Jeff Lynne Long Wave(Frontiers Records) Buy it from Insound
Usually when an older artist records a bunch of older songs it’s referred to as a vanity project, or worse, a desperate swing at the ever burgeoning old fart demographic. Everyone from Rod Stewart to Paul McCartney can be accused of being this narcissistic or cynical or both. I give Paul a bit of a pass because he regularly churns out new music and his choices for Kisses on the Bottom were far from pandering In Lynne’s case I have to think it derives from a desire to make music and perhaps a dearth of inspiration or desire on the songwriting front. With so much great music out there, it’s hard for some of us to see the need for much more of it. I don’t know if that’s how he feels (it IS how I feel) but it’s hard to fault a guy who’s written so many great tunes over the years. Even better, sometimes these projects are revealing in the particular choices a great songwriter makes. What inspired Telephone Line and Strange Magic and all those perfectly crafted pop tunes from the 70s? Long Wave gives us some hints.
This album, clocking in at about 30 minutes, doesn’t require much analysis or preparation to enjoy. It’s really nothing but fun, and it sounds for the most part like it was put together that way, if we can allow that Lynne’s idea of fun is carving out a perfect piece of pop production for each delectable morsel he offers up. Sure, spontaneity has never been his strong suit and anybody likely to be even remotely interested in this release should know what to expect. Every note, every instrument is in its place, polished to a sheen with a sound he settled on many moons ago.
But the bottom line is that Long Wave is simply a collection of wonderful songs, reverently, ok perhaps too reverently, rendered. I’m not going to dwell on that though because I’m enjoying listening to it too much. And it does contain a few surprises. Who would have expected the Rogers and Hart tune, Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, to sound so perfect put through the ELO filter, robotic processed guitars and all? It would be hard to ruin this terrific song, but Lynne’s version is pure bliss, with a wonderfully restrained performance and vocal. This, and other harmonically busy songs like She (previously covered to great effect by Elvis Costello), give us some insight into Lynne’s facility with chromatic movement and major/minor relationships in his own songwriting. Also, his appreciation for the simplicity of a direct melody and lyric is shown in his choice of the Everly Brothers So Sad, which, along with Plant/Krauss’s cover of Gone, Gone, Gone, reveal a potential treasure trove of material in Phil and Don’s back catalog waiting to be unearthed for modern audiences. He even gets away with that most hackneyed of standards, Love is a Many Splendored Thing, by delighting in the interesting chord changes and not apologizing. The guitar solo is literally crying out to be played by his pal the late George Harrison, but alas. Interestingly, the one misstep is the only straight ahead rocker, Let it Rock. I’m not surprised because I was never really convinced by any of his previous forays into similar territory even though he obviously loves it. I think it requires a kind of abandon that Lynne doesn’t possess. You can’t have everything.
I’m going to withhold comment on Lynne’s other current project, Mr. Blue Sky, which is his rerecording of ELO hits, remarkably faithful to the originals, except to say that unlike a random Drifters collection you might pick up with lifeless renderings of older songs, this one sounds so close that it’s six of one, half dozen of the other. As for Long Wave I’d suggest that you can’t really go wrong with this group of tunes if you have a half hour to spare and your hipster-irony-defense mechanism inoperative..12 October, 2012 - 15:01 — Alan Shulman