Van Morrison´s Most Underrated Album: Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1983)

Van-Morrison-Inarticulate-Spee-495734

Almost a forgotten album, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart takes listeners to the deepest, most inward areas of Van Morrison‘s renegade Irish soul, the culmination of his spiritual jazz period and also — perhaps not coincidentally — the last record he made for Warner Bros. Four of the 11 tracks are moody instrumentals, which might partly explain the indifference of many rock critics toward the album, although the album’s very title gives a clue to their presence.
-Richard S. Ginell (allmusic.com)

Inarticulate Speech of the Heart is a highly underrated piece of art.

I decide to check out what the Van Morrison “experts” had written about it (books, websites, magazines, etc..), and express my own opinion as well.

TOC

  1. Facts
    1. Recording sessions
    2. Track listing
    3. Personnel
  2. The best songs
  3. Audio/video
  4. Opinions
  5. Lists
  6. Sources

Facts

Released March 1983
Recorded
  • 1982
  • The Townhouse, London
  • The Record Plant
  • Harbour Sound, Sausalito
  • Tres Virgos, San Rafael
  • Lombard Sound, Dublin
Genre Celtic, jazz
Length 47:10
Label
  • Mercury (UK)
  • Warner Bros. (USA)
Producer Van Morrison

Inarticulate Speech of the Heart is the fourteenth studio album by Van Morrison, released in 1983. Morrison said he arrived at the title from a Shavian saying: “that idea of communicating with as little articulation as possible, at the same time being emotionally articulate”. As his last album for Warner Bros. Records, he decided to do an album with 4 instrumentals. As he explained in 1984, “Sometimes when I’m playing something, I’m just sort of humming along with it, and that’s got a different vibration than an actual song. So the instrumentals just come from trying to get that form of expression, which is not the same as writing a song.” Although not expanded upon, of note is that a special thanks is given to L. Ron Hubbard in the liner notes. The reissued and remastered version of the album contains alternative takes of “Cry for Home” and “Inarticulate Speech of the Heart No. 2”. 

Recording sessions

There was an album we did in Shepard´s Bush, which was literally done in three days … There was a song … that was just a rant. It was long enough to have two tapes on it. It just went on and on and on, and at the end of it we just smiled. The room wasn´t much bigger than [my living room]. I have a great memory [of] Van with his Fender-Rhodes, his sax round his neck, his mike here, and there was Chris Michie, Mark [Isham] playing a little keyboards, David Hayes and me, and we where just really locked in on those sessions, and it was all nailed. The reason it worked was that [by then] we knew each other so instinctively. But no A&R people! … No one [ever] told him when to go into the studio.
Peter Van Hooke

Track listing

All songs written and composed by Van Morrison.

1. “Higher than the World” 3:42
2. “Connswater” 4:09
3. “River of Time” 3:02
4. “Celtic Swing” 5:03
5. “Rave On, John Donne” 5:12
6. “Inarticulate Speech of the Heart No. 1” 4:53
7. Irish Heartbeat 4:40
8. “The Street Only Knew Your Name” 3:36
9. “Cry for Home” 3:44
10. “Inarticulate Speech of the Heart No. 2” 3:53
11. “September Night” 5:16

Personnel

The Best Songs

  • Major song: among his 50 best songs
  • Minor songs: among his 150 best songs

In my opinion, this album carries one major song and five minor songs.

Major songs Rave On, John Donne
Minor songs Higher than the World
Irish Heartbeat
Cry for Home
Inarticulate Speech of the Heart No. 1
Inarticulate Speech of the Heart No. 1

Rave On, John Donne

What I´m dealing with is repetition … two chords played over and over and over again, ad nauseam. Now that´s really what I do … to transmit this to people and take this repetition through stages of boredom and run that whole range … from boredom to serenity.
-Van Morrison (to R. D. Laing)

The major song on the album is in fact a poem – yes, a real one, recited, though Morrison cannot stop himself breaking into song, and a slow saxophone ends the proceedings. “Rave On, John Donne” sounds like a Ginsberg rant of joy, with the metaphysical Elizabethan and other dead poets brought up to date, as beacons of light. Walt Whitman, Omar Khayam, WB Yeats as well, an Open University reading list of visionaries.
– Brian Hinton (Celtic Crossroads – The Art of Van Morrison)

“Rave On, John Donne” corresponds to this, with it´s two-chord root, taking the listener through the spoken/sung/sax structure, up to serenity without particularly subjecting the listener to the boredom stage. ..
The tripartite structure of “Rave On John Donne” – spoken word, singing, instrument – is as programmatic within itself as any more ambitious through-composed body of work. It involves a deploying and sorting, and controlled release of ideas, live in the studio, the right to do so at each stage won by the work done in the preceding section. Yet even though the six minutes we have are edited, this is not mere process – the spirit of creativity, that which “raves”, passes through the track in an uninterrupted seam, Rave On.
-Peter Mills (Hymns to the Silence – Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison)

“Reve On, John Donne” was presumably intended to inhabit the same space as “Summertime in England” in a more condensed form, grasping at a new-found conceit, establishing a chain of seers who paved the way.
-Clinton Heylin (Can You Feel the Silence?: Van Morrison: A New Biography)

Closing the first side of the record, ‘Rave On John Donne’ follows a spoken word, rap, growl by Morrison that becomes a smooth croon by the crux of the tune. The lyrics immortalise a litany of writers and intellectuals and Morrison’s invocation to “Rave On’. The song dissipates into a drumless and weightless musical contemplation toward its conclusion. An epic song that can be interpreted in differing ways, again dependent on your view.
talkfromtherockroom.blogspot.no

Audio/video

Rave on, John Donne

Rave on John Donne, rave on thy Holy fool
Down through the weeks of ages
In the moss borne dark dank pools

studio:

Rave on, down through the industrial revolution
Empiricism, atomic and nuclear age
Rave on down through time and space down through the corridors
Rave on words on printed page

Rave on, you left us infinity
And well pressed pages torn to fade
Drive on with wild abandon
Uptempo, frenzied heels

Live At The Grand Opera House Belfast 1983:

Higher Than The World

Higher Than the World, is simply one of Van´s most sublime songs and one of the highlights of his 1980´s output. It isn´t innovative from a musical perspective and hardly has a beat to latch onto. It isn´t a particularly passionate song .. What it does have is one of Morrison´s most persuasive vocals, which is therapy for the ears! … I´ve read numerous reviews on Morrison´s output but this song hardly gets mentioned.  This undervalued beauty is an ideal way to start the album – it is an outstanding opener.
-Mark Holmes (Van Morrison 20 Best Albums: A Guide (Kindle Edition))

“Higher Than the World” is simply one of the most beautiful recordings Morrison ever made, with Mark Isham’s choir-like synthesizer laying down the lovely backdrop.
-Richard S. Ginell (allmusic)

The album begins with the atmospheric yet funky ‘Higher than the World’. Morrison’s singing is restrained throughout intimate the verses before breaking through the clouds with a excited recitation of the chorus. The keyboards sway like trade winds, while a clean muted guitar lends the tune it’s brittle funkiness. The tune is one of Morrison’s finest melodic statements of the era and a conglomerate of the elements that will make up the rest of the record.
the rock room

studio:

Well, I’m higher than the world
And I’m livin’ in my dreams
I’ll make it better
Than it seems, today

Fox Theater,Oakland – Jan 20, 2016:

Irish Heartbeat

studio:

Cry For Home

studio original:

I’ll be waiting
I’ll be waiting on that shore
To hear the cry for home
You won’t have to worry anymore
When you hear the cry for home

When you hear, hear the call
You won’t have to fake at all
Hear the cry for home

studio with Tom Jones:

 

Opinions

Note: ISotH = Inarticulate Speech of the Heart

Critics attacked this albums from different angels;

  • the use of synthesisers
    I´m not a big fan of synthesisers, but on this album it works for me.
  • the thank you to L. Ron Hubbard (the founder of the Church of Scientology) in the liner notes
    Scientology makes me wanna puke, but I choose to ignore such shit in the liner notes & listen to the music instead.
  • too many instrumentals
    I agree that Morrison´s greatest instrument is his voice, but only 4 out of 11 songs are instrumentals. Give them a fair & mindful listening and they might surprise you.
  • lack of “good” songs
    I believe this album carries one major and five minor songs, the other five are ok.

Nerve.com even rated it “the worst” Van Morrison album in 2012:

Fresh from a flirtation with Scientology, Morrison included a “special thanks” to L. Ron Hubbard in the liner notes for this album. Hubbard isn’t exactly known for inspiring people to make good decisions; maybe that explains why Morrison stuffed this album with instrumentals. Robbed of his two greatest assets — his voice and lyrics — Morrison has little to offer. “Cry for Home” is the only track with any oomph.
Nerve.com 

Other interesting opinions

..my love of this album is down to the quality of the best tracks offered on Inarticulate Speech of the Heart. At its best, this album is immensely enjoyable. .. despite the presence of a couple of average songs, it is overall an undervalued record that offers several essential Morrison efforts. It surpasses his other 80´s albums, with two notable exceptions [Common One & One Guru, One Method, One Teacher]
– Mark Holmes (Van Morrison 20 Best Albums: A Guide)

While far from being essential addition to the catalogue, ISotH is saved from being straight down the dumper material by at least two tracks – “Rave On, John Donne” & Cry For Home”.
-Patrick Humphries (The Complete Guide to the Music of Van Morrison)

After a stressful day, it can be soothing to soak one´s limbs in ISotH´s aromatic foam and feel its essential oils and herbs magically relax the muscles. .. ISotH is typically of early 80´s albums made by artists preoccupied with stylish production and flawless arrangements, .. What Van Morrison adds to the template is an amalgam of Irish folk and new age, creating picturesque music of the mind.. With four instrumentals on ISotH, the listener´s imagination has to work harder than normal to find the imagery within. A glorious exception is “Rave On, John Donne”, which even people who don´t like the album agree is an important piece of work.
– David Cavanagh (The Ultimate Music Guide – Van Morrison)

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. [4/5]
-David Fricke (rollingstone.com)

In this troubled time, rock-and-rollers have every right to place their faith in the Jehovah’s Witnesses or even Scientology when they discover that Jackie Wilson didn’t say it all. But to follow one with the other appears weakminded, like praising Omar Khayyam in tandem with Kahlil Gibran. A hypothesis which the static romanticism of these reels-for-Hollywood-orchestra and other slow songs bears out. [B-]
-Robert Christgau (robertchristgau.com)

The bizarre, but still thrilling Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart does its level best to defy categorization. Awash in a placid stream of atmospherics, it barely touches on the rock and soul idiom that has so long been Morrison’s template. Like a distinctly Irish take on late period Roxy Music, the release seems eager to challenge the album form altogether. Gorgeous instrumental digressions morph into romantic pop, balladry and then digress formless again. Melodies occur seemingly haphazard and improvised and then reoccur as though conjured. Some believed Van had gone crazy by this point. Another interpretation is that he had finally figured out yet more things the rest of us don’t know.
stereogum.com

This under-appreciated record communicates on multiple and diverse levels with the listener. The LP’s title is an allusion to the act of communicating without speaking and a commentary on the act of prayer. ..  the ‘rock room’ finds the record the perfect collection for candlelight introspection, or as a soundtrack for quiet, pale dawn morning coffee and reflection. The imagery is succinct, the instrumentation tasteful and the melodies haunting. The record breathes the warm air of a lover’s breath and elicits the the comfort of home in spite of the possibly chilly touch of synthesizers. Morrison stays relatively restrained through the records two sides, leaving his rock and roll draped over the chair in the corner and bearing his naked truthful soul. The record remains a slight departure from what is expected from Morrison, and those departures usually will lead to the best art.
talkfromtherockroom.blogspot.no

His next work ISotH featured four non-vocal tracks which testified to his interest in Irish traditional music. It was a brave departure, but one that tended to diminish his art. .. The importance of Morrison as a vocalist was made eloquently on the album´s key track “Rave On, John Donne” .. It´s appeal lay not in the subject matter as much as the vocal execution.
-Johnny Rogan (Van Morrison – No Surrender)

I think though during this period of spirituality Van saw music as an aid to meditation and contemplation too. I think that´s why a lot of the lyrics are sparse and repetitive, not really songs at all. So what about the tracks? I think the outstanding track on this album is “Rave On, John Donne” … the other outstanding track for me is “Irish Heartbeat” ..
-Patrick Corley (Vanatic – The Story of a Van Morrison Fan)

Lists

Sources

-Egil

2 thoughts on “Van Morrison´s Most Underrated Album: Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1983)

Leave a Reply