It’s a little ironic that the man best known for overwhelmingly glossy stereophonic productions – the man who took a frail 1977 John Lennon cassette demo and turned it into the first new Beatles single in decades, 1995 radio hit Free As A Bird – should name his second solo album (and his first since 1990’s Armchair Theatre) after the muffled slurry of the classic radio frequency of old.
But Lynne, now he’s 64, is paying tribute to the sounds of his youth, making an album of covers, selecting songs from the rock’n’roll realm, but also a sheaf of older standards. Unlike Macca (whose 2012 covers album Kisses On The Bottom stuck to prewar crooners) or Lennon (who favoured old rockers for his aptly titled 1975 covers set Rock’n’Roll) before him, Jeff Lynne has opted for a slightly odd mixture.
There’s Chuck Berry (Let It Rock) and Roy Orbison (Running Scared) here, but there’s also Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered, and Charles Aznavour’s She. Still, those of us who fear variety will be fine because Long Wave is quite homogenous-sounding, and everything is given ‘the Lynne treatment’.
These days he has eschewed the strings and kitchen sink approach of his Electric Light Orchestra, but he remains, as a powerful radio producer, unable to resist a too-smooth vocal approach and a hefty drum sound. This record, then, is quite odd. It sounds somewhat bland (with the exception of Let It Rock, which sounds better than any Berry cover attempted previously by Lynne) but, at the same time, occasionally jars – the drum sound on Charlie Chaplin’s Smile seems completely oblivious to the rest of the song’s gentleness (and At Last, the one from adverts, seems to have actual robots on percussion).
It contains rock and showtunes, but you can hardly tell which is which. And when it attempts a song associated with one particular artist – most notably Running Scared, originally performed by Lynne’s fellow Traveling Wilbury Roy Orbison – it falls short. That’s almost certainly the problem with this kind of project from the start – very few people in rock can take a set of someone else’s songs and make them their own. If they loved the songs, they’re often too respectful (the best covers involve some tearing up). And if they have a powerful musical identity, then they can even swamp the material.
Listening to Long Wave, you’re aware all the time that this is a Jeff Lynne production; the drums keep telling you. And in the end, the best this album offers is that it sends you off to the originals.