Down came the rain....
Released on 1st of November 2019
Running time 32.39
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 Pepper, Let 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.
2. Help Yourself
3. All My Love
4. Down Came the Rain
5. Losing You
6. One More Time
7. Sci-Fi Woman
8. Goin' Out On Me
9. Time of Our Life
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.