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VAN MORRISON Album by Album Discussion: Part 2 (Wavelength 1978 - Enlightenment 1990)

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Clarkophile, Nov 26, 2007.

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  1. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Up in T.O. keepin' jive alive Thread Starter

    On behalf of my colleague in all things Morrisonic, DJWilbur, I bid you welcome to Part 2.
    Part 1, covering the period of 1968-1977, can be found here:
    http://www.stevehoffman.tv/forums/showthread.php?t=127195

    Today we'll be starting off with 1978's Wavelength:
    Side One:
    1. "Kingdom Hall" – 5:59
    2. "Checkin' It Out" – 3:29
    3. "Natalia" – 4:04
    4. "Venice U.S.A." – 6:32
    5. "Lifetimes" – 4:15

    Side Two:
    1. "Wavelength" – 5:44
    2. "Santa Fe / Beautiful Obsession" (De Shannon/Morrison)– 7:04
    3. "Hungry for Your Love" – 3:45
    4. "Take It Where You Find It" – 8:40

    Personnel:

    * Van Morrison: Guitar, keyboard, piano (electric), saxophone, vocal
    * Herbie Armstrong: Guitar, vocal
    * Peter Bardens: Synthesizer, horn, keyboard
    * Ginger Blake: Vocal, vocal (background)
    * Laura Creamer: Vocal, vocal (background)
    * Mitch Dalton: Guitar
    * Linda Dillard: Vocal, vocal (background)
    * Mickey Feat: Bass guitar
    * Garth Hudson: Organ, synthesizer, accordion, keyboard
    * Bob Tench: Guitar, vocal (background)
    * Peter Van Hooke: Drums

    Production

    * Producer: Van Morrison
    * Engineer: Mick Glossop


    From its airbrushed, Norman Seeff-photographed cover to its Jackson Browne sound, 1978's Wavelength has all the hallmarks of an all-out attempt at commercializing Van’s overall approach.
    Seeff took the shots for some of the most iconic covers of the 1970's, from Carly Simon’s Playing Possum to Joni Mitchell’s Hejira and Art Garfunkel’s Breakaway. The cover for Wavelength shows Van looking like a full-fledged movie star (I mean, who among us thought that even possible?): He looks handsome, confident, trim, masculine—the exact opposite of how he looked on the appalling A Period of Transition cover.

    When the music attempts to wed Van’s R&B style with a late-1970's AM radio-friendly production, it works very well indeed, with the bordering-on-whiny title track, the breezy "Natalia" and the (slightly overlong) powerhouse "Kingdom Hall" faring the best. What irks me about "Wavelength" and "Kingdom Hall," however, is that they don’t sound like they were produced by Van Morrison. Listen to the song "Running on Empty" and you’ll see what I mean. For the first time, Van, the producer/artist, sounds like a producer/artist other than himself, which, in spite of Van’s protestations to the contrary, betrays a concerted, possibly even self-conscious, desire to follow whichever way the prevailing commercial winds would blow him. I mean, what late-70's singer-songwriter album didn’t feature electric piano, cheesy synthesizers, liquidy guitar lines (read: tame), and at least three ultra-slick radio-ready singles?
    The problem with Wavelength is that once you get past these three singles there is no depth to the bench—the big exception being "Hungry For Your Love," which is, let’s face it, the kind of memorable love song found on every Van Morrison album; by this time it’s an expected occurrence.
    Set apart from the aforementioned songs, "Lifetimes", "Checkin’ It Out", "Venice USA" "Santa Fe/Beautiful Obsession" and "Take It Where You Find It" are simply uninteresting pieces. "Venice USA" is jolly enough, but way too long; bizarrely, "Lifetimes" sounds like a Celtic piece with Pablo Cruise or Air Supply conscripted as backing musicians.

    "Santa Fe/Beautiful Obsession" and "Take It Where You Find It" attempt to marry the slick production with the patented Mystical Workout, but there is an inherent problem with this: the Mystical Workout, as defined by its progenitor Van, is an earthy moment of transcendence—or, to employ a quote from Wordsworth that would doubtless please Van, "a spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling". Placed against the backdrop of such slick production, it’s akin to holding a church service outside a casino. The harpsichord in "Santa Fe" is a nice Astral Weeks-esque touch; what’s missing is intensity. The song merely plods through its "Beautiful Obsession" section without delievering the climax it promises.

    The choral portion of "Take It Where You Find It" ("Change come over...") is indeed very beautiful and makes a for a nice conclusion to the album, but, imo, it’s too little, too late, and the cheeseball synthesizer passages (courtesy of The Band's Garth Hudson, from my hometown of London, Ontario) do it a great disservice and date the album considerably.
    Indeed, for the first time in his career, Van has made an album that now sounds of its time. It sounded au courant in 1978, to be sure, but none of his prior albums–both good and bad--had a sound that could be characterized as anything but timeless. In cowing to the demands for commercial product, Van compromised his artistic vision to a certain degree. In hindsight, though, Wavelength shows that Van was poised to blend both worlds to the satisfaction of all concerned: As we’ll see with Into the Music, he found a way to balance the Music Biz’s demand for commercial product with his own artistic sensibilities.
     

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  2. mfp

    mfp Forum Resident

    Location:
    Paris, France
    Alright, let's go for part two;

    You're spot-on about the radio-friendly production of that album, with "liquid guitars" and "cheesy electric piano"... The sound is as badly dated as the colours on the cover of the album.
    I do like Checkin' it Out though, in spite of its sound.
     
  3. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Up in T.O. keepin' jive alive Thread Starter

    I agree. Of all the songs to which I was previously indifferent, "Checkin' It Out" has grown on me the most over the last couple of weeks.
    "Take It Where You Find It" has grown on me as well---except for those synth bits: Woof:rolleyes: .
     
    dee likes this.
  4. MikeP5877

    MikeP5877 Non-essential

    Location:
    OH
    One of my favorite Van albums. The only songs I can do without are "Natalia" and "Lifetimes". The rest I love, no matter how dated the arrangments.

    One sidenote - the one and only Van song I've ever heard done Muzak style was "Hungry For Your Love". I used to work in a building that had piped in Muzak and I'd hear it quite frequently. They also piped in Moby Grape's "8:05". Whoever programmed the Muzak had great taste :thumbsup:
     
  5. MikeP5877

    MikeP5877 Non-essential

    Location:
    OH
    And a couple other minor footnotes, both of which were pointed out in the first thread but bear repeating since they apply to Wavelength:

    "Santa Fe" was originally recorded by co-writer Jackie DeShannon in 1973 but not released until the Rhino Handmade "Jackie....Plus" issue that came out a few years ago. It's well worth checking out, not just for this song.

    Also, Bob Seger appropriated the "let the cowboy ride..." line from "Beautiful Obsession" for his "Against the Wind". He even sung it the same way. I actually knew the Seger song for years before I heard Wavelength,, so I was a bit shocked when I heard "Beautiful Obsession" for the first time.
     
  6. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Up in T.O. keepin' jive alive Thread Starter

    "Natalia" was on my list of filler material for the longest time, but over the past few months it has become my fave tune on the album. There's a breeziness about it that sort of sets the stage for the upbeat stuff on Into The Music. And I love the female backing vocals.
     
    averica likes this.
  7. DJ WILBUR

    DJ WILBUR The Cappuccino Kid

    Wavelength, man, was that title song all over my radio station in 1978. Certainly the promo machine of WB was cranking like it hadn’t in years, as this was the first notes of Van I’d heard in several years. Radio seemed to have totally ignored Hard Nose, Veedon and APOT and now we were force fed, constantly, the title track ad nausem, or so it seemed to me.

    This was a time I was listening to The Ramones, Talking Heads, Patti Smith…yeah, she covered Van Morrison, that “Alter Kocker”, remember him? and she showed him “how to do it” now with her great cover of "G-L-O-R-I-A…hahaha, what did I know, but I’m 16 and listening to all this great new music and this Alter Kocker pops out Wavelength….

    I remember seeing Van Morrison on Saturday Night at this time. He performed "Wavelength" and "Kingdom Hall". Ah, the Dumb Dumb doo doo songs as I call them now…. I hated those songs then and I don’t really like them now. They seemed so “not cool” and just very tired to me. and now they just sound "dated". They tried to hard to make a pop hit and what was with the back up singers???? Who should be singing anyway? Those synthesizers and backing vocals were just grating to me.

    I’d thought this guy was cool ya know? But in 1978 he was so not cool to me. I didn’t know that he’d just done a record with the uber cool Dr. John and I didn’t realize he had just been part of The Last Waltz; this sort of thing was off my radar at this time. I was a New York punk soaking up all that was cool. I couldn’t escape Wavelength and Wavelength was so not cool to my ears at the time. Still isn’t for me either..

    It was like all of a sudden a guy I’d really liked a few years ago became what I’d hated about the seventies music scene. I liked old soul, but this seemed “too polished” for me. Certainly it now seems this was one mass push to be a “big hit artist” again. He’s quoted in that Cameron Crowe Rolling Stone piece in wanting to have a “hit” so he could connect with his audience, well he got sort of what he’d wished for. Some think this era of live concerts that float around on tape are among the worst in his career. I guess he wasn’t feeling these fans adulating over this hit…

    Fast track about 10 years, after I rediscover this artist, so I figure, this was an album I had to get, because it had such a big song on it. Well I’ve given this one many an adult listens over the years now that I’m also an Alter Kocker… but as a whole this is the second platter in a row that doesn’t really do anything for me….and I will probably never listen to again in my lifetime.

    So, you can say its not one of his stronger albums for me. He appears to be just going through the pop/rock idiom game of the time… I can appreciate the fun and playfulness he went for on this one, but it just doesn’t work for me.

    It is my opinion that he was still searching for his Alter Kocker persona…and he almost found it.
     
  8. MikeP5877

    MikeP5877 Non-essential

    Location:
    OH
    er....what is an "Alter Kocker", and can it be discussed on a Family Friendly Forum?
     
  9. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Up in T.O. keepin' jive alive Thread Starter

    Heh-heh, I just Googled it myself.:shh: :laugh:
     
  10. DJ WILBUR

    DJ WILBUR The Cappuccino Kid

    An alter kocker is a man who can no longer do something that he once could. He's an old guy, over the hill, past his prime.
    its a yiddish term that I picked up. I thought it meant "old man"...when i used it, but googling its definition, it seems to have various connotations.

    just seeing if you're all paying attention...:D

    it was my way of stating he was no longer a young man, or thats how I saw him when I was listening to Patti Smith.
     
  11. MikeP5877

    MikeP5877 Non-essential

    Location:
    OH
    Those high leg kicks in The Last Waltz must have worn him out. :D
     
  12. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Up in T.O. keepin' jive alive Thread Starter

    I should have brought this up before we moved on from APOT, but anyone know "Not Working For You" from 1975? That has got to be the closest to "R O C K" that Van ever got.
     
  13. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Up in T.O. keepin' jive alive Thread Starter

    "Just-a one more time..."
     

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  14. MikeP5877

    MikeP5877 Non-essential

    Location:
    OH
    No, I don't think I ever heard that. The hardest rocking Van songs I've heard are "You Move Me" and "When I Deliver".
     
  15. DJ WILBUR

    DJ WILBUR The Cappuccino Kid

    Rolling Stone's Lester Bangs Wavelength review

    Who has not been waiting for the next great Van Morrison LP? Whether you thought his last masterpiece was Veedon Fleece or Tupelo Honey or even (what I think) Moondance, you certainly were never prepared to write him off. Nobody's going to write him off because of Wavelength either, but it's obviously not the album he is still destined to make.

    Something comes clear here. Ever since Moondance, Van Morrison has staked his claim to the rare title "poet," mostly on the basis of what amounts to a bunch of autumn leaves. Look at those records lying there–Tupelo Honey, Hard Nose the Highway–the best as good as the worst, and all of 'em slowly turning brown. You wanta kick 'em just like a pile of crumbly leaves? Well, go ahead and do it. And kick Van Morrison too. Because he's a saint. Yeah, that's exactly why he needs the boot.

    Morrison's got a beautiful obsession with something he can't quite state, and we've got a beautiful obsession with Morrison. Which is fine for him, but what are we to do? We are to sing the chorus, that's what:

    Dum derra dum dum diddy diddy dah dah

    Dum derra dum dum diddy diddy dah dah

    Dum derra dum dum diddy diddy dah dah

    Dum derra dum dum diddy diddy dah dah

    Dum derra dum dum diddy diddy dah dah

    At least that's what it says on the lyric sheet.

    And make no mistake, we're supposed to notice the lyric sheet–the only other Morrison LP that had one was Hard Nose the Highway, itself a rather pointed statement regarding leaves and such. "Such": that's what Van Morrison's interested in–roamin' in the gloamin' and divers other top-hat autumnal falderal. Linden Arden stole the highlights, but where did he take them? Way back home, that's where. Leaving us with another album of furry-nosed nuzzlings in the fleece. But about this time, one begins to wonder: nowadays does this artist ever come bearing anything other than said fleece? Naught.

    Wavelength is a very nice record. I'm sure all the people at Warner Bros. are pleased with it. Ditto the DJs. It probably would also be really groovy for somebody's idea of a wine-and-joints, Renaissance-fair garden party. It makes a lovely sound, breaks no rules and keeps its grimy snout (or, rather, that of its maker) out of the dark places that mainstreams step correctly over. Rigid. The singer has a nifty little band here, what with Bobby Tench, Peter Bardens from the original Them and even great googamoogah Garth Hudson sittin' in on various instruments. Well, take me back to Orpheus Descending!

    Because it's obvious that Morrison ain't playing out no dramas here. Nor has he been for some long while now. Perhaps he is more interested in apprehending the exact configuration of an ace of sunlight and presenting it to us. A lost or stolen moment in time, when meaning went rollin' by like the trains on the tracks, like the breeze through a door. But the question is: DO WE CARE? Obviously the man is possessed, obviously he is driven to seek some definition in the most mundane curbstone air, certainly he is a mystic whose light shines for he and thee and all of us, but he flat-out refuses to say anything but the patently obvious and then calls that poetry–which it is.

    So maybe we should knight Van Morrison poet-errant of the New Drowse. Meaning, don't ever ask him what his beautiful obsession is actually about. Because if you do, he'll come out with embarrassing sludge like:

    Men saw the stars at the edge of the sea

    They thought great thoughts about liberty

    Poets wrote down words that did fit

    Writers wrote books

    Thinkers thought about it.

    No, obviously we're far better off with a solid wall of dum derra dum dum diddies. Which actually makes just as good sense as anything else being dished up these days. Still, though, it do confound how such a monumental talent can mire himself in such twaddle, fine as some of it may be.

    There is a kind of resolute silliness about a lot of the stuff Van Morrison's been doing for the last few years: he wants to make records for cookouts, we keep probing for his bardic soul, and the whole mess is ridiculous because he was actually only specific for one very tight stretch there, enclosing "T. B. Sheets" and Astral Weeks. As for the rest–i.e., the main body of his work–he truly delights in the glancing perception and all the filigree in the world. (But what kind of perverted universe reigns–and what kind of bray-orbed, Fellini-trite monstrolas might issue forth–when filigree becomes the body?) What, finally, are his beloved, infinitely extensive out-choruses but filigree? The last half of "Madame George" may be the all-time tightrope act, but, on Wavelength, he really gets down to it and dubs the endless out-choruses of "Santa Fe" a whole new song.

    So I guess he has finally achieved what he maybe set out to do in the first place: make the edge the center. The result, unfortunately, is a perfect bubble of smoked cheese. It'll do for the party, but it leaves certain sorta primal questions so far from resolved that–well, no, we never quite give up, do we? It is damn well roundabout known that Van Morrison records about four times as much music as he releases. Some of these great, edgy, eternity-shale, sax-bitten pieces leak out occasionally, and that's just fine. We're gonna deserve something beautiful to listen to in our old age. (RS 278)



    LESTER BANGS
     
  16. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Up in T.O. keepin' jive alive Thread Starter

    "Sludge, Twaddle & Falderal"...sounds like a law firm.

    Ouch.
     
  17. dgstrat

    dgstrat Senior Member

    Location:
    West Islip, NY
    I just caught a glimpse of Wavelength while thumbing through my LP's this weekend. I'll have to give it a spin tonight. Never spent much time with it.
     
  18. curbach

    curbach Some guy on the internet

    Location:
    The ATX
    For whatever it may be worth Wavelength is certainly the most successful compromise I can imagine bewteen Van's art and the demands of commerce. That doesn't make for an especially strong album, unfortunately. I do like a lot of the songs and the state-of-the-art 1978 production doesn't really bother me, but somehow the whole is less than the sum of the parts. It doesn't fill me up.

    While it's grown on me over the years, I still feel "Kingdom Hall" is Van's weakest album opener to this point. I really like "Checkin' It Out", even the goofy synth solo. "Natalia" is just so bland and breezy it goes right by me. I was surprised when I listened to the album this weekend (for the first time in a long while) that I enjoyed "Venice U.S.A." and "Lifelines" much more than I remembered. Still they're not so great, leaving side 1 mostly a dud.

    But I like everything on side 2 to a greater or lesser degree. The title track is great AOR. "Hungry For Your Love" is an excellent ballad ("I love you in buckskin"? Hhhmmm). Didn't it turn up in An Officer And A Gentlemen? "Take It Where You Find It", while a bit awkward, mostly works, especially the "I'm gonna walk down the street until I find my guiding light" bit. And then there is "Santa Fe/Beautiful Obsession" which is the only unqualified masterpiece on the album. I find this song to be mesmerizing for all of its 7 minutes and when the backing chorus comes in toward the end I'm in Van heaven. I will consider my participation in this thread to have served no higher purpose than if I can get just one person to (re)discover this long lost gem.

    BTW, methinks the unremastered U.S. Warner Bros cd sounds quite fine (but I've got nothing to compare it with).
     
  19. DJ WILBUR

    DJ WILBUR The Cappuccino Kid

    you know, this is a thought, I'm going to listen to "side two" tomorrow. I'm always so underwhelmed after the first batch of songs, and I never had this on vinyl . I'll be curious to see how side two sits in my brain. thanks for this idea Curbach....I could use 7 minutes of Van heaven and will isolate the Santa Fe song as well and give it a few undivided listens....i can always use another Beautiful Obsession in my Van arsenal.
     
  20. albert_m

    albert_m Forum Resident

    Location:
    Atl., Ga, USA
    When I first picked up the cd in the early 90's, it sat on my shelf for a long time. A few years ago, I put it in and it had really grew on my. I really think that it is pretty strong. However, the synth sound dates it (not as bad as Inarticulate...). Most of the album is not "classic" but there's a fari amount of classic Van. Checkin' it Out is a good laid back, but upbeat tune. Take out the synth crap and it's much better, but I enjoy the song regardless, and as the song starts to fade '...and we come back..."

    Natalia continues the mellow upbeat 70's sound, but I am perfectly ok with that. Venice was the first one years ago to grab with the catchy sound and Street Choir-like chorus (though clearly not R&B).

    Lifetimes and Wavelength I found boring years ago, because I never stayed with the songs who take a while to get into it, but now I really like both of those songs, along with Take it Where you Find it... closing the album as Van does. The only parts I skip now, are Hungry and Santa Fe really. Maybe in a few years...? Overall, because of Van's catalong, some good albums get overlooked. Yes it's dated, but overall it's good.
     
  21. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Up in T.O. keepin' jive alive Thread Starter

    Welcome to the fray, albert m.:wave:


    Hey, Messrs. curbach and Kruppa, can you check the Heylin book when you get a sec? I'm wondering, when the remasters come out next year, is there anything from this period which could be used as possible bonus tracks for Wavelength?
     
  22. dee

    dee Forum Resident

    Location:
    ft. lauderdale, fl
    You guys waste no time. :righton:. My only familiarity with Wavelength is the KBFH recording. So, that said, I find Hungry For Your Love spellbinding, Kingdom Hall inspiring, Natalia infectious, and Wavelength groovy ('cept for them synth-sound-FX wackiness)! Looking forward to hearing that show again this week - and, uh, "checkin' it out." ;). That same concert has also been streaming at Wolfgangs Vault.
     
  23. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Up in T.O. keepin' jive alive Thread Starter

    Yep, I believe you're right, hence its appearance on the recent VM At the Movies CD.

    That part of TIWYFI you're speaking of is very beautiful indeed. Apparently this song was originally conceived as a mini-opera of sorts.
     
  24. Buzzcat

    Buzzcat New Member

    Location:
    Madison, WI
    I just got a 1st edition hardcover copy of the Heylin book. I'm still in the preface but, so far so good. And holy crap is that a HUGE book! Plus, at least I know it'll have a happy ending, unlike the Phil Ochs bio I just finished.

    Perhaps I can toss in some tidbits if it fits from the book too.
     
  25. Clarkophile

    Clarkophile Up in T.O. keepin' jive alive Thread Starter

    That would be great. My two sources, the books by Hinton and Collis, are rather poor, I'm afraid. Collis seems to look upon Van with nothing but contempt.
    I don't even want to tell DJWilbur what Collis has to say about Common One.:shh: :eek:


    btw, Heylin's first name wouldn't be "Van", would it?:laugh: :p
    That would be too perfect.
     
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