Days Like This
Polydor 314 527 307-2
Review by Scott Thomas:
Those who are still listening closely as the album passes the halfway point, however, are rewarded. The title song turns a common expression and famous pop song chorus on its head. Usually, the phrase "My momma told me there'd be days like this" is something you say to make yourself feel better at the end of a tough day: the implication is that a good day might be just around the corner. The singer, steeling himself against disappointments and letdowns, does not want to feel too good on the good days: "When all the parts of the puzzle start to seem like they fit / Then I must remember there'll be days like this." Keep an ear peeled for one of Morrison's best sax solos.
This odd manipulation of positive and negative continues into "Underlying Depression" and "Melancholia." The former tacks post-Dylan self-analysis onto a sweet Motown vibe culled from Smokey Robinson & The Miracles while the latter is an eccentric gem. With a horn part as gorgeous as anything on Beautiful Vision and some moving echo vocals by Brian Kennedy and James Huntsman, Van sings the word "Melancholia" over and over in the chorus, serenely caressing each syllable as if he were whispering a lover's name. In doing so, he seems to banish his dark mood.
The neglected epic "Ancient Highway" is in the grand tradition of "Listen to the Lion" and "You Don't Pull No Punches." Over a dusky, Spanish-sounding melody, a quiet rhythm section, muted trumpet, and recorder, Morrison projects images of a Friday night in Belfast when all of the workers are heading home and the musicians' shift is just beginning. Morrison talks of the "dues of the organ grinder jam" and links himself to endless generations of musicians. Though the singer is the grateful recipient of "trancelike visions," he is haunted by a "nightmare hurt" and a desire to "slip away down that ancient highway." It is here that Van stumbles on the limitations of nostalgia and remembrance just as he did almost a decade earlier on No Guru No Method No Teacher. While all of Morrison's albums from the early 90's had expressed a desire to go back to childhood and early adolescence when "everything made more sense" and he was most capable of experiencing the elusive "sense of wonder," the memory in "Ancient Highway" is of being older, of feeling isolated and restless, of needing to leave home and childhood behind forever, and he is afraid of failure: "I keeping praying to my higher self, don't let me down..."
For the last song, Morrison comes back to adulthood and deliberately revisits the afternoon light and isolated room of "Melancholia," but this time he feels anything but despair: "I wanna make love to you / In the afternoon..." and so an album which began so weakly, finishes with an extended flourish of Morrison's genius.