It has been 22 years since Jeff Lynne’s last solo album, which also happened to be his first, Armchair Theatre. Despite having written some of the biggest, most enduring hits songs of the past 40 years, Lynne choose to go the all-cover route with Long Wave. The album is a tight, eclectic, 11-song collection. In some cases, these are songs Lynne heard in his youth while listening to long wave radio. A skilled multi-instrumentalist, he handles everything on the record himself.
Fans of Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra or his work with the Traveling Wilburys will immediately recognize his patented production sound. It opens with one its more recent songs, Charles Aznavour’s 1974 international hit, “She.” Right away it’s clear how kind the years have been to Lynne’s voice. Great American Songbook standards factor prominently throughout Long Wave. A tender reading of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “If I Loved You” and a surprisingly effective take on Rodgers and Hart’s “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” are both highlights.
When I spotted “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” on the track list, I was intrigued. The melodramatic Academy Award-winning song (from the movie of the same name) seemed a bold choice—maybe a bit over the top for a record as laid-back as Long Wave. But like pretty much everything else on the album, Lynne manages to make it work with a gently chugging beat. Elsewhere he duets with himself on the Everly Brothers’ “So Sad,” hewing pretty close to the original but still leaving his own stamp. He does the same thing, while paying tribute to his departed fellow Wilbury, on “Running Scared.”
A too-brief sprint through Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock” adds a little loose, casual rock and roll to the mix. That same feel makes Don Covay and Ronald Dean Miller’s “Mercy Mercy” another upbeat winner. Overall if there’s a weakness to this nostalgic cornucopia, it’s the short running time. All told, Long Wave runs just under a half an hour. It’s such a kick hearing Lynne having so much obvious fun with these old songs, it left me wanting more. This is a minor work, to be sure, but its comfortable, low key pleasures make it worthwhile.