pandemic, even going so far as to record the deeply problematic “Stand and Deliver” — an anti-mask song that likens being asked to stay inside for a while for public health reasons to, yes, slavery — with Eric Clapton. And while “Stand and Deliver” and Morrison’s other recent anti-lockdown tracks aren’t included on Latest Record Project Vol. 1, its tracklist is worrisome nonetheless. Let’s have a look…

Disc One
1. “Latest Record Project”
2. “Where Have All the Rebels Gone?”
3. “Psychoanalysts’ Ball”
4. “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”
5. “Tried to Do the Right Thing”
6. “The Long Con”
7. “Thank God for the Blues”
8. “Big Lie”
9. “A Few Bars Early”
10. “It Hurts Me Too”
11. “Only a Song”
12. “Diabolic Pressure”
13. “Deadbeat Saturday Night”
14. “Blue Funk”

Disc Two
1. “Double Agent”
2. “Double Bind”
3. “Love Should Come With A Warning”
4. “Breaking The Spell”
5. “Up County Down”
6. “Duper’s Delight”
7. “My Time After a While”
8. “He’s Not the Kingpin”
9. “Mistaken Identity”
10. “Stop Bitching, Do Something”
11. “Western Man”
12. “They Own the Media”
13. “Why Are You on Facebook?”
14. “Jealousy”

Rolling Stone reports that at least one of the songs, “Dead Beat Saturday Night” is also about life in lockdown. (Lyrics include “No life, no gigs, no choice, no voice.”) Others like “Stop Bitching, Do Something,” “Where Have All the Rebels Gone?” and “They Own the Media” seem like they’re also bound to be problematic. We’ll have to wait to find out who exactly “they” is referring to in the latter, but even if it’s not relying on old anti-Semitic stereotypes, the idea that any singular group of people “owns the media” is a dangerous myth.

Morrison explained his intentions with the record in a statement, saying, “I’m getting away from the perceived same songs, same albums all the time. This guy’s done 500 songs, maybe more, so hello? Why do you keep promoting the same 10? I’m trying to get out of the box.”

But if the album’s first single, “Latest Record Project,” which you can listen to below, is any indication, he’s still firmly inside the Van Morrison box. It’s a straightforward soul shuffle, complete with Hammond organ and “sha la la” backing vocals — sonically, pretty typical of what we’ve come to expect from Morrison at this stage in his career. “Have you got my latest songs I’m singing?/You got my latest songs I’m singing?” he sings. “Not something from so long ago/Not something that you might want to know/But something I can relate to in the present.”

Musically, it feels pretty phoned-in, but perhaps that “something I can relate to in the present” line means that Morrison is trying to break out of the box with his lyricism instead, focusing on the modern-day issues — like, say, COVID-19 and socially distanced concerts — that he has concerned himself with recently. Given his history there, that should be reason for anyone who believes science is real to worry.

Ultimately, it’s deeply sad that it has come to this. We can’t expect our musical heroes to stay at the top of their game forever, but it’s painful to watch Morrison fall this far, from writing a gorgeous, timeless masterpiece like Astral Weeks to penning “Why Are You on Facebook?” Of course, we’re only going off of what little information about Latest Record Project Vol. 1 we have thus far, and it’s impossible to properly judge it until we’ve actually heard all of it. But based on what we do know, it’s hard not to feel like we’re out of the mystic and headed into the legendary songwriter’s Out-of-Touch Old-Guy phase.