Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Van Morrison 10: Wavelength

Right off the bat, Wavelength seems to be a step in the right direction. Only a year after his return to the business, Van seems to have come to grips with the expectation of the marketplace. Even the cover was stylish, giving the consumer another crotch shot below an almost relaxed, confident stare captured in soft focus by the same guy who’d photographed Joni for the Hejira cover.
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)—
2008 CD reissue: same as 1978, plus 2 extra tracks


  1. 2 1/2 is a bit harsh of a rating but if Kingdom Hall, Natalia, and Wavelength were set ups for his next album, which shot out the lights, then that's the way it goes.

  2. Yes, the album is unusually polished for Van. Evidently, he disavowed it, probably because of that. Even though the production makes the album sound dated, it’s pretty solid. The title track is simply the best pop song he had put out since “Brown Eyed Girl” – Van’s own “Good Vibrations”. I like the reference to “BEG” in the lyrics, too. “Kingdom Hall”, the next single, is a fun, celebratory gospel-rock track. The rest of the album, I can sort of take or leave. “Santa Fe” (co-written by Jackie DeShannon, who would also record it) seems to be an impressionistic story of that town. “Take it As You Find It”, despite that silly little synth trumpet, is pretty cool, especially the “lost dreams and found dreams in America” part. Overall, even though it’s very atypical for Van, it’s accessible enough for those who want to dig deeper than the singles.