Van Morrison's 23rd studio album of original material in 30 years follows two jazz-oriented side projects, during which he was able to indulge his affection for the works of others, especially those of Mose Allison
. Returning to his own work, Morrison seems to want to come to terms with the bitterness sometimes expressed in more recent original albums like Too Long in Exile
and Days Like This
. That bitterness has not dissipated by any means, as he demonstrates most clearly in "This Weight" and "It Once Was My Life," but now he is at pains to make clear that he became a musician because of a pure, simple joy in music-making. But that joy has been reduced by the demands of celebrity, and if this makes him the Greta Garbo of rock, so be it. When he isn't complaining, Morrison presents the same kind of material he has been giving us for decades now, midtempo tunes paced by warm, graceful horn charts in which he evokes passion and spirituality largely through the use of nature imagery and rhythmic repetition. In his attempt to get back to his original inspiration, however, he gives "It Once Was My Life" and especially "If You Love Me" a doo wop sound, which seems to achieve the desired effect, such that in the album-closing title track he declares success: "Here I am again/Back on the corner again/Back where I belong." And with his return to "those ancient streets," his career comes full circle.