Of course, what translated as current in 1978 doesn’t always work after the fact, and it’s been said that Wavelength is just a little too slick; whatever anyone’s opinion, the overall sound is an improvement over A Period In Transition. For one, it’s longer. Also, the use of a larger band more suited to his own whims lends a consistency that keeps it together. (Even if the synthesizer sounds out of place, but then again, Garth Hudson was always more effective when he used more organic tones.)
The album isn’t immediately memorable. “Kingdom Hall” might suggest a conversion to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but overall it’s just a simple celebration of dancing and having fun. “Checkin’ It Out” sounds a bit muffled, but with only three chords it’s not supposed to stand out much. We’re not sure who “Natalia” is, but she should be pleased Van wrote such a happy song for her. “Venice U.S.A.” is much better if you don’t read the lyric sheet (with the chorus “Dum derra dum dum diddy diddy dah dah” repeated six times each, and Lester Bangs called it first). “Lifelines” has potential, but suffers from underdeveloped keyboard effects; one wonders how it would sound with just Van’s electric piano, as listed in the credits.
What makes the album worth the price of purchase is the title track, another joyous celebration of the spirit of radio. Here the keyboards don’t get in the way, instead conveying the idea of radio waves shimmering through the air, and the guitar solo, not a common touch on a Van album, is perfect. (This wasn’t included on either of his early-‘90s hits collections, a crime not rectified until 2007 with the release of a fourth.) “Santa Fe” isn’t much, but in a premonition of the future, it morphs into “Beautiful Obsession”, which would appear to be an extemporaneous composition in the studio, with a few exhortations near the fade that perhaps influenced Bob Seger on “Against The Wind”. “Hungry For Your Love” doesn’t generate enough energy to make the sentiment convincing, leaving “Take It Where You Find It” as the last stab at an epic, but a sleepy one.
It seems that Van is more into it on Wavelength, but outside of that title track, the album just seems a little bland. It was hoped he would do better going forward.
Van Morrison Wavelength (1978)—2½
2008 CD reissue: same as 1978, plus 2 extra tracks