Monday, 16 July 2018

Van Morrison - Wavelength (1978)


Released September 1978

Recorded at The Manor, Oxfordshire

After what some critics, (not myself I may add), thought was a frustrating album in 1977’s “A Period Of Transition”, Van Morrison continued to release material that completely ignored any influence whatsoever from punk and new wave, whose fires were burning all around. This is a lively, melodic and punchy soulful album that harks back in some ways to “Street Choir” and the Celtic soul experience of the early seventies. This time, it had a slicker, technologically superior production and a smoother style of instrumentation, some of the reliance on horns taken over by sweeping strings, tinkling E. St Band-style piano and multiple female backing vocalists  (as used by Bob Dylan on “Street Legal” in the same year, and indeed by Bob Marley & The Wailers). Personally, this has always been a somewhat overlooked album by myself. I much prefer the following year’s “Into The Music”, but there is some good material on here all the same, that I need to give more attention to.


1. Kingdom Hall
2. Checkin' It Out
3. Natalia
4. Venice USA
5. Lifetimes
6. Wavelength
7. Santa Fe/Beautiful Obsession
8. Hungry For Your Love
9. Take It Where You Find It

“Kingdom Hall” is a vibrant, gospelly and catchy opener full of the afore-mentioned characteristics. It references the Jehovah’s Witness Hall he remembered from his childhood in Belfast. It starts the album with a breath of fresh air. You eel it is going to be a good one.

“Checkin It Out” is what would now prove to be typical Van Morrison soul -a strong, emotive, instinctive vocal, potent horns, swirling organ riffs and a semi-funky lilting guitar. This is another instantly appealing song. Whatever one’s views about the previous album, and mine are more positive than negative, this is by far the more accessible and commercial album. There is a point at the end of this track when Morrison sings “almost live”, just as he would in a Iive concert. Leading the band in the direction he wants to go. “Natalia” has a rich, throbbing bass line and a laid-back easy-listening soulful ambience. It has to be said that the sound quality on this album is the finest yet in his career. The raw power of those Celtic soul years has been now honed, via some more spiritual albums in the mid seventies to this impeccable margining of both soul and spirituality. In many ways, Morrison’s recordings would stay in this fashion, to a greater or lesser extent, for the rest of his career to date.

“Venice USA” has a funky, staccato guitar riff and some soulful organ breaks and another effortlessly nonchalant vocal. The “dum de dum dum” chorus refrain is a little off-putting but it is initially followed by an accordion-sounding keyboard solo and a general upbeat good time feel that pervades throughout the song. Sometimes, for one so naturally grumpy, Van Morrison can sing with such joy. It is quite remarkable. There is something bright and summery about the whole of this album. “Lifetimes” is a gentle, mid-paced piece of soul rock that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on “Hard Nose The Highway”, 1987’s “Poetic Champions Compose” or indeed on “Enlightenment” from 1990. Some attractive Elizabethan-style keyboards at the end of it.

“Wavelength” starts with a high-pitched “Astral Weeks” -style vocal over a plaintive organ and piano before a metronomic drum kicks in, a disco-style synthesiser and some guitar riffage. Its double handclap is, I am sure, where Bob Geldof got the idea from to use them in The Boomtown Rats’ “I Don’t Like Mondays” the following year. It really rocks and cooks, this song. Soulful “doo-doo” backing vocals and a captivating lively beat throughout. The title is one of the first of many homages Morrison would pay to the radio he loved listening to as a teenager. “Santa Fe/Beautiful Obsession” is a stately and confident, wonderful slow burning slice of Morrison soul. It was a huge thumping, bassy dignified beat and a killer vocal, with that indescribable emotion that Morrison injects into songs like this. It segues seamlessly into “Beautiful Obsession” as Van growls and improvises until the end of the song. “Let the cowboy ride” he exhorts in one of those marvellous endings of his. The soully, laid-back, effortless “Hungry For Your Love” seems familiar to many of his songs over the years. It has airs of the next track that help in leading up to that monster of a song.

“Take It Where You Find It” is just glorious. Majestic. Magnificent. Whatever other superlatives you want to throw its way. The intro alone sends shivers down my spine. The rolling drumbeats, the keyboards, the crystal clear acoustic guitars, Van’s voice. Yes, Van’s voice. Heavenly. The song divides into roughly three parts. The part where it suddenly quietens down two thirds of the way through (5.04), Van quietly growls “change come over” in his Belfast brogue and the backing vocalists oh so sweetly repeat “change come over” brings tears to my eyes. Seriously. One of my favourite moments in music. Ever. Period.

I have nothing more to say after that. Sublime. I’m going to walk down the street until I see my shining light…..


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