Poor Van Morrison, to have the hopes of thousands of spiritually thirsty, aging rock fans pinned on him every time he releases a record. That's what you get for owning a voice like a blues-singing Celtic shaman's and writing some of the most stirring songs in rock history. But like a middle-aged rocker's hair, Morrison's production has thinned. His last transcendent, goose-bump-inducing song was ''In the Garden,'' from the 1986 album No Guru, No Method, No Teacher. Since then, he's cruised, giving us pleasant but rarely riveting mood music.
Much of his latest, Days Like This, is too perfunctory to call it a return to form. But, surprisingly, there is real spark. ''Perfect Fit'' is a bouncy shuffle and ''Russian Roulette'' recaptures the energy of Morrison's underrated late-'70s album, A Period of Transition. ''Raincheck'' is nicely truculent ''I don't fade away unless I choose,'' he sings. Morrison could be right. He'll probably never rescale the heights of old. Then again, this is a guy who could take a listener out with just one punch. B