Tuesday, 6 November 2018
The Electric Light Orchestra - The Electric Light Orchestra (1971)
Released December 1971
Recorded in London
For me, The Electric Light Orchestra were one hell of a singles band, but a most patchy one, album-wise, particularly in the early days, often allowing indulgent experimentation to overshadow anything else. This adventurous, unique debut album was basically Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne and drummer Bev Bevan putting their combined talents into merging rock/pop music with classical instrumentation - "Baroque'n'roll", they called it. Wood was a multi-instrumentalist and he plays all sorts of parts on the album's tracks. The album really has to be viewed as a complete one-off in the group's long career.
1. 10538 Overture
2. Look At Me Now
3. Nellie Takes Her Bow
4. The Battle Of Marston Moor
5. First Movement (Jumping Biz)
6. Mr. Radio
7. Manhattan Rumble (49th Street Massacre)
8. Queen Of The Hours
9. Whisper In The Night
The album's best track and hit single, "10538 Overture", was the first on the album. The psychedelic, string-orchestrated and innovative song was chock full of late sixties Beatles influences. The cello passages, the weird sounds, Jeff Lynne's nasal, Lennon-esque vocal. "Look At Me Now" has lots of classical influences and many different instruments played. It is actually quite infectious in places. It has Eastern influences at times, as well as British folky acoustic guitar and another Lennon-style vocal. The music on this album is full of sweeping, sonorous cello riffs replacing electric guitars and lots of woodwind. It is nothing like the slick, orchestrated pop that Jeff Lynne would be known for a few years down the line.
"Nellie Takes Her Bow" eventually descends into a bit of a mess as the kitchen sink is thrown into the mix, which was very much Roy Wood's style. There are some excellent passages, I have to say, but it is a challenging listen, shall we say. It descends in to "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen", instrumentally, at one point, before returning to the now familiar Beatles-influenced vocals. I have to say, also, that all those strings lead to a quite grating, trebly sound quality to much of the material.
"The Battle Of Marston Moor" is the most baroque-sounding track and is all very prog-rock-ish. Drummer Bev Bevan actually refused to play on it, considering it so bad, so Roy Wood pretty much plays everything. It is pretty much as Bevan described it, but it does have a strange, quirky appeal in places. I can't say it inspires me to keep listening to it, several times, though. It rambles on and on, let's be honest, often highly discordantly. It certainly is no "Sweet Talkin' Woman" or "Livin' Thing" that's for sure. As I hinted at, though, something keeps drawing me back to it. Maybe therein lies its odd appeal.
"First Movement (Jumping Biz)" is much more appealing, taking an acoustic influence from Mason Williams' "Classical Gas", it is a thoroughly enjoyable, jaunty instrumental. Bevan plays some mean drums on this one, almost John Bonham-esque in their power. "Mr Radio" is another Beatles-influenced vocal and strings number which is pleasant enough and "Manhattan Rumble (49th Street Massacre)", although another experimental, classically-influenced instrumental, is more listenable than some of the earlier ones. I have been familiar with "Queen Of The Hours" since 1972 as it was the 'b' side to their "Roll Over Beethoven" single. It has hints of The Strawbs in it, to me, and is probably, after "10538 Overture", the album's best track. The cello runs, however, seem very clichéd to me. Roy Wood's plaintive and mournful "Whisper In The Night" ends this strange album, that, despite its brave intentions, has always come across as a bit of a mess, to me. Sorry. Every couple of years, however, I give it another chance. Each time I do, I discover more in it, so there you go.