Inarticulate Speech of the Heart

More than just an album title, "inarticulate speech of the heart" is an evocative, breathtaking description of the humble act of prayer. It captures in a simple phrase that desperate expression of pain and need, as well as the floundering over words inadequate to communicate one's joy over a new love or a gorgeous country sunrise. "I'm a soul in wonder, I'm a soul in wonder," Van Morrison repeats over and over in the vocal version of his new LP's title song, at once a helpless confession and a celebratory declaration.

With the cool, breezy rain of its keyboards and guitars and the warm, gospel-style glow of the background choir, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart attempts to put into sound those feelings that words cannot always express. Four of the album's eleven songs are rich, flowing instrumentals much like Morrison's Grammy-nominated piano study "Scandinavia," from last year's Beautiful Vision — gentle, contemplative explorations that envelop you with their shy, sometimes troubled radiance. Mystical John Coltrane ballads and Erik Satie piano miniatures echo through the dark, open spaces of "September Night," while "Celtic Swing" moves with an urgent, jazzy optimism that complements the sunny mood of the synthesizer-flavored jig "Connswater."

As a singer, Morrison has always striven for an eloquence unbounded by pop's lyrical conventions. Here, in the slow, misty "Rave On, John Donne," he invokes the name of that seventeenth-century clergyman-poet, as well as those of Walt Whitman and William Butler Yeats, as if to help him summon his own strength. "Drive on with wild abandon/Uptempo, frenzied hues," he recites feverishly in his loamy Irish accent. And although Inarticulate Speech of the Heart is not as explicitly religious as Beautiful Vision nor as didactic as Bob Dylan's last few albums, there is nevertheless a deep emotional stirring in Morrison's singular bleating that informs the quiet jubilation of "Higher Than the World" and the calm reassurance of "Cry for Home" with an unmistakable spiritualism.

The ratio of instrumentals to vocals here may be Morrison's way of illustrating that it's not the words one uses but the force of conviction behind those words that matters. It is a sentiment that rings true throughout his recorded works, and like the others, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart speaks volumes in its own remarkable way.

From The Archives Issue 744: October 3, 1996