She's sweet on Wagner....
Released September 1976
Running time 36.20
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.
2. Telephone Line
4. Mission (A World Record)
5. So Fine
6. Livin' Thing
7. Above The Clouds
8. Do Ya
"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 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.