Fuck me! Has it been 20 years already? Or did the Nostalgia Wagon make a wrong turn somewhere, skipping past the airy aesthetics of Galaxie 500 and all the drugged-out Madchester kids in favor of ramming straight into the tail-end of British shoegaze? For chrissakes, I thought the arbiters of all that is Pop and Culture were still milling about at the feet of one-off Factory revivalists and PiL-core fashionistas. Did I miss the memo or something? Are we already due for a third-tier Britpop revival?
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Longwave is an anomaly; perhaps the band is merely the vanguard for an encroaching horde of Anglophilic kids armed with delay pedals and bad haircuts. They might even be ahead of their time, in a strange, roundabout, and rather asinine way; after all, if previous patterns in the rise and fall of cultural trends are to be believed, acts like Slowdive have another good five to seven years before they’re hip again, never mind all the post-gazer Britpop also-rans that followed in their wake. We’re living life on the bleeding edge, folks! Let’s hope no one notices that the edge is a bit dull and the blood smells a little familiar.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I were to accuse Longwave of mere mimicry; after all, our Favorite Albums were inevitably inspired by someone else’s Favorite Album, which was in turn inspired by yet another Favorite Album, threading an intricately recursive pattern of theft and re-appropriation that spans entire millennia. Still. If you’re going to cop whole-handedly from someone else’s playbook, make sure you leave all the rubbish behind, or at least have the conviction to believe that you’re current take on a decades-dead trend is fresh. And seriously? I’m tempted to say that Longwave have neither the talent for the former nor the will for the latter, and the resultant mess that bubbles up in There’s a Fire is neither innovative nor exciting; rather, it’s a bit boring.
I suppose part of the problem is that Longwave never really escapes the shadow of their ostensible influences, often sounding like a band still trying to find its own identity. Songs like the title track and “Underworld” sound like a less dynamic Ride, boring the listener to tears through the repetitive use of three or four simple guitar figures; similarly, “Fall on Every Whim”, and “Tell Me I’m Wrong” too often end up aping Swervedriver’s MO, sans the relentless pop sensibility. It’s fairly obvious that Longwave wants to make the grand, dreamy guitar-pop albums of their forebears; however, their song structures are derivative, the hooks aren’t really catchy enough to take hold, and their use of guitar atmospherics and textures occasionally sounds forced and unnatural.
Nonetheless, every band is quite capable of pumping out a few good tunes, no matter how mediocre they might be; and when Longwave is on, they do a more-than-admirable job of accurately quoting from the Big Book of All Things Britpop. “River (Depot Song)” is a scorching, propulsive track that could easily be mistaken for a forgotten b-side from Nowhere; elsewhere, “The Flood” ends up doing a passable impersonation of the Verve, circa A Northern Soul. But the definite highlight of the album is “Next Plateau”: bright, bouncy, and centered around an inexorably catchy acoustic guitar riff, the song easily conjures the same zeitgeist seized by bands like Blur and Pulp back in the mid-‘90s. The melody itself is as effortlessly memorable as anything off of Parklife or Different Class, and the track’s deceptively simple mechanics belie its surprisingly dynamic structure; it is perhaps one of the few songs on the album that doesn’t drag, breezing by with the studied ease and lasting impact of the best pop songs.
Maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised that an album like There’s a Fire is making the rounds these days; it seems that all the State-side kids want to pilfer wholesale from our transatlantic brethren these days, and being British (or at least pretending to be) is a hot commodity right now. And who knows? Given enough time, Longwave might actually make a decent album one day, or at least make a record that can holds its own rather than relying on the crutches of its inescapable influences; hell, give the corpse-diggers a few more years to catch up and the band might actually be hailed as visionary. But for right now, I can’t honestly say that the band is anything more than slightly above-average; they’re locked too firmly into a genre that’s been wholly consumed and creatively re-imagined by others, and they lack the talent (or the resolve) to escape their self-imposed boundaries.