Saturday, 8 June 2019

The Electric Light Orchestra




The Electric Light Orchestra (1971)


10538 Overture/Look At Me Now/Nellie Takes Her Bow/The Battle Of Marston Moor/First Movement (Jumping Biz)/Mr. Radio/Manhattan Rumble (49th Street Massacre)/Queen Of The Hours/Whisper In The Night   

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 WoodJeff 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.
                                        
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 WilliamsClassical 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 clich├ęd 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.

ELO 2 (1973)


In Old England Town (Boogie No. 2)/Momma/Roll Over Beethoven/From The Sun To The World (Boogie No. 1)/Kuiama 
      
After their totally unique, quirky, adventurous classical/rock/throw in the kitchen sink debut album, The Electric Light Orchestra returned with more of the same. Roy Wood left to form Wizzard during the recording, and only appears on two tracks, playing cello, so the sound changes a little from the first album, in that it starts to display the Jeff Lynne sound that would be honed and fine-tuned over the next ten years or so as ELO became one of the biggest bands in the world. They were not that, yet, however, and this is another brave but slightly indulgent album that was never going to be hugely successful, commercially. It is only five lengthy tracks of classical/rock crossover experimentation and, to be perfectly honest is, shall we say, a "challenging" listen. It is worth giving a few chances to, though, like its predecessor. It does hide hidden pleasures deep down there, somewhere.
                                                            
In Old England Town (Boogie No. 2) is a sonorously orchestrated, prog-ish number, full of deep cello sounds, a slightly crazed, scratchy, discordant vocal and a slight feel of that late sixties psychedelic Beatles era that was present on 10538 Overture

Momma is probably the first typically Jeff Lynne number on both albums so far. It is a slow, string-dominated  rock ballad, but if you heard it "cold", you would probably immediately say "Electric Light Orchestra", which showed that the group were starting to develop a musical identity.

 

Roll Over Beethoven was an absolute classic single, from that plagiarised classical intro to the iconic Chuck Berry electric guitar intro and Bev Bevan's steam-hammer drumming. Jeff Lynne's vocal is top notch too. I remember buying it as a single and absolutely loving it as a fourteen year-old. I still do. It is one of the only singles where I feel the "single version" is better than the sprawling "album version" that we get here. This lengthier version is somewhat disjointed and dilutes the sheer punch and pacy energy of the single. It is still fantastic, though, and is by far the best thing on either of their albums so far. The Electric Light Orchestra had arrived with the release of this song as a single, make no mistake.

From The Sun To The World (Boogie No. 1) is another very typically Lynne track, despite Wood's presence on the distinctive cello "riffs". I am convinced Hugh Cornwell of The Stranglers used Lynne's vocal on here as a blueprint to style his own on Hanging Around. The vocal is mainly at the beginning of the track, the rest of it is made up of instrumental changes in pace, all very proggy and grandiose. It has quite a few appealing moments, though, and the sound quality is excellent.




Kuiama is eleven minutes in length and is another prog-rock influenced number, with many ambience and tempo changes, sprawling along with occasional vocals (that I believe are anti-war, but are very indistinct and muffled). It goes on far too long and maybe it was no surprise that it was their longest track and they never did anymore as long or indulgent. Any good intentions it had became lost in the murk.

So, this was a patchy album, with moments of brilliance but also ones that made it clear that they needed to streamline things a bit. Included as a bonus track is the wonderful, slightly funky single Showdown, the presence of which would have seriously raised the quality of the album. In fact, much of the bonus material is far better than the stuff that ended on the album, far more warm, soulful and less experimental.


On The Third Day (1973)


Ocean Breakup/King Of The Universe/Bluebird Is Dead/Oh No Not Susan/New World Rising/Ocean Breakup (Reprise)/Daybreaker/Ma-Ma-Ma Belle/Dreaming Of 4000/In The Hall Of The Mountain King   
     
After two experimental albums merging classical music with rock, The Electric Light Orchestra, by now, were trying to to build a bit more of a polished, commercial, pop identity. Only to an extent, though, as this, their third album, still contains a considerable amount of decidedly uncommercial material. Despite the excellent hit singles of Roll Over Beethoven and Showdown the band were struggling somewhat to form their own identity on their patchy albums. (Neither singles were included on the UK albums). It would not be until the next one (or even the one after that) that any real change in direction would be felt. Admittedly, this offering was far more streamlined than the madcap, Roy Wood-inspired adventures of their debut album, but this was still a bit "off the wall", and so Beatles-influenced as to be too close for comfort. A lot of it has little or no commercial appeal.
      
The opener, Ocean Breakup/King Of The Universe, contains quite a few trademark Jeff Lynne characteristics, in both its instrumentation and vocal delivery, it is still quite indulgent in its Beatles-esque inventive tempo swings. 

The next track, Bluebird Is Dead, is even more Beatles-influenced. It is still a most derivative track and although it is ok, it falls short of being something that one could say was unique to The Electric Light Orchestra. It has a great bass/drum interplay bit at the end though, before segueing into the frantic, Eastern influence meets The Beatles of Oh No Not Susan. This was even more Beatles-inspired than the others and indeed, it runs straight into New World Rising/Ocean Breakup (Reprise). Both of these tracks are full of Lennon-isms and McCartney-isms too, merged with Jeff Lynne's wild, unfettered classical instrumental stylings. It is all quite bizarre at times, but it does, like the other albums, have an odd appeal. The material certainly merits a few listens to try and fully appreciate it. This whole "side one" was like some sort of crazed Beatles/psychedelic pastiche. Nevertheless, for all its derivativeness it is actually quite enjoyable.

 

Daybreaker begins the old "side two" with a very prog-rock style instrumental, full of swirling synthesiser and sweeping strings over a fast rock drum beat. In many ways, this was the sort of classical/rock sound Jeff Lynne was looking to build on now. It was shorter and more punchy than the original sprawling offerings from the Roy Wood era. 

Up next is possibly ELO's most authentic, heaviest, pure rock in Ma-Ma-Ma Belle which was deservedly a hit single and had one hell of a chunky rock riff and a huge drum sound from the mighty Bev Bevan. The cello and the lead guitar merge superbly, the cello playing riffs too. Great stuff. 

Dreaming Of 4000 has an infectious soulful bass line and some excellent electric guitar but it is still musically bonkers in its tempo shifts and inability to know exactly what it is. When the chorus bit bursts into life, though, it rocks.

In The Hall Of The Mountain King uses Edvard Grieg's music for a muscular piece of classical/rock in the typical early seventies ELO style, sticking close to their original concept of merging classical and rock music together. It works too, it is powerful with some seriously thumping drums.

I always felt with these early ELO albums, however undeniably brave and ground-breaking they were, they didn't quite feel fulfilled and always seem a bit patchy. Having said that they all require, and get, several listens on the occasions I dig them out.




Eldorado (1974)


Eldorado Overture/Can't Get It Out Of My Head/Boy Blue/Laredo Tornado/Poor Boy (The Greenwood)/Mister Kingdom/Nobody's Child/Illusions In G Major/Eldorado/Eldorado Finale 
     
After the semi-rock, semi-prog indulgence of the group's first three albums, Jeff Lynne decided to write a dreaded "concept album" with distinct classical influences in a desperate attempt, apparently, to please his Father, who had criticised his son's work for having "no melody". Quite what the "concept" is I don't really know, something about a Walter Mitty-style character, it would seem, trying to escape his mundane, humdrum life through dreams. Yes, ok. I never get these supposed concepts. It's just rock music to me. Does it sound any good? Yes and no. I still find it somewhat indulgent, but there are definite good points. For all that some say it is a prog rock album, I feel it is far more heading towards the ELO sound of the subsequent five or six years than its three predecessors.
                                             
Eldorado Overture is two minutes of sound effects, orchestral bombast and sweeping strings before we get to the album's best track, one of Noel Gallagher's favourites in the excellent Beatles-esque grandiose ballad Can't Get It Out Of My Head. It is a superbly atmospheric song, both vocally and musically. 

Boy Blue eventually breaks out from some classical, symphonic stuff into a typically catchy piece of ELO pop. There are also some excellent passages of music on here - percussion, strings and drums all interplaying well. There are bits in the vocal at the end that remind of the later track, Rockaria!.

Laredo Tornado manages to include a funky undertow to its string orchestration and a bit of brooding blues atmosphere to Bev Bevan's solid drumming. There are slight echoes of the earlier Showdown about it. It is one of the album's best tracks. Lynne's vocal is deeper and bluesy in places too. Poor Boy (The Greenwood) is lively and folk rocky in a sort of Strawbs meet Bob Dylan thing.



As soon as you hear Mister Kingdom you think - The BeatlesAcross The Universe. The similarity at the beginning is so great. The Lennon influence continues throughout the song, on other bits too. Lynne never hid his Beatles influence, did he? 

Nobody's Child is a typical, slow burning, orchestrated piece of ELO rock. Again, Lynne's vocal is Dylanesque. If not Lennon, then Dylan. the track launches straight into the upbeat, string-driven rock 'n' roll of Illusions In G Major. Once more, Rockaria! owes a lot to this. There is a great fuzzy guitar solo in it too. 

Eldorado has Lynne sounding just like Ian Hunter in his phrasing and diction. If you are a Hunter fan, listen to it, you'll know exactly what I mean. It is when he sings "eldorado". We then get a huge symphonic finale. Yes, it was a tiny bit pretentious, but only a bit. It is pretty enjoyable on the whole.

When I heard this album back in the day, I couldn't get into it much, but re-listens over the years have found me re-assessing it favourably.

Face The Music (1975)


Fire On High/Waterfall/Evil Woman/Nightrider/Poker/Strange Magic/Down Home Town/One Summer Dream     

Although The Electric Light Orchestra's trademark orchestrated sound is still present on this album, it is not nearly as dominant as on their previous album Eldorado, or indeed on their first three proggy offerings. Composer Jeff Lynne was definitely finding his pop ears and this album laid down the foundations that the following year's New World Record would really develop. ELO's status as a chart band and one looking for mass appeal truly began here. It was their first album to go platinum.
                                       
Fire On High begins with a minute and a half of synthesised and sampled sound effects, before some huge drums and guitar kick in, giving us a mock-classical, grandiose symphonic piece. By three minutes, it brings in some razor sharp acoustic guitars, almost Tubular Bells-style, accompanied with some big Queen-influenced drum crashes, Brian May guitar and wailing female choral backing vocals. As instrumentals go, it is entertaining enough, I guess. ELO always liked an instrumental or two, so it is no surprise that it opened the album. Time for some Lennon influence by now, surely? We get that with the typically ELO Lennon-esque ballad Waterfall, Jeff Lynne's reedy, slightly whiny voice backed by those big ELO strings - cello, violin and double bass to the fore.

  

ELO were beginning a run of quality singles now and Evil Woman was one of those, - a slightly funky and catchy number backed by some clavinet runs. It contained a few echoes of 1973's Showdown. It also has some excellent string and keyboard passages. 

Nightrider has a beguiling beginning before it breaks free into some typical ELO string-backed rock, full of the sort of quasi-Beatles circa 1967 influence that Lynne had long specialised in. The chorus refrain is very catchy, again. Lynne's ability to write a pop song was developing at a pace.

Poker is a madcap, frenetic pace rocker full of chunky guitar riffs and proggy synth runs. Strange Magic was the album's other single, and, while not as big a hit as Evil Woman it had a mysterious, synthy hook that took it into the charts' lower reaches. 

Down Home Train is a strange one, ELO go vaguely country with some hoedown-style fiddle and Lynne contributing a nasally, upbeat vocal. For some reason the song has a brief flash of Dixie near the end. 

One Summer Dream is a peaceful, reflective ballad with a laid-back beginning that morphs into a mid-pace rock song with some powerful drums. It is a good song to end on.

Overall, it was a short, but consistently pleasing album. I like it a lot more than many of their other albums (I am quite harsh on ELO albums). On here they managed to combine their Beatles-ish and orchestral backing with a clear pop sensibility that would prove to be extremely successful over the next few years.




A New World Record (1976)


Tightrope/Telephone Line/Rockaria!/Mission (A World Record)/So Fine/Livin' Thing/Above The Clouds/Do Ya/Shangri-La           

After their decidedly weird, experimental first three albums, The Electric Light Orchestra had gradually become more poppy in their music, despite the fact that a couple more subsequent albums, although containing a few hit singles, were still a bit odd and patchy. This one, however, was the one where they went full-on pop in many ways, and they began a serious assault on the singles charts. The album was a huge success too, despite punk bursting on the scene. It sold millions. For some reason the mainstream now had a serious taste for the band, and would continue to do so for the rest of the seventies, when ELO briefly became "the biggest band in the world". ELO were now huge. A year ago they had seemed to be yesterday's men.

Musically, as well as going more catchy, Jeff Lynne's Beatles/Lennon obsession remains, though, and crops up in a fair few places on the album.

The previous five albums had all contained great singles but the rest of the material was often indulgent and directionless. Here, at last, Lynne got it dead right and produced a wonderful orchestrally-influenced pop album. The band's sound has always been a little tinny for my liking, but Lynne had such an ear for a hook and a melody that I forgave him many times.

 
                                  
Tightrope starts with some orchestrated strings before breaking out into a very Beatles-esque (or should I say Lennon-esque) poppy  opener, kicking off the album as it intends to continue, as ELO's most commercially-appealing offering thus far. 

Telephone Line was an irresistible single, full of doo-wops, a sixties-ish Move-inspired singalong chorus and a few futuristic sound effects. 

An even better single, for me, was the rocking, riffy fun of Rockaria! which tells the rousing tale of an opera singer deciding to rock out. She is described thus - "She's sweet on Wagner, I think she'd die for Beethoven, she loves the way Puccini lays down a tune, and Verdi's always creeping from her room...". A few minutes with Jeff Lynne, however, and she is sold on rock'n' roll. Great stuff. It was always one of my favourite ELO singles.

Mission (A New World Record) is a stately, again Beatles-influenced spacey sort of slow number featuring some by now archetypal ELO orchestration. 

So Fine was very upbeat and jaunty for a non-single, full of hooks, funky guitar and "ooh-ooh" backing vocals. It even has a "world music" percussion/bass bit, something most unusual for ELO. 

Livin' Thing was a big hit single and had preceded the album by nine months or so. Again, it is pretty much perfection of its type, with a killer chorus.



Above The Clouds is a McCartney-esque, dreamy rock number that wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Wings album. Its drum backing is huge, thumping and sonorous and it is far bassier than many of the band's tracks. 

Do Ya revisits that monster guitar riff that they used on Ma-Ma-Ma Belle a few years earlier. It is the album's hardest rocker. I always loved it and still do. Shangri-La is a floaty, sleepy closer, full of spacey keyboards and melodic strings and guitar.

** The bonus track, Surrender, has a You Can't Hurry Love Motown riff and is another gratuitously infectious number. It wouldn't have harmed for it to have been on the album.

This had been a revelation of an album at the time, one that launched ELO into the stratosphere and completed their renaissance. Even though I was getting into punk in a big way at the time, I still had a weakness for this, and remember it with affection.


Out Of The Blue (1977)


Turn To Stone/It’s Over/Sweet Talkin’ Woman/Across The Border/Night In The City/Starlight/Jungle/Believe Me Now/Steppin’ Out/Standin’ In The Rain/Big Wheels/Summer And Lightning/Mr. Blue Sky/Sweet Is The Night/The Whale/Birmingham Blues/Wild West Hero     
After successfully giving his Electric Light Orchestra a poppy, more chart-friendly makeover on the previous year’s extremely successful A New World Record, Jeff Lynne went the whole hog with this (possibly) bloated but undoubtedly impressive meisterwerk. Seemingly oblivious to contemporary musical trends like punk and only paying a few brief nods to disco, Lynne continued his musical fixation with The Beatles’ 67-70 output and put out this incredibly successful double album that became as much the sound of 1977 as any punk or disco sounds. Lynne’s highly orchestrated rock was popular with all sorts of fans - rock, pop, disco, why even the punks didn’t seem to mind it. It duly sold over 10 million copies. ELO were now huge, being described as “the biggest band in the world”, briefly.

Personally, despite having bought some of their music since 1972, I was never convinced by the hype and found a double album of ELO a bit difficult to stomach. I still do, to be honest. Around ten tracks would have been fine, as it was on the previous album. Then again, I have always liked my ELO in small doses. It seemed the public wanted more, however, as they lapped this up. You can’t really argue with the album’s potency, though, and it stands as Lynne’s finest achievement with the group, none of the songs are duffers. Dare I say it was his White Album? No, it was more like his Abbey Road.

The whole thing is full of grandiosity seemingly at odds with the contemporary punk desire to strip things back. There was still an appetite for prog rock-style indulgence and camp pomposity, unbelievably. Queen were also hugely popular at the time for similar reasons. Mike Oldfield too. That should not be overlooked when assessing the success of material like this. For every clenched fist pogoing punk there were three or four Yes, Queen, Mike Oldfield or Emerson, Lake And Palmer fans.



Anyway, on to the music. Turn To Stone was a huge hit and it is admittedly catchy, but it has always irritated me slightly, something about those high-pitched backing vocals and its somewhat synthetic disco-rock beat. Having said, it is always very nostalgic to hear it. 

It’s Over is a sumptuously orchestrated, appealing number that harks a year back to the commercial sound of A New World Record

Sweet Talkin’ Woman does so even more with a classic ELO rock hit. It was always my favourite from this period. It is incredibly hook-laden and simply a great single. Lynne borrows heavily from The Beach Boys’ Heroes And Villains on the lively and infectious Across The Border, which is a strange amalgam of the afore-mentioned song and some Mexican horn backing, merged together with lush, big production ELO pop.

Night In The City is a slice of very typical ELO fare that could come from the 1974-75 era. It has hints of Evil Woman and Strange Magic about it, plus some Beatles orchestration, of course. 

Starlight is an attractive, slow-paced number full of harmonies and hooks, once again. Jungle is a strange mix of tribal drum rhythms and big, chunky riffs that actually is quite refreshing in its slightly chunkier, different sound to the string-driven sound of earlier tracks. It is the most unusual of the songs on the album. An instrumental break leads into the plaintive, but dramatic strains of Steppin’ Out. I have to admit this is good stuff, when taken out of cultural context. These are all just great songs. If the album had ended here it would still have been a very good one, wouldn’t it?



The old “side three” was supposedly a “concept” suite called “Concerto For A Rainy Day” as Jeff can’t resist but go all proggy for a while. Standin’ In The Rain is a vibrant piano-driven number that only develops into a vocal song half way through. Despite its Rick Wakeman-style keyboard pretensions, it still has an attraction. 

Big Wheels is a sumptuously mournful McCartney-esque big production number. Summer And Lightning has a melodic, sixties-influenced grandeur to it that is almost unique. There really was nothing else around at the time that sounded like this. Some string hints of You Only Live Twice merge with the riff from The McCoys’ Hang On Sloopy in a wonderful cornucopia. Great stuff. Unfortunately it segues into one of my least favourite ELO songs ever, Mr. Blue Sky. Now, I know so many love it, so we will leave it at that. You can’t deny its great production and innovativeness, though. It is completely obvious why it was such a massive hit.



There are still four more tracks to come, and one feels like it’s six o’clock on Christmas Day afternoon by now - pretty much stuffed. It is a shame, because Sweet Is The Night is a really good track, with a sort of Telephone Line appeal. Lynne sings in his vaguely Dylanesque voice on this fine number, which, for me, is much the superior of Mr. Blue Sky

The Whale is an interesting instrumental with a warm, deep bass line on it, along with some whale noises. Yes, it is a bit indulgent and proggy, but I like it. It is a bit of a hidden gem in the album, a track which has a depth of sound to it that was maybe lacking in some of the album’s more trebly, string-dominated moments.

Slightly incongruous yet very enjoyable is the chunky rock of Birmingham Blues. Lynne achieves a fine mix on the production here of bass and strings. This is something that is a characteristic of the whole album. The album ends with the haunting strains of Wild West Hero, which was a strange choice for a single. For me, it has always been a bit of a confused number, with an odd, folky chorus. Funny thing, three of the album’s four singles, snd the most popular songs are my least favourite ones from the album. Overall, there is some really good stuff on here.

So there you are, I have to admit that it was a great achievement and deserving of its success and longevity. The cover,  despite its corniness, was iconic also, oddly. Finally, this has by far the best quality sound of any ELO album, being the bassiest by far.


Discovery (1979)


Shine A Little Love/Confusion/Need Her Love/The Diary Of Horace Wimp/Last Train To London/Midnight Blue/On The Run/Wishing/Don’t Bring Me Down   

Once more oblivious to the punk/new wave maelstrom, ELO followed up their multi million-selling double album behemoth Out Of The Blue with this pleasing but decidedly un-rock offering. It is stylistically a very different album from either of its predecessors, Out Of The Blue and A New World Record. It is also seemingly incongruous compared to much contemporary music of the time, but there again, probably not. Most people in 1979 were not punks or new wavers. Far from it.

The album explores funk and disco sounds far more than ELO had previously done, and those sounds were as much part of the zeitgeist as punk or new wave.

The album went straight to number one.
                                
Shine A Little Love is a funkily catchy number that definitely latches on to the late seventies disco obsession with Bee Gees-style high-pitched chorus vocals and lots of disco backing “woohs”. Everyone went “disco” at this time - ABBARod StewartElton John, even The Rolling Stones, so ELO followed suit. It is a good track, with nice strings and guitar parts and is full of vitality.

Confusion is not disco, but still very late seventies, it is hugely ABBA influenced, for me. Listen to those grandiose keyboards. I have always really liked it. 

Need Her Love is a typical slow Jeff Lynne ballad - all mournful and vocally breathy. It is difficult to describe but I am sure you know what I mean. It is very George Harrison influenced, particularly on the guitar solo. It also vaguely reminds me of Gilbert O’Sullivan in places, or Peter Skellern’s You’re A Lady.

 

I have always disliked the McCartney-esque over-orchestrated Diary Of Horace Wimp. I don’t know why, but I found it irritating at the time and still do. Sorry Jeff. Better move on. 

Perversely, one of my all time ELO favourites is up next in the hugely atmospheric cod-funk of Last Train To London. It is such a great song and reminds me of catching the train from London To Birmingham around 6pm just to have a curry with my then girlfriend and getting the last train out of Birmingham back. As I said, a great song.

Midnight Blue is a Lennon-ish slow and emotive ballad. Lynne’s sad voice matches the sweeping strings. Once more, it is a really nice song. 

On The Run is a slice of Wings-ish disco-influenced  rock with more high-pitched lead and backing vocals. Wishing is Beatles-influenced but also very late seventies in its overall feel.

At odds with the rest of the album is the thumping rock of Don’t Bring Me Down, written by Lynne at the last minute as he felt that there were not enough fast, upbeat songs on the album. Oh, and he doesn’t sing “Bruce” after the chorus, he sings the made-up word “Groose”, so Lynne himself says.

I like this album, it has the short, perfectly-formed feel that the sprawling Out Of The Blue possibly did not. It never got any better than this for ELO after this point, though, despite several more big hit singles.




Time (1981)


Prologue/Twilight/Yours Truly, 2095/Ticket To The Moon/The Way Life's Meant To Be/Another Heart Breaks/Rain Is Falling/From The End Of The World/The Lights Go Down/Here Is The News/21st Century Man/Hold On Tight/Epilogue                                                
After two years' hiatus, Jeff Lynne and ELO were back in 1981, sticking largely to their tried and tested formula while easing out some of the heavier strings and replacing them with synth-op keyboards. I read that it was more like Wings or The Alan Parsons Project than The Beatles or John Lennon and I have to agree with that. I still quite like it, though, although in 1981 I wouldn't have had any time for it, despite my earlier fandom. The album has a vague-ish concept about a man from the 1980s being transported to the year 2095. Most of the references to the concept that crop up are about the man trying to return to the "good old nineteen-eighties", having seen how crap the future is. As it is now April 2020 as I write, maybe he was was right.

It is often forgotten that it reached number one on the albums chart, so it must have still struck a chord with many in 1981.

The futuristic keyboard/spacey distorted spoken vocals of Prologue leads into the heavily synthesised but very catchy ELO rock of Twilight. It perfectly fitted into the new romantic, synth pop vibe of 1981. As always, Jeff Lynne hit on some great hooks on the song. Good old Jeff, though, despite punk/new wave/ska clashing all around him, he pretty much stuck to the trademark ELO sound, albeit with more keyboards and less rock guitar. Yes, it is ELO-tinny in its production, but it is still really invigorating and energetic.

 

Yours Truly, 2095 starts with some Elvis Costello & The Attractions-style-keyboard before it goes into a Buggles-inspired vocal. Again, it is an enjoyable piece of catchy, futuristic electro-pop. 

Ticket To The Moon is a plaintive, piano-driven number that sees the album's main character looking back to the nineteen-eighties from a time in the future, 2095, no doubt. It has some nice bass lines and a big, bombastic chorus. Its vocal harmonies are a bit Queen-influenced. It reminds of a Wings track, but I can't put my finger on which one right now. Wild Life, possibly.

The Way Life's Meant To Be is a bit of a throwback to the great ELO songs of the mid-late seventies mixed with some rock 'n' roll harmonies, Beach Boys melodies and Spectoresque castanets. It is a really infectious song and although it didn't really suit 1981, it has a timeless quality about it which ensures its continued popularity. Another Heart Breaks is a virtual instrumental with only a few murmured lyrics that has a sort of neo-classical ABBA meets "Heroes"-era David Bowie to listen to Ultravox sound to it. The drum sound is very much like the previous year's Vienna from the said Ultravox.

Rain Is Falling is typical ELO - orchestrated bits, Lennon-esque vocals and a very Can't Get It Out Of My Head feeling. 

From The End Of The World is another chugging piece of electro-pop. It plods along attractively with some sweeping synth breaks, though, as I said, Lynne always had an ear for a hook. The Lights Go Down is, surprisingly, a reggae-influenced track, that has a light, summery skank merged with classic ELO vocals and chorus.

Here Is The News is a grandiose, synth-dominated serving of eighties electronic pop/rock. It now goes without saying that it is a catchy song. 

21st Century Man is the album's most Lennon/Beatles song. It has a sadness to it as well. ELO may well have been the previous decades' band, but they were flying off into space with dignity and reminding us just how good they were. 

Hold On Tight was a hit single and was a delightful rockabilly meets ELO pastiche of good time fun, including Lynne singing in schoolboy French. Epilogue sees us out in true ELO fashion.

This is actually a surprisingly appealing, energetic and breezy album that I like a lot. There's not a duff track on it. Don't write it off.




Secret Messages (1983)


Secret Messages*/Loser Gone Wild*/Bluebird*/Take Me On And On*/Stranger*/No Way Out/Letter From Spain*/Danger Ahead*/Four Little Diamonds*/Train Of Gold*/Endless Lies/Buildings Have Eyes/Rock 'n' Roll Is King*/Mandalay/Time After Time/After All/Hello My Old Friend

* tracks on original album                                  

Released in 1983, this was originally intended to be a double album, but the record company, Jet, insisted that it had to be a single one in order to cut down on costs. It was a bit more low-key than its predecessor, either in its single album format or in its double album capacity. It is still a pretty good album though and has been considerably overlooked.

Secret Messages begins using a riff like on The Boomtown Rats' Rat Trap before it breaks out into an instantly recognisable piece of late seventies/early eighties ELO rock. Lots of keyboard swirls, solid drums and Jeff Lynne's unique vocals, and a killer chorus, of course. 

Loser Gone Wild is a slow pace, bassier Wings-style rock ballad. It has some jazzy bits in it too at one point. 

Bluebird is very typical ELO. Its lively, catchy sound needs no introduction and could be from any point from 1979-83. Its vocals are very Beach Boys by the end of the track.

Take Me On And On is a muscular slow rock song with a nice atmosphere to it, plus a good solid bass line. Stranger is slow too, but more melodious and chilled-out. As always, with Jeff Lynne songs, it has a fine hook to it. One bit of it conjures up Chicago's If You Leave Me Now, briefly.

No Way Out is a strange one for ELO - a deep, bassy, jazzy swinger of a number. It did not appear on the single album. Letter From Spain is also a laid-back, ethereal number, but in more of a recognisable Jeff Lynne style. 

Danger Ahead is a riffy blast back into action that sounds vaguely like Elvis Costello & The Attractions in places. It is a fine rocker. As too is the hit single from the album, the upbeat Four Little Diamonds, complete with its ELO stomping sound that featured on so many of their hits in this period.

Train Of Gold has an infectious slow beat that is almost funky. It is one of the group's most soulful recordings, harking back to 1973's Showdown. I really like it. 

Endless Lies has a warm dignity about it, an operatic chorus and a nice bass line while Buildings Have Eyes is a poppy, upbeat number. Neither of these were on the single album. The catchy Rock 'n' Roll Is King provided the group with their final top twenty hit.

The final tracks were left off the single album - the mysterious, dark strains of Mandalay, that were lifted only by a very ELO-style chorus part; the electro-pop of Time After Time; the pretty pointless, short instrumental After All and the eight minute plus Beatles-esque tribute to Birmingham of Hello My Old Friend. Only this one has a real claim to have been on the single album. It is an evocative and moving piece of work.

The single album plays better than the somewhat White Album-ish sprawl of the double to be honest, existing as a cohesive and concise recording.




Balance Of Power (1986)


Heaven Only Knows/So Serious/Getting To The Point/Secret Lives/Is It Alright/Sorrow About To Fall/Without Someone/Calling America/Endless Lies/Send It                                               

After three years with no album, this was ELO's last album before 2001's Zoom. It was the last to feature Bev Bevan on drums and Richard Tandy (until 2019's From Out Of Nowhere). It is a short album at 34 minutes, and is typically poppy in a mid-eighties style. The tracks are notably shorter than on previous ELO albums, mainly two/three minutes long as opposed to four/five. Overall, though, despite some synth-dominated trebly sound, it is a pleasant, enjoyable sign-off from this well-loved, creative group.

Heaven Only Knows is an attractively poppy, lively number with some Beach Boys-style harmonies at times, but it is blighted by some extremely tinny, typically mid-eighties production. 

So Serious is better in terms of warmth and bassiness, with a nice bass guitar line. Jeff Lynne is a master of catching fine hook lines and he does so again here on a really melodic song. It is very representative of eighties pop, though. Despite that I like it a lot.

Getting To The Point is instantly recognisable as a big Jeff Lynne slow ballad, full of grandiosity and evocative melody. It has a great saxophone solo at the end. 

Secret Lives is keyboard-dominated in the way that eighties pop was, but, once more, it is attractively singalong. Yes, it is tinny again, but so much of ELO's output was. It has a good fuzzy guitar solo too. The chugging but enjoyable Is It Alright is in a similar vein, lifted by another killer chorus.

Sorrow About To Fall is an excellent track, full of the sort of ELO/funk vibe that they first used on 1973's Showdown, lots of sweeping strings, funky clavinet and, unusually, some atmospheric late night saxophone. The song sounds quite a bit like Hall & Oates in places. 

Without Someone is a slow, ethereal, spacey and keyboard-driven love song. Calling America was the "hit" single, getting to number 28. Chart domination was all but over now, which was a shame as this was a fine piece of pop. The big production, operatic Endless Lies had been included on 1983's Secret Messages double album project, but didn't make the cut for the eventual single album.

Send It sees us saying goodbye to all those violins, cellos and spaceships on a fine, rockabilly rocking note, telling Tchaikovsky the news indeed....it had been a breathless voyage. From bizarre Beatles-obsessed experimentation to "the biggest band in the world".




Zoom (2001)


Alright/Moment In Paradise/State Of Mind/Just For Love/Stranger On A Quiet Street/In My Own Time/Easy Money/It Really Doesn't Matter/Ordinary Dream/A Long Time Gone/Melting In The Sun/All She Wanted/Lonesome Lullaby                        

Released in 2001, this was ELO's first album since 1986's Balance Of Power and is basically a Jeff Lynne solo album. He plays most of it, with help from George Harrison and Ringo Starr. It is excellent, in impact, punch, catchiness and also, maybe surprisingly, sound quality. It is not as tinny as some of Lynne's earlier ELO work and that, for me, is a good thing. I really like the album. Jeff Lynne could always nail a great hook and he does it here, on every song. They are all shortish numbers and the album has a pleasing vibrancy, vitality and vigour that keeps your attention from beginning to end. It was a shame that it didn't sell well and has remained largely ignored because it is a really impressive album.

Alright is solid riffy rock with definite tub-thumping Oasis echoes on the anthemic chorus while Moment In Paradise is a typically classy ELO mid-pace ballad, with a nice keyboard sound that merges well with acoustic guitar. It has a lovely bass line in it too. 

State Of Mind is a big thumping rocker with those archetypal backing vocals and some excellent guitar driving it on and Just For Love sees the old Beatles influence back merged with that evocatively sad Jeff Lynne ambience.

Stranger On A Quiet Street is warm and bassy. A solid, dignified and chunky rock song. The bass line sounds a bit like Argent's Hold Your Head Up. It is one of my favourites on the album. 

In My Own Time is a rock 'n' roll influenced slow ballad and Easy Money is a fine piece of rock boogie, full of excellent guitar and a thumping beat. Lynne could always rock like this effortlessly when he wanted to.

 

It Really Doesn't Matter is trademark Jeff Lynne - rocky, melodic and dominated by his nasal but instantly recognisable voice. 

Ordinary Dream is a very seventies-sounding ballad with some Ringo Starr-esque drum bits. Guess what? It is not actually the man himself, but Lynne aping his hero. Again it is very appealing and hooky. A Long Time Gone is an ethereal slow ballad that has vague McCartney hints.

Melting In The Sun is another superb Lynne rocker that takes me right back to the end of the seventies. It is somewhat Dylanesque in places. It has a great guitar solo and is a fine track overall. Listening to this it is as if ELO had never been away. It could have easily come from the Out Of The Blue era.

All She Wanted has a wonderful, massive Ma-Ma-Ma Belle riff and together with cello breaks, sounds just like that great seventies rocker. I love this one. There are definite T.Rex influences in the riff too. 

Lonesome Lullaby is another unsurprisingly Beatles-ish, guitar-driven solid, muscular rock number. Oasis get some more influence in on this one.

It is a much-underrated corker of an album. All the tracks are excellent. Highly recommended.



From Out Of Nowhere (2019)


From Out Of Nowhere/Help Yourself/All My Love/Down Came the Rain/Losing You/One More Time/Sci-Fi Woman/Goin' Out On Me/Time of Our Life/Songbird           
Poor old Jeff Lynne. Despite his new album (surely it should be credited to him as opposed to the now virtually non-existent ELO?) being received as the second coming on Radio Two, quite a lot of the public would appear to have given it a negative reception. Lynne has suffered in the same way as Van Morrison, Sting, Rod Stewart, Mark Knopfler, Elton John and the like in that he has faced the usual calls for him to retire and people saying that they have been fans for forty years but his new album is rubbish and they want a refund. As far as I am concerned, if he wants to keep putting out albums then fair play to him. He played nearly all the instruments himself, by the way, Stevie Wonder-style.

Many of the more credible criticism has concerned the sound quality and production of the album and also the fact that it is only thirty-two minutes in length (ten songs). I will attempt to counter those gripes by saying that, for me (never an absolute huge ELO fan, although I first bought their music in 1972), their sound has always been tinny and treble-heavy. Despite the best efforts of Bev Bevan’s powerhouse drumming in the past, the drum sound has often been somewhat muffled, particularly as time has gone by. Lynne’s voice has, again for me, always been reedy and slightly too weak for much of the material. All these characteristics date right back to the Roy Wood era of their 1971 debut album. Nothing much has changed there, then. Regarding the length of the album, personally I find it refreshing to get seventies-style thirty minute albums again (Simply Red have just released one too). A thirty minute album is more concise, less rambling and far easier to get into. Seventy minute albums are often too long, in my opinion. Nobody minded Sgt PepperLet It Bleed or Ziggy Stardust being short, did they? Similarly, many criticised The White Album for being too long. Furthermore, many who don’t like it have moaned about its short length. Well, if it’s rubbish, why would you want over an hour of it?

Anyway, there you are - what do I think of this particular album? Well, it is pleasant enough and a part time Jeff Lynne person such as myself has enjoyed listening to it a few times. It is certainly not the work of genius as virtually every Radio Two presenter has claimed it to be, though.

  
                                           
From Out Of Nowhere, although it suffers from the afore-mentioned muffled sound has a nostalgic appeal in in its riff and refrain, which puts me in mind slightly of ELO’s All Over The World and also of Ian Hunter’s Bowie tribute, Dandy. It is an appealing track. The old Beatles influence rears its head on the melodic but also quite dense Help Yourself. Yes, it is sonically murky, but, as with so many Lynne songs, there is an innate hookiness to it. There is a mournful ambience to it that draws me in. The track morphs quickly into the more catchy, infectious All My Love. I really like this one, it has an understated attraction.

Down Came The Rain is instantly recognisable as a Lynne song. Again, if you put the sound thing out of your mind a bit, this is a good song and you could certainly say the same thing about many ELO numbers over the years. 

The maudlin Losing You sounds as if it dates from ELO’s 1975 output (as most of the album does, to be honest). It has lots of McCartney hints in it. Lynne has always liked an upbeat rocker and he comes up with one in the effervescent One More Time, which also features some (synthesised) typical ELO strings. The drum sound is unnecessarily mushy, however, but that seems to be a contemporary malaise as well as one affecting Lynne’s production solely. It is a sound of the times.



Sci-Fi Woman (not a great title, Jeff) also has an instant hook to it. Much as I have always had a problem with Lynne’s voice, it is at its best here and suits the song perfectly. There is some nice guitar in it too. Some fifties rock ‘n’ roll ballad vibe is all over Goin’ Out On Me, which is also very George Martin/Beatles influenced, with its strings and Oh Darling feel. 

The album’s low spot is Time Of Our Life, a lyrically embarrassing number about ELO’s recent Wembley Stadium gig. It is infuriatingly catchy but oh dear, those lyrics. “60,000 mobile phones were shining out that night....”. You get the picture? Unfortunately I can’t help singing along to it, though.

Songbird is a nice, slow number to end on, with a deep, warm bass sound (for once). Look, this is nowhere near as bad an album as some have said. I quite like it in many ways but I do so in fully accepting its inadequacies.


The Best Of ELO (Re-Recorded) (2012)


Mr Blue Sky/Evil Woman/Strange Magic/Don’t Bring Me Down/Turn To Stone/Showdown/Telephone Line/Livin’ Thing/Do Ya/Can’t Get It Out Of My Head/10538 Overture/Point Of No Return (previously unreleased)   

A fair few artists have recently decided to issue re-recordings/new interpretations of some of their well-known songs. Here it is the turn of Jeff Lynne and his Electric Light Orchestra material. Of course, as with all these projects, it hasn’t gone down well. Nobody seems to be happy with the new versions, except for Lynne himself, who has said that he is delighted with them and that they are now as he intended them to be. He claimed never to have been happy with the originals and he feels he has now out things right. He wrote the songs after all, so fair enough.

I have to say that in many ways I agree with him. The sound on the originals was always very tinny and over-trebly, for me. It is only the fact that I am so familiar with every note and nuance of the originals that I have a bit of a problem accepting the new versions. Taken in isolation and viewed objectively, they are much better. They have a full, warm bass on them and that is the main difference. As a bass lover that is fine by me.

Where there is a bit of problem is that it is not clear on the cover that this is an album of new interpretations. It is titled as “The Very Best Of The Electric Light Orchestra”. Mind you, I wonder whether many of the “greatest hits” type of customers who bought this will have noticed the difference. Possibly not. I’m sure it can still be sung along to in the car.

Mr Blue Sky is shorter, without the extended fade out and is far more bassy and thumping in a contemporary style. The original was always quite tinny, so this is not a bad makeover. It has a great new rumbling bass sound on it, which I love. Dare I say it, yes, I prefer this one. The white funk of Evil Woman is highlighted as again is the bass on a muscular rendition. The clavinet riff is warm and deep and the string parts far less tinny. The sonorous Beatles-esque sound is much enhanced in the haunting Strange Magic

Don’t Bring Me Down rocks with a huge thump. I love the instrumental bit near the end.



Turn To Stone, while not sounding too different in places, has a great new rubbery bass line behind the chorus. Funnily enough, though, Showdown has lost some its funkiness in that the clavinet doesn’t feature nearly as much. This is one where I definitely prefer the original. 

Telephone Line is still a bit muffled on the verses but it has more depth to the overall sound. In many ways, though, it is not too different other than there is a clearer percussion sound.

Livin’ Thing is much improved as far as I am concerned. It always suffered from tinniness and now it is much warmer and consequently more attractive. The rocking, riffy Do Ya, perversely, is a bit of a mess and considerably inferior to its original, which was always solidly powerful. 

The glorious Can’t Get It Out Of My Head is hugely robust now, making it even better. It was always one of my favourites. 

10538 Overture now has a massive new oomph lacking from the Roy Wood-influenced original. 

The previously unreleased track, Point Of No Return, has a vague feel of Chris Rea about its verse structure. It is a catchy enough number.

Contrary to most people, I like these versions a lot. That doesn’t mean I don’t still listen to the originals as well.


3 comments:

  1. I love Eldorado so much. I started out just liking the hit off it, and as time went on I just started to love the whole thing more and more. I think it's got actual real power to it unlike everything else they did afterwards. By the next album it was down to about one or two tracks per album that I liked. And soon after that it was down to zero. lol. And the albums that came before it I also liked a few tracks on each one. But Eldorado I love.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You're right about concept albums. It would be impossible to detect a coherent concept or story without it being explained to you by the artist who made the album. I never would have figured out what the story of Tommy was if I hadn't seen the movie. Not to mention Quadrophenia. The concepts are usually pretty vague, to say the least. LMAO

    ReplyDelete
  3. El Dorado is something of an acquired taste, but not without merit.

    I'm always suspicious of 'concept' albums! Usually one two or three songs fit the supposed theme. Quadrophenia gets closer than most, I think.

    ReplyDelete