These are most of ELO’s studio albums, together with snippets from my more detailed reviews (to read those, click here) :-
The Electric Light Orchestra (1971)
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.
ELO 2 (1973)
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.
On The Third Day (1973)
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.
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.
Face The Music (1975)
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.
A New World Record (1976)
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.
Out Of The Blue (1977)
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.
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.
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.
Secret Messages (1983)
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.
Balance Of Power (1986)
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.
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.
From Out Of Nowhere (2019)
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.