Back on Top (Van Morrison album)
Back on Top is the twenty-seventh studio album by Northern Irish singer/songwriter Van Morrison. It was released in 1999 by Point Blank. This album marks a slight return to the forms of music he is most known for: blues and R&B. Upon the album's release, Rolling Stone reviewed it as "one Monet and nine Norman Rockwell's", the "Monet" being "When the Leaves Come Falling Down" which it called a masterpiece.
Recorded at The Wool Hall Studios, south of Bath, England, except strings, which were recorded at Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin, Ireland. The musicians on the album are understated with Ian Jennings playing double bass, Geraint Watkins playing classy Hammond organ and Pee Wee Ellis on saxophones.
Prominent on "Philosopher's Stone" is Morrison's harmonica playing with the song featuring "one of the most limber vocal performances he's put on record in years, even tentatively jumping into the high squawk he seemed to have lost." (Hage)
"Back on Top", the title track, is an optimistic statement of the singer's outlook and may be a view of his personal relationships or professional standing.
A highlight of "High Summer" is Morrison's harmonica. The lyrics are evocative of religious imagery in referring to "Lucifer" and "God" and return to his 1960s songs for mentions of "red sport cars" and "mansions on the hill".
The ballad of lost love and heartbreak, "Reminds Me of You" was written in 1996 after a break-up of his engagement to Michelle Rocca and was not recorded for three years during which time they had reunited.
"New Biography" was inspired by Brian Hinton's biography, Celtic Crossroads, written in 1996. The song's lyrics voice Morrison's complaints of celebrity and "books about his life and more precisely 'so-called friends' who chose to spill inside information and memories to biographers."
"Precious Time" has since become an often performed concert tune for Morrison with very meaningful lyrics about the quick passing of time and the need to enjoy life while we can; "It doesn’t matter to which God you pray/Precious time is slipping away."
The video for the song "Back on Top", received significant airplay on the Canadian music station, "MuchMoreMusic", when it was released. Performances of "Back on Top" and "When the Leaves Come Falling Down" from Back on Top along with "Gloria" were televised as part of Later... with Jools Holland on 16 April 1999.
The album had mixed reviews from critics but charted higher in the US than any of his albums since Wavelength. It went gold in both the US and UK. Allmusic rated it four stars with reviewer James Crispell noting: "After so many songs ranging through so many styles, it is a pleasure to have Van Morrison return to the music that suits him so well. Steeped in blues and R&B, Back on Top finds Morrison celebrating life and its pleasures to the limit." It was rated 3 stars by Rolling Stone with James Hunter ending his review commenting: "Back on Top is solid, brilliant, silly in sad ways. But it's still one Monet and nine Norman Rockwells." Irish critic George Byrne wrote a negative review in the Irish Independent: "Somewhere in the mid-Eighties the poet/philosopher accolades seem to have seeped into his skull and he began churning out same-sounding albums on an almost annual basis." An opposing viewpoint was expressed by George Graham who commented in his review that "It's one of his best, most tasteful albums in recent years, and Van Morrison has had some very good albums in this period."
All songs by Van Morrison, unless otherwise noted.
- "Goin' Down Geneva" – 4:24
- "Philosopher's Stone" – 6:05
- "In the Midnight" – 5:07
- "Back on Top" – 4:23
- "When the Leaves Come Falling Down" – 5:39
- "High Summer" – 5:12
- "Reminds Me of You" – 5:39
- "New Biography" – 5:23
- "Precious Time" – 3:45
- "Golden Autumn Day" – 6:31
- Bonus tracks (2008 CD reissue)
- "Philosopher's Stone" – 4:52 (alternative take)
- "Valley of Tears" – 5:02 (Fats Domino, arranged Morrison)
- Van Morrison – vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica, producer
- Mick Green – acoustic and electric guitars
- Pee Wee Ellis – soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones, background vocals
- Matt Holland – trumpet
- Geraint Watkins – piano, Hammond organ
- Fiachra Trench – piano
- Ian Jennings – double bass
- Liam Bradley – drums, percussion, background vocals
- Bobby Irwin – drums
- Brian Kennedy – background vocals
- Irish Film Orchestra – strings
- Leo Green - tenor saxophone (2008 reissue)
- Jools Holland - piano (2008 reissue)
- Mike Sanchez - piano, guitar (2008 reissue)
- Walter Samuel – recording, mixing
- Brian Masterson – recording
- Sean Doherty – assistant engineer
- Sam Miller – assistant engineer
- Ciaran Cahill – assistant engineer
- Ian Cooper – mastering
- Brad Wilson – photography
- Paul Cox – photography
- John Mintoft – photography
- Matt Curtis – photography, art direction, design
|UK Albums Chart||11|
Billboard (North America)
|1999||The Billboard 200||28|
|"Back on Top"||69|
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- Heylin, Clinton (2003). Can You Feel the Silence? Van Morrison: A New Biography, Chicago Review Press ISBN 1-55652-542-7
- Van Morrison Back on Top by George Graham
- Heylin, Can You Feel the Silence?, p.528
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- Van Morrison Official Website
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- Rogan, No Surrender, p.453.
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- Chart Stats: Van Morrison
- Australian Charts
- Dutch Charts