Van Morrison doesn’t make easy-listening records. Oh, sure, you can sit back and let his smooth, buttery R&B vocals roll across the arrangements, but there’s too much else going on to let it stop there. Ever since he threw aside the mantle of pop singer more than twenty years ago to make Astral Weeks, Morrison has used the recording process as a means to explore his spiritual obsessions. Every now and then he fires off what passes for another pop album, but for the most part he has been setting his sights on the firmament to worship his God.
Morrison’s apparent object of worship is Jesus Christ, but his Lord in no way resembles the familiar TV icon of American fundamentalism. Morrison’s lyrics are the product of an imagination blasted by overwhelming visions — his Christ is alternately a nature spirit and a symbol of erotic bliss. “The Vision of Christ thou dost see Is my Vision’s Greatest Enemy,” wrote the poet William Blake, one of Morrison’s greatest influences, of the orthodox Christians of his time. Morrison’s spiritual bent is of a similar character.
Enlightenment is a sequel to Morrison’s last album, Avalon Sunset. Both are steeped in Christian and nature imagery, with Christ appearing on the mountainside in “Contacting My Angel,” on Avalon Sunset, and as the “Youth of 1,000 Summers,” on Enlightenment. Aralon Sunset‘s “When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God” pictures Morrison watching the sun set over Avalon, the mythic island where King Arthur was taken to heal his wounds after his final battle. Sunset, autumn and death are the recurrent themes of that album, but Morrison vows to “tear down the old, bring in the new.” That’s exactly what he does on Enlightenment.
This album is Morrison’s spiritual resurrection, and he comes out stomping with “Real Real Gone,” his most engaging R&B raveup since the days of “Domino.” The theme of rebirth recurs throughout the record. Morrison and his lover are “gonna make a brand new start” in “Avalon of the Heart,” and Van hits his most optimistic mood in “Start All Over Again.” The mixture of spiritual and erotic love infuses Morrison’s writing in “See Me Through,” “She’s a Baby” and especially “So Quiet in Here,” in which the singer finds heaven in a contemplative moment by the sea.
Morrison is so pleased with his new start that he can even poke fun at his quest on the title track. “I’m in the here and now and I’m meditating/And still I’m suffering but that’s my problem,” he sings. “Enlightenment, don’t know what it is” — and he doesn’t sound disturbed at all.