At just under 28 minutes, Jeff Lynne’s Long Wave is a brief, bright, and gentle diversion. Lynne, the studio-rock maestro behind Electric Light Orchestra, says the album is a tribute to the songs of the early 1960s, an era when his love for music began. He tackles a range of styles from that time, including Broadway ballads, songbook standards, and rockabilly.
Long Wave begins with a robust interpretation of French crooner Charles Aznavour’s doe-eyed classic “She.” It’s a song that’s probably familiar to anyone who’s been to a wedding reception in the last five decades, while the instrumentation here builds in the sort of abruptly applied layers characteristic of psychedelic album rock from the Beatles to the Flaming Lips. As a result of this dual familiarity, the song feels more like recovering a misplaced gem than the discovery of a new one.
There are plenty of moments of tenderness and whimsy throughout the album. “Beyond the Sea” is playful and endearing, importing its bright upbeat smirk from ELO’s signature hit “Mr. Blue Sky.” And in Lynne’s hands, Rogers and Hammerstein’s “If I Loved You,” a song whose influence one can clearly recognize in the unashamed emotionalism of Lynne’s back catalogue, is both grandiose and soothing.
Less successful is Lynne’s self-conscious take on the Rolling Stones blues-rock classic “Mercy, Mercy.” The song seems labored, as though the relative minimalism and swaggering rhythm section were constraining Lynne from being the dramatic impresario he is at heart. The carnality and innuendo associated with barroom blues, which comes naturally in the Stones version, are at odds with Lynne’s native talents for soaring Technicolor drama, that the track becomes something of a distracting oddity. And on Etta James’s signature “At Last,” the rich orchestration and instrumental affectations for which Lynne is justly famous can’t quite cover half the distance between the song and his utilitarian singing voice.
Still, Long Wave makes no attempt to avoid sentimentality. Love songs and brazen nostalgia are the album’s bread and butter, and it’s hard not to be drawn in by the comfort of Lynne’s layer upon layer of pleasant melodic attention.