Vanís back, indeed! Some 30-odd albums into a remarkably prolific recording career, the irascible Irishman returns with one of his strongest releases to date. But "on top?" Canít mean the charts, since Vanís never been one to measure success by either airplay or sales. And itís hard to believe he means emotionally, not with the kind of wistful melancholy that pervades so much of this disc. On top of his game, as a singer, as a songwriter? That must be it, Ďcause this is truly a top-notch release. So whaddya get with Van in the late nineties? Admittedly, much of the same. As always, there are recurrent lyrical themes running through his work. Thereís a bit of self-indulgent whining. (We know by now that he doesnít trust the "suits" that run the record companies! Enough already!) Thereís some free-flowing, horn-driven jazz and some straight ahead blues. But most of all, there are the ballads. Wait, make that the sublime ballads.
Now, Vanís been known to rock out occasionally (albeit with taste and restraint, if thatís not a contradiction) over the years. But itís always been the quieter, more introspective numbers that have best revealed the manís soul. And oh what soul! I can think of no other artist as capable of revealing the sheer beauty found in sadness, in melancholy. He invests each line with such heartfelt emotion, even the simplest of phrases ("I miss you so much/I canít stand it" / Seems like my heart/is breaking in two"), take on a weight, a profundity. Every phrase seems to resonate with a larger, more universal Truth. Sounds terribly hokey, yes, and in lesser hands it no doubt would be. But this is Van the Man weíre talking about here!
Lest one think all is world-weary resignation, though, hear this; "Well the fireís still in me and the passion burns." Perhaps itís best - for us, anyway - that heís never found true contentment. To the benefit of his music, heís still searching, still seeking, still fighting the good fight. And the passion does still burn!
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