Much as Little Earthquakes makes me smile and cry and want to hug somebody, hoping the hug gets paid forward to Tori, and Black Monk Time is the single greatest FTW album EVAH, there was simply no way I could get away from Astral Weeks.
I could rehash all the usual criticese Celtic mystic blah blah blah that you'd find in most reviews of Van's triumph, but I think what gets overlooked in most of those is how this album is so purely the sound of True Rebellion. Think about what led Van to this point in his life. He'd fronted a rather successful British Invasion blues rock band, and then fought tooth and nail with a producer in his first solo session (the one that coughed up Brown Eyed Girl) and still come out the other side with a huge hit. The pressure to conform, to adapt to the Business That Is Show and become a good little star, must have been immense.
Instead he buggers off and creates a work of ruthlessly uncommercial art that exists completely inside itself. Astral Weeks is the negation of pop. It doesn't attack pop the way punk does, it simply denies pop's very existence. It isn't possible to listen to something like Cyprus Avenue and comprehend that it shares anything at all with the Dave Clark Five. There's just no room in its wild bloody heart for the dead noise of pop commodification.
Calling Astral Weeks brave is an understatement. If it weren't so perfect, you'd almost have to call its creation an act of self-destructive behavior. But maybe that 'almost' misses the point. Being self-destructive isn't necessarily a negative if the self you're tearing down is not to your liking, and if you raise up something better on the freshly cleared ground.
And oh Goddess, is that thing he built beautiful.
Astral Weeks is the album I turn to when I need to be reminded of the universe's incandescence.