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"Now my old world has gone for dead, 'cause I can't get it out of my head"

Class C

Main Category: Lush Pop
Also applicable: Art Rock, Synth Pop
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day




Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of an Electric Light Orchestra fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Electric Light Orchestra fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Electric Light Orchestra is certainly the world's readiest candidate for 'Most Grossly Misinterpreted And Most Unjustly Despised' band of the past thirty years. And that's a fact, baby. I can't even say that this happened because of the world not being properly acquainted with ELO - most of their hit singles that used to 'pollute' radio waves for years on end were pretty typical of their material, and a normal 'greatest hits compilation' would be able to give any listener a pretty adequate, if certainly incomplete, picture of the band's identity. But somehow, based essentially on the critical disillusionment about the band, their image has been dirtied up so much throughout the last decade that nowadays, ELO often stands for the ultimate example of 'cheesy boring sappy crappy pap' or something like that. It might be possible that this also has a lot to do with obvious gaffes like Xanadu or that idiotic parody on the band, Electric Light Orchestra Part Two, that have been dicking around for a large part of the Nineties, but let's face it with dignity - the world actually listened to 'Evil Woman', 'Telephone Line', 'Sweet Talkin' Woman', and other songs of their type, and intentionally turned away from them.

Which was a dreadful and unforgivable mistake. With all sincerity I state the following: Electric Light Orchestra are, in fact, one of the best, most creative, inventive and productive bands of the Seventies, a band of truly giant stature and nearly limitless potential; no other band in the Seventies could put out excellent records with a minimal amount of filler as consistently as ELO did since about 1973, and even in the Eighties they managed not to suck entirely.

ELO was originally the brainchild of Move leaders Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne, and their intention was to effectuate a complete and genuine synthesis of rock music and classical music, a grandiose plan that had in this way or other been partially worked on by many bands, but only ELO in their prime came the closest to realising that dream. Wood and Lynne only managed to release one record together - a record that was rather spotty and perfectly reflected their clash of personalities, so Wood abandoned the project right after the first record, and Lynne was left to carry on. Now, as much as Mr Lynne has been badmouthed through the years, even the worst of his enemies would not dare to deny the man's talent. Lynne is a master of hook and vocal melody, one of the best pop songwriters of the Seventies, and even if John Lennon's replica about the Beatles possibly metamorphosing into ELO had they carried on into the Seventies was supposed to be a sarcastic one, I actually take it as a compliment - second-rate Beatles is, after all, much better than most bands can manage.

In any case, the 'classical-rock' synthesis of ELO worked amazingly well on albums like Eldorado, even if every time that Lynne tried to clash classical and rock with each other directly, it resulted in kitschy moves rather than in something truly fine ('Roll Over Beethoven', 'Rockaria'). However, pretty soon he realized that all that was needed was to write a masterful pop hook, spice it up with a steady rock rhythm section, on one side, and a trusty strings' arrangement, on the other, and hoopla, the cat's in the well. The formula steadily evolved over the years - Eldorado and Face The Music are still essentially 'symph-rock', with drawled out, loose, swooping arrangements, but starting from A New World Record, Lynne added more punch to the sound and pushed his songwriting into a somewhat more commercial direction, which is why prog fans usually only digest the band's pre-1976 output. On Discovery, Lynne put his dance-pop exercises into disco rock stylistics, and later on, the band went from strings-dominated to synth-dominated, like every nice commercial band of the epoch did; however, even at their worst, Electric Light Orchestra always had something to offer, and it should also be mentioned that certain things that Lynne did with synth-pop were quite experimental and innovative. And much as the infamous "Lynne Production" is hated when it is applied to outside artists, there's no denying that it exists, and that it is unique - you can tell a Lynne-produced record at first sight. Speaking of which, I actually like the way he produced Harrison's Cloud 9.

Of course, ELO's music was always 'safe' - Lynne constantly groped for commercial success, and one could easily accuse him of the same things I often accuse Queen of: namely, this is 'artsy music' rendered a bit sterile and simplified so that it would appeal to even the 'lowest common denominator', if you get my drift. There's no denying all the numerous faults of ELO: they often went overboard with pretentiousness (mainly on the early records), Lynne's lyrics are tremendously inconsistent, ranging from nicely formulated, if not thoroughly original, observations, to hideous romantic and sci-fi cliches, and, of course, the band was so formulaic it could be easily possible to develop an alergy on their general sound.

But my usual practice is - let us concentrate on the good sides, and if they overshadow the bad ones, who gives a damn? The good side is that Lynne is the master of melody, THE master of melody, and he's penned more memorable and inventive pop masterpieces than most power-pop bands I'm aware of. As for the sci-fi thematics, bombast and pretentiousness... well, let's just note that Lynne is not as pretentious as it might seem. His primary mood is that of introspective melancholia, not of universalist prayer or something like that. Even Eldorado, arguably the most 'pretentious' record among ELO's good ones, is essentially devoted to the inner world of a small humble guy, nothing else. No 'Bohemian Rhapsody' or 'We Will Rock You' in Lynne's catalog - Jeff always knows what he's writing and singing about, and that's the key.

Let's see about the line-up now. Note that you will rarely find anybody but Lynne and, perhaps, drummer Bev Bevan mentioned in the actual text of the reviews - this may not be too accurate, but it's at least fully understandable, as Jeff always wrote 99% of the material and was the main inspiration between everything ELO ever put out (unless we're speaking of the 'ELO Part II' bastardization, of course, but I would prefer not to speak about it until we get to 'em in the regular review section - too much of a pain in my kidneys).

Line-up: Jeff Lynne - guitar, vocals; Roy Wood - vocals, guitars, bagpipes, etc.; Richard Tandy - bass; Bev Bevan - drums; Andy Craig, Hugh McDowell - cellos; Steve Woolam, Wilf Gibson - violins; Bill Hunt - French horn. (Yeah, kinda huge for a band, eh? That's 'Orchestra' for you!) Wood quit after the release of first album, taking Hunt and McDowell with him. Woolam and Craig departed as well. For the second album, Lynne, Bevan and Tandy (who switched from bass to keyboards) enlisted bassist Michael D'Albuquerque, and Mike Edwards and Colin Walker on cellos. Walker and Gibsons left, 1973; replaced by Mik Kaminski and a returning Hugh McDowell.

Mike Edwards left, 1974, replaced by Kelly Groucutt and Melvin Gale; the lineup of Lynne, Bevan, Tandy, McDowell, Kaminski, Groucutt and Gale was the most stable and lasted through much of the Seventies. In 1978, McDowell, Kaminski and Gale left the band (which might actually have something to do with the fact that there were less strings on subsequent albums). In 1983, the band went on a halt, then regrouped as a trio (Lynne, Bevan and Tandy - the three most important members) to record Balance Of Power in 1986. Then the band collapsed for good. Whew, that was a hard two-paragraph set of trivia, wasn't it?



Year Of Release: 1971

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

A record that wants to be experimental, but for the most part succeeds in already well-established areas.

Best song: 10538 OVERTURE

Track listing: 1) 10538 Overture; 2) Look At Me Now; 3) Nellie Takes Her Bow; 4) Battle Of Marston Moor; 5) 1st Movement; 6) Mr Radio; 7) Manhattan Rumble; 8) Queen Of The Hours.

For many, this is the ultimate ELO album, if only because it's the only one of the bunch fostered by the project's direct father, Roy Wood. It's no wonder, then, that a large chunk of this stuff sounds almost exactly akin to the stuff found on the Move's Lynne-Wood masterpiece, Message From The Country; unfortunately, ELO were no Move from the very beginning, and other chunks of this stuff don't sound nearly that good...

Little trivia bit - the original title of the album was simply Electric Light Orchestra; No Answer is its US title, and it owns its name to the answer that one of the US record company executives got from one of the UK record company executives' phones on asking what the name of the record was. Heh heh.

Anyway, No Answer is more or less equally split in between the band's Move-style stuff ("orchestrated proto-goth pop" I'd dub it) and the band's earliest experimentation with their brand of classical-rock merger. This is why the material is so uneven: as long as the band cares about the actual melodies, it's all right, but far too often they just forget about any possible structure or listenability or direction and get carried away with the 'let's make it as classical-sounding as possible' schtick. Certainly, it's far from offensive, as the least thing Roy and Jeff would like to do here is to present anybody with a cacophonic or dissonant mess, but somehow you still get the feeling these things aren't done quite in the right way.

This results in such ambivalent excesses as, say, 'Battle Of Marston Moor', which goes for a stately medieval sound but in the long run refuses to go anywhere in particular. The idea is cool - to present a musical picture of the famous Civil War battle that ended with the downfall of King Charles I - but it almost seems as if all of the band's cello and violin players never really got around to figuring out if they wanted their instruments to sound like guitars or in their own 'natural' way, and the multiple 'themes' that alternate with each other on this track reflect that 'battle of opinions'. Er, I wanted to say, it's more like a battle of conflicting personalities than an actual battle of, you know, two armies. Parts of the song do sound like nice ear-candy, but if the idea was to achieve a revolutionary or groundbreaking effect... just sounds like an underarranged, underwritten pseudo-classical piece to me.

Likewise, two other instrumentals, 'First Movement' and 'Manhattan Rumble', are pretty much forgettable, if nowhere near as offending: the first is guitar-driven, a peaceful folkish shuffle that never amounts to anything much, and the second one is an okayish pseudo-martial piano-driven tune. Again, there's nothing particularly groundbreaking here, except for maybe the cello-playing part, since cellos were rarely used by bands at the time (not to mention having cello players as regular band members); such ELO predecessors as the Nice and King Crimson had already more or less well exploited the same multi-part and complex techniques. But at least it's mostly listenable.

Quite another thing are the actual songs - the first two tracks, in particular, gotta be some of this band's most brilliant compositions. The opening '10538 Overture' possesses a great, catchy, perfectly written 'psychedelic' melody with beautifully placed vocal harmonies, which is so fun and so Beatlesque you'd fully understand the band's claim of 'picking up where 'I Am The Walrus' left off'. It announces everything ELO would be famous for - irresistable vocal melodies, full array of strings that wonderfully interact with the guitars, pompous and ungrammatical lyrics from Lynne ('did you see your friend crying from his eyes today...'), and the echoey effect on Lynne's voice which he would let down only in extremely rare cases. In short, a masterpiece.

And 'Look At Me Now' is just as good as all those excellent Roy Wood ballads on Boulders, this time picking up where 'Eleanor Rigby' left off, with a steady strings-dominated rhythm and a moody, slightly melancholic atmosphere. Of course, it can't compare with the original in the emotional sense, despite the fact that Roy sings 'ah, look at me now, displaying emotion' in the chorus. But it's still immaculate in its own way. Likewise, 'Nellie Takes Her Bow' and 'Mr Radio' are both minor classics - wonderful slices of Sixties-influenced 'serious' pop (as opposed to the contemporary 'lightweight' pop of, say, Badfinger). Overlong, unfortunately, marred by a few more 'classical interludes', but after all, that was the band's point and we have to swallow it, want it or not. Finally, the album ends on another beautiful note with 'Queen Of The Hours', where you can recognize parts of the melody that would later become 'Shangri-La', and a few vocal similarities to the Kinks' 'Days'. Hey! Don't slap me! Did I say "rip-off"? All I said was 'similarity'! They're similar! This may not be Mr Lynne's fault... This is subconscious!

If you ask me, it's not difficult to see why Roy left after this album, even if ELO was basically his project: the direction the band was taking was not at all innovative or even constructive, instead, not yet having established itself, the band already got lost in its own pretentions and ambitions. Wood and Lynne wanted ELO to be a distinct 'side project', not sounding at all like the Move, but it turned out that not only couldn't they get rid completely of their Move legacy, but their Move-style songs actually sounded way better than the actual 'project' results. So what's left to do? Forget about the 'project', filter out the chaotic filler and concentrate on the cool Movish stuff. That's the way the record earns its rating of an eleven - and that's a REALLY high rating for such an uneven album. But, after all, how can album with such classics as '10538 Overture', 'Look At Me Now', and 'Mr Radio', deserve anything less?



Year Of Release: 1973

Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

Over the top - some of the band's worst excesses of the Seventies are captured on this mess.

Best song: MAMA

Track listing: 1) In England Town (Boogie #2); 2) Mama; 3) Roll Over Beethoven; 4) From The Sun To The World; 5) Kuiama.

So they did get much tighter after Wood's departure. So freggin' what? A large part of this album is hideous. While it goes as far as to probably fit into the category of "progressive" (nominally), I can't take it as much more than a hoax, and that's being generous; unfortunately, records like this really did a nasty job of spoiling the genre's reputation back in the early Seventies. Even worse, they were relatively successful commercially, but that was just because of their utterly cheap and gimmicky nature. "It's got violins, man! Cool! It's, like, artsy and all that!" Please don't start your progressive collection with this album. And I can only express my condolescenses if this - by some dreadful chance - happens to be the only ELO record you've got. Trash it and go grab Eldorado or New World Record instead.

True, Lynne did bring in some discipline: the tunes no longer sound as ramblin' and messy as the chaotic "cello collages" on No Answer. The band gets more tight and compact and the song structures are carefully elaborated over. But there are two main problems which Jeff somehow managed to overlook. First, there are but five "songs", and they're all deadly overlong. None of them are even multipart - it's just standard length pop numbers extended to overkill with lengthy solos, never ending jams and excruciatingly slow tempos. The number of original melodical ideas is at least ten times as limited as on your average Move album, and since the band never included any ace instrumentalists - hey, who needs professionalism and virtuosity when we're speaking of THE PROJECT? - the instrumental passages are all purely atmospheric.

And this is where the second problem steps in. There is no real atmosphere here. None at all. Basically, these songs just plod on and on and on without any aim, sense, or direction. The lyrics don't help much, either: in particular, 'In England Town' and 'From The Sun To The World' are just incoherent piles of hallucinogenous imagery that never really sinks in, not even when you lay it all down on paper. While listening blankly to these eight-minute long stupid mastodonts, I kinda begin to understand the appeal of Jon Anderson - at least Yes were really trying to create a world of their own, whether it be far too complex or not. On here, Mr Lynne just tries to say something, but fails. Or maybe he never tries to do anything, just pretending. And including all these excerpts from gypsy tunes into 'From The Sun' was quite a corny move.

Not as corny, of course, as opening their eight-minute cover of 'Roll Over Beethoven' (a nasty blow to Chuck Berry - extending his song to an eight minutes running time!) with an excerpt from Ludwig's 9th symphony. They probably thought it was (a) funny, (b) inventive, and (c) commercially suitable, but apart from point (c), I don't think they got it. Just looks like bad taste to me - at least they could have chosen something more subtle from Beethoven's catalog. That said, the main part of the cover is surprisingly good - the band at least redeems itself by demonstrating that they do know how to rock out on all of their instruments, and the cello solos are particularly effective. In fact, if only they'd edited out the stupid, stupid, stupid intro, 'Roll Over Beethoven' would certainly occupy the top spot on this record - brilliant marriage of classical and rock instruments.

Apart from the two pieces of 'experimental psychedelic synth-cello-boogie' (I have no other respectable name for that garbage) and their brave stab at Chuck's boogie, there are two overlong ballads here. 'Mama' is surprisingly good - I was afraid that the band would sound even cheesier and sleazier on the ballads, but the song is nearly charming; Lynne proves that he hadn't actually lost his Beatlesque pop sensibility and comes up with a soothing 'modern classical' melody, stylistically quite close to the Beatles' 'She's Leaving Home', if nowhere near as emotionally devastating. As a four-minute single, it would be a true classic of early Seventies' pop, but seven minutes is a bit too much.

However, the second ballad, the enormous anti-war sendup of 'Kuiama', sucks tremendously. The main melody is not half bad, but only the most desperate of idiots would dare to use it as the basis for an overblown epic. Can you imagine the Bee Gees writing a ballad and stuffing up half an album side with it? That would be their last album, I guess, and an immediate commercial suicide. And if you're writing an anti-war ballad, you might as well sing it with a little bit more feeling - people who don't know English or can't make out the lyrics will never even come close to guessing the mood that the lyrics presuppose. Not to mention producing your vocals a little better; I know that Lynne always tends to bury the vocals, but on this record it just sounds like he's regularly singing from inside a concrete bunker while the rest of the band are having fun right beside the actual mikes.

I can still give the album an okayish rating for the good moments, but overall it's just a profanation of Roy Wood's original project, and, if I might be allowed a little repetition, the least successful ELO project of the Seventies. It's not exactly hideous to listen to, but it grieves me to think that all of Lynn's melodic ideas for the album have simply been wasted, when he might have saved them for a better project. The Jeff guy simply took his duties a bit too seriously. Fortunately, he seemed to have understood it himself, and the ensuing records were a serious improvement - with Jeff finally founding the close to perfect balance between pomp, innovation, melodicity, and resonance.



Year Of Release: 1973

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Getting their act together! Just a couple moments of boredom surrounded by loads of Lynne-mark hooks.


Track listing: 1) Ocean Breakup/King Of The Universe; 2) Bluebird Is Dead; 3) Oh No Not Susan; 4) New World Rising/Ocean Breakup; 5) Showdown; 6) Daybreaker; 7) Ma-Ma-Ma-Belle; 8) Dreaming Of 4000; 9) In The Hall Of The Mountain King.

Call me crazy - I really, really like this one. On the third day, the band finally got it right, and this album initiates a glorious streak of constant winners that lasted all through the Seventies. The weirdest thing about it is that I actually remember seeing a Rolling Stone review of it that came out on the album's release, in which the author, while speaking more or less in favour of the album, was criticizing it for having shorter compositions than its predecessor and so lacking the epic character of ELO II. Can you imagine it - Rolling Stone panning an album for NOT being enough pretentious? Oh man, those were the days...

Anyway, the compositions are indeed shorter, and they are generally more up to the point, concise, catchy and, well, rational than last time around. Not that Mr Lynne had really figured out where he wanted to lead the band to; everything still sounds as if the only point of the band's existence was to prove that cellos and hard-rockin' electric guitars can live together within the limits of one song. But on the other hand, one can ask the same question such albums as Abbey Road - what's the point of Abbey Road, for Chrissake? What's the point of the medley on the second side?

Okay, let me stop digressing. I find a lot of melodies on this here record to be creative and exciting, with Lynne managing to again recapture some of his early Beatlesque inspirations and going on to create something complex and lightweight at the same time. With pretty, memorable tunes like 'Bluebird Is Dead' and 'Oh No Not Susan' , and more or less convincing pieces of "prog-boogie" like 'Ma-Ma-Ma-Belle' and 'Showdown', this is a definite improvement over the endless clumsy "orchestral jamming" of ELO II, and I'd easily recommend it - while it never features any particularly high points like there was on No Answer, it is certainly more consistent than that record. Once and for ever, Lynne gave up on the idea of lengthy multi-part rock-classical suites, significantly simplifying and, I'd say, commercializing the sound, but without sacrificing its artistic value and uniqueness.

The "pretentious" compositions on here are mostly limited to the instrumentals; in particular, the album closes with the band's take on Grieg's 'In The Hall Of The Mountain King', which is certainly inferior to the Who's chaotic, paranoid take now available on The Who Sell Out as a bonus track, but at least it hardly sounds like they were intentionally butchering the composition or something. Maybe six minutes is a bit too much, but for the most part of that time the musicians are inspired, and you can't deny the greatness of the theme in the first place. And 'Daybreaker' actually rocks, too. Imagine that.

Other than that, the tunes mostly fall into three groups: the more 'cosmically conscious' ones, the ballads and the 'rockers'. Needless to say, the ballads are the best among the bunch, since Jeff's Beatles influence couldn't yet go wrong, and would, in fact, only grow stronger in the nearest few years. 'Bluebird Is Dead' is highly emotionally resonant, much as I dread to utter that word combination as applied to such an early ELO record - wonderful refrain, charming vocal harmonies, excellent 'Eleanor Rigby'-type string passages, what else is needed? 'Why do they say, Bluebird is dead...'. Kudos to Mr Lynne for figuring out the essential principle - the secret of greatness often lies in nothing else than VOCAL MODULATION. Lower your pitch here, heighten it there, extend the right notes, do not, for God's sake, make it all sound like you're chewing an endless piece of gum, and you can't go wrong. Provided you got talent, of course, but I doubt even the worst enemies of Lynne would ever want to dispute that. And yes, 'Oh No Not Susan', while slightly marred by primitive "bored-with-high-society" pattern lyrics, is still equally soothing and filled with equally wonderful vocal hooks.

The 'rocking' tracks are somewhat more bizarre, as it's still hard to imagine a "complex rocker" highlighted by weirdly arranged strings all over the place. And yet, both 'Showdown' and 'Ma-Ma-Ma-Belle' chug along quite convincingly, although the latter is a bit primitive. Isn't it? Lyrically, at least. 'I got three or four babies sittin' on my knee?' Pardon? But on the other hand, it's the most obvious showcase for Jeff's electric guitar playing on the album, so it adds a little diversity. And I simply love 'Showdown' - the ominous string riff is unbeatable.

It's the more ambitious tunes like 'King Of The Universe' and 'New World Rising' that slightly spoil the general effect of the album - they are way too erratic and too often get bogged down with their own pretentions and weirdness to be truly enjoyable throughout. But quite often, the vocal melodies are constructed carefully enough to justify the song's existence ('King Of The Universe', in fact, gives the impression of being an inferior re-write of the '10538 Overture' from the band's debut album. Not a thoroughly bad impression).

In all, you should definitely give the record a chance to grow on you - for the first time in ELO's story, it is able to fully demonstrate us the band's magnificent songwriting skills (the existence of which I once foolishly doubted!), and it is unquestionably one of the most well-balanced ELO records, giving you a brilliant sample of their 'classic sound' without introducing you to any of their worst excesses and without being particularly boring. And I did become convinced that the inclusion of cello and violin players as official band members can be a good thing, too.



Year Of Release: 1974

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

VERY mighty live performances, even if ELO are essentially a studio band.

Best song: DAY TRIPPER

Track listing: 1) Daybreaker; 2) Showdown; 3) Day Tripper; 4) 10538 Overture; 5) Mik's Solo/Orange Blossom Special; 6) In The Hall Of The Mountain King/Great Balls Of Fire; 7) Roll Over Beethoven.

This is a weird album. Unlike most art/prog bands of the day, Lynne never really placed a huge emphasis on live playing - of course, the band toured regularly and its shows were quite renowned for the light effects and all the technical baggage that went with them, but as for what concerns live albums, the band wasn't really so hot on that. This particular record, culled from a Long Beach, California live show in May 1974, originally saw the light of day only as a limited edition, and quickly disappeared off the shelves, only to be reborn more than a decade and a half later in CD form, but even so, it doesn't seem to be widely available, and moreover, only a few select ELO discographies actually include it (pretty wonderful - the biggest ELO discography on the net, including more than 500 different albums, doesn't even mention it!!).

Which is actually a shame, as this is a damn good live album. Oh, definitely, it goes without saying that ELO were first and foremost a studio band. Their symphonic arrangements were made for studio tinkering, and while Lynne was a masterful producer and arranger, his abilities as a sweaty drivin' rock'n'roll performer on stage were pretty limited. He was never really a 'rock star' in the traditional understanding either, remember that. And the band, professional as it was and all, just didn't include enough hard-working virtuoso players to wank away on stage in the grand long-jammin' prog tradition.

But all said, at least at certain points they were able to raise a hell of a lot of dust, and while this is the only live ELO record I've heard (there are a few others, but they're even more mysteriously concealed than this one), it sounds pretty cool. The original LP is said to have been muddy, but the CD version makes everything come through very clearly, with all the strings, pianos, guitars, bass, drums and vocals perfectly distinguishable. It's not too long - ELO didn't even dare make a double LP release - and it has a strong song selection, even despite the fact that the material is all taken off the first three records.

All, that is, except for a rip-roarin' cover of the Beatles' 'Day Tripper' - funny, while I have always had my doubts about the 'sincerity' of ELO "ripping it up" in the studio, no big pompous arrangements or cello intermissions can overshadow this sincerity and rock energy on stage. Lynne pumps out the famous riff like mad, Bev Bevan bashes the hell out of his drums, and the strings actually come all at the right moments (mostly during the 'interludes'). Notice, too, how the band actually goes into a brief snippet of the 'Satisfaction' riff towards the end - ah well, all of these looping riffs are essentially the same, aren't they?

It's not the only surprise, of course. After the band plays 'In The Hall Of The Mountain King' for about five minutes (shorter than the original, mind you), it suddenly abruptly rips into 'Great Balls Of Fire' which sounds so dang authentic I can utter not a single note of protestation - I mean, what the hell, Lynne actually manages to sound like a clear copy of Jerry Lee on that one, right down to the echoey effects (but not because of the echoey effects! Actually, Jerry's and Jeff's voices are similar, ever thought of that?). So it's another one of those crude "classical + rock'n'roll" juxtapositions I've always complained about, but in a live setting it works twice as effectively as it does inside the studio.

Other tracks include 'Daybreaker' (slightly more energetic than in the studio original, but still, essentially I just can't help but treat it as an obligatory, if somewhat lengthy, introduction to the show); 'Showdown' - slightly disappointing compared to the funky studio original, and what happened to that unbeatable Stevie Wonderesque synth bass of the classic version? still good, and Jeff hits all the right notes, including the high ones in the 'looks as THOUGH there'll be more pain' lines, which is pretty cool; '10538 Overture', a totally blistering version with a few lines from 'Do Ya' thrown in for good measure before the band actually planned to redo the Move tune for New World Record; and the closing 'Roll Over Beethoven', very much abridged from the original nine-minute extravaganza, and thus more effective as well, even if I kinda miss the wild cello and violin solos they decided to throw out for no particular reason. WHY??

Oh, there's also a short Mik Kaminsky solo, and a bit of inoffensive, occasionally humorous banter, but that's hardly essential. What IS essential is that at their peak, ELO could really throw on a marvelous show, so add yet another band over which I have to lament for not having had the time or opportunity to catch 'em in their prime. I seriously think the album should be given a bit more attention and at least treated as a normal regular live release from these guys, because it doesn't let their reputation as a live output down in the least. I guess they could be at least a little bit more inventive with their material, but then again, a band like Yes were even less inventive on stage and they actually didn't find it undecent to release a triple live album and transform it into a semi-classic. So what's wrong with ELO doing the same thing? Track this down if possible.



Year Of Release: 1974

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

Hooks galore - the epic feel is present, but doesn't get in the way of neat rock-classical melodies. Simply wonderful.

Best song: ELDORADO

Track listing: 1) Eldorado Overture; 2) Can't Get It Out Of My Head; 3) Boy Blue; 4) Laredo Tornado; 5) Poorboy; 6) Mister Kingdom; 7) Nobody's Child; 8) Illusions In G Major; 9) Eldorado; 10) Eldorado Finale.

The band reaches its peak here - with Eldorado, its classic sound goes as far as it can go, and I can hardly imagine how a potentially better "classic ELO" record could have sounded. The most striking thing is that the album is gruesomely inadequate: bombastic arrangements, conceptual structure and (often) pretentious lyrics all seem to suggest a true 'progressive' experience, something along the scopes of Tales From Topographic Oceans, and yet the actual melodies of the pieces don't amount to more than slightly classically-and-folk-influenced Britpop songs. But the inadequacy works, if only because these melodies are so dang great. They are not trivial, by any means; this is pop music of a very high order, not up to the Beatles, of course, but I think Roy Wood at least would have been very proud of most of these songs. Don't go around expecting trippy, mind-blowing time signatures and unexpected changes in tempo (although, granted, there are a few); most of the song structures are normal and predictable, and without the lush string arrangements, that don't sound at all corny, the record would easily have passed for an excellent power pop effort ranking alongside the Seventies' best power pop bands.

Maybe it isn't that Ultimate Pop Masterpiece I'm always looking for, chiefly because "the devil's in the details": for instance, I could easily live without the overblown intro and outro with its bad poetry (kinda similar to Graeme Edge's excesses on all those early Moody Blues records, although not as obvious). Sure, that would take away the "conceptuality", but c'mon, who are we kidding here? At least half of the so-called "concept albums" appear to be fake on second look, and Eldorado is no exception; it ain't any more conceptual than its predecessor, for instance. One could vaguely trace something like a concept here, something about lost and found illusions, imaginary world to run away from all your troubles to, but you know the score: most conceptual albums like that present us with nothing more than vague outlines, and essentially have to be treated on song level. There's no unity in the lyrics (which range from surprisingly well-written medieval imitations to sci-fi to love), and the unity in the music is, well, due to the fact that they just play like that. Used to play like that. Always. So let's not fool ourselves; this album would have been even better without the silly "universalist" sound effects and Jeff Lynne playing the part of the Lord in the opening. That said, the main overture theme is still musically solid, and the silly pretentious bits are so short they really don't matter.

Apart from that, it's just one excellently composed pop song after another - yeah, the endless cellos and stuff wear down on you after a while, just like the brother Youngs' guitars would wear down on you after a while listening to an AC/DC album, but in both cases it's their schtick and you gotta take it or leave it. The overall mood is very similar, too, which is another complaint; the only bit of diversity comes near the end with 'Illusions In G Major', that turns out to be a surprising piece of effective boogie, in the vein of their 'Roll Over Beethoven' version. Shame - this band certainly can rock, and Lynne is a first-rate rock guitarist; I would expect a couple more of these classy boogies to complete the picture. Well, life sucks.

Highlights for me start from the very first two songs - I'll be the last to deny that 'Can't Get It Out Of My Head' is treading the line between very pretty and downright beautiful. Certainly, the song's lyrical matter is a bit Uriah Heep-ey (a little bit of primitive mysticism won't hurt), but it's compensated with a truly gorgeous, soothing vocal melody and... You know the rest: [insert typical rendition of the ELO sound here]. Indeed, 'now my whole world is gone for dead, 'cause I can't get it out of my head'. And 'Boy Blue' is excellent as well: energetic, upbeat, uplifting, wonderfully and richly arranged, with a groovy singalong chorus that's as good as anything. While it's hardly a folksy tune - as the 'Hard Rain's Gonna Fall'-influenced lyrics would suggest - it certainly has a folksy feel to it, with the slightly nonchalant, negligent production and those 'clumsy' harmonies in the chorus. You could argue that Mr Lynne was just a bad producer, but to me, this strange slight 'amateurishness' that accompanies most of his releases of this period only adds to the overall charm.

But the true moment of glory is the title track, of course, which would form the most suitable climax to the whole experience if not for the stupid overblown coda mentioned above. Mr Lynne really shines on that one, pulling all kinds of exciting vocal tricks out of his sleeve and slowly and steadily building each verse up to the mighty climactic roar of 'I will stay, I'll not be back, Eldorado, I will be free of the world, Eldorado'. The song can easily serve as a fearsome anthem to every freedom-seeking loser in this world, or it just might inspire you to... to... to go out and do something grand. Feed your neighbour's starving cat, for instance. You know what I'm talking about.

Okay, I'll be brief now - most of the other songs are fine as well, including the ominous shuffle 'Nobody's Child' (about a prostitute, no less!) and the ominous Violin Rocker 'Laredo Tornado' (if you're a songwriter, take a lesson from Mr Lynne here how to create a glorious chorus with a wave of your hand, err, with a single change in your pitch); the general impression is that combining rock with classical is a very valuable and successful thing; Jeff Lynne has a magnificent, "multi-tasking" singing voice; whoever derides this album is riding a communal bias that smells; and also, this would be by far the best progressive album of 1974, beating out such worthy contenders as The Lamb Lies Down and Relayer... if it weren't essentially a pop album. Luxurious.



Year Of Release: 1975

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Lacks epic feel, for the most part, but the hooks are nearly as strong. You decide what level of pretentiousness to choose...

Best song: WATERFALL

Track listing: 1) Fire On High; 2) Waterfall; 3) Evil Woman; 4) Nightrider; 5) Poker; 6) Strange Magic; 7) Down Home Town; 8) One Summer Dream.

Not as good (well, it simply couldn't be that good), but still not enough to justify ELO's reputation as the 'greatest of all boring bands' or something, as it's often been dubbed by the greatest of all boring critics. Face The Music is essentially taken in the same key, tone, and style as its predecessor, but the peak is inevitably followed by a teeny-weeny slide, because, well, we're already past the Beatles epoch. There's still a bunch of lovely and attractive pop melodies here, but for the most part, they are less fresh than the ones on Eldorado. Eldorado never really felt monotonous to me; it was, indeed, like a pop lover's world, diverse and intriguing, changing moods and styles all the time; Face The Music, on the other hand, simply defines the essence of monotonousness. Not a single rocker on here (well, 'Poker' could be defined as a rocker, but essentially it's just a fast pop song); most of the time, it's mid-tempo pop material based on the same old strings/guitar interplay and the same vocal harmonies from Lynne. If you ask me, Face The Music predicts the band's descent into disco - it showcases an ensemble running out of ideas, simply rehashing past glories and not too sure of what to do next. Kinda like Elton John's Blue Moves.

But on the other hand, who complains? This is a short, compact record, not the overblown double monster of Out Of The Blue; the original melodies are all, well, original and luvvable. It's like a minor brother to its predecessor - you know, the one who blindly follows his elder one in a fit of blind adoration and ends up doing fine, if lacking an identity of his own. Think Magical Mystery Tour to Sgt Pepper. That's all right by me.

In any case, there's still much to laud on the album once you get past the usual bombastic opener, the ridiculous five minutes of 'Fire On High'; it's not that difficult to do if you've already learned that lesson from Eldorado, i.e. that the first track is just an obligatory ambitious intro to draw in the attention of 'progressive' audiences. Don't worry, it is just a tasteless pseudo-hook that means nothing; everything that follows is mighty different. For some reason, though, 'Fire On High' does seem to attract the attention of ELO fans a lot, a thing I can't understand; at least the 'Eldorado Overture' had a memorable melody, while this stuff here is just a collage of pompous, almost unrelated musical and 'sonic' fragments.

Get over it, though, and the rest of the album is impeccable from a technical point of view. Like I said, the melodies aren't always top notch, but they're existent, and almost each and every one of them is graced by some of Lynne's trademark pop sensibilities; the man definitely took lessons from the Beatles and took enough care to insert a hook or two everywhere. The first pair of actual "songs" on here are among the band's best, really: 'Waterfalls' is a magnificent McCartneyesque ballad with impeccable vocals and a gorgeous, hyper-romantic strings section, plus that eerie echoey slide guitar in the background was an excellent arranging detail as well. The funny thing is that five years later, McCartney actually wrote his own 'Waterfalls' ballad, which was far inferior (well, it was a highlight on one of his worst albums - McCartney II, so don't you think I'm really comparing Paul to Jeff Lynne here). And the hit single 'Evil Woman', perhaps the best-known ELO song from their 'classic' period, is a great bouncy number, this time following a more Harrisonesque pattern. Okay, so Jeff Lynne was ripping off the Beatles, we all know that, but what the hell? He did it well. And he did it without losing his own identity, either.

The other tunes are nowhere near as memorable, but none are bad. 'Nightrider' boasts a trademark cool Lynne chorus, although the way he abruptly cuts off the chorus without leading it into the expected climax is somewhat nasty (I mean, when he goes 'hold on, you're a ni-i-i-ight rider' and then the melody suddenly breaks off and goes into this short 'orchestrated pause', doesn't that sound forced and unnatural?). 'Poker', as I said, is just a fast pop song, but funny enough, the melody reminds me - don't laugh - the main melody reminds me of the Clash! Yeah, just distort these guitars some more, replace Lynne's restrained vocals with some barking, throw out the slow middle section, and there you got it - a typical number off The Clash. How come nobody ever cites ELO as godfathers of the British punk movement? Okay, so I'm not supposing you take me seriously on here, but still, it's an interesting parallel, if only to show that the Clash weren't really so 'punkish' as some depict them...

And the record closes off with yet another dippy catchy ballad ('Strange Magic'), a cozy little rootsy rocker that predicts the Traveling Wilburys ('Down Home Town' - you thought Jeff Lynne was the most unlikely candidate for the Wilburys? Well, this should prove you wrong!), and a bit of pleasant pathos in 'One Summer Dream'. To tell the truth, all of these songs are better appreciated when listened to on their own - like I said, the endless mid-tempos and similar arrangements wear down on you. It's actually a little sad to realize that Lynne, king of pop melody, was so highly unimaginative when it came to diversifying his stylistics - although when we consider the fact that, after all, Electric Light Orchestra was a band, not just a robotic creation for Lynne's ideas, it becomes obvious that in order to provide all the band members with enough work (all those cello and violin players and all), Lynne was simply forced to stick to the 'pseudo-orchestrated' mid-tempo formula, a prisoner of his own creation. It's nothing short of amazing, then, that for the next record Jeff was able to twist the formula in such a significant way without either losing the band's trademark abilities or sacrificing artistic values.



Year Of Release: 1976

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

Commercialization of the sound leads to artistic peak. Was that a profane thought or what?

Best song: SHANGRI-LA

Track listing: 1) Tightrope; 2) Telephone Line; 3) Rockaria!; 4) Mission (A World Record); 5) So Fine; 6) Livin' Thing; 7) Above The Clouds; 8) Do Ya; 9) Shangri-La.

Yeah! You thought that ELO would be stuck with the same sound as on the previous three records forever? And ever and ever? Did you really think so? Well, no, of course you didn't, you poor pathetic loser, you sure know the wall of, ahem, "varying quality" disco hits these guys would be pouring all over our shoulders very very soon. But what would you say if you were given A New World Record? Although the year was 1976 and the time was ripe, there still ain't no true sign of disco on this album, and yet, it doesn't sound like the previous three ones either. Oh sure, it's got everything that makes an ELO record really ELOish: trademark cello arrangements, guitar/cello interplay with lush orchestration, and it's also packed with trademark Jeff Lynne vocal hooks. (How many can this guy pack up within a single record? Just how many?).

On the other hand, World Record is definitely a definite step onto the definite path of definite commercialization. The obligatory pretentious artsy instrumental is gone (apart from the pompous intro and outro sections, but they're really short and inoffensive), and the songs are shorter, more up to the point and less experimental; and they overemphasize the public-pleasing elements like the dance beats (NOT disco), un-complex emotional approaches (NOT banal ones), and - ugh! - the 'trendy-pop-serious-music-meets-rock'n'roll' stuff, in the exact one track on the album that makes me really cringe in spots: 'Rockaria' is their take on 'Roll Over Beethoven' Vol. 2, and it's really cheap and ugly. I mean, I don't mind joining rock and classical, but not in that straightforward way when some female opera voice announces a rock'n'roll tune and Jeff's 'raunchy' claims of 'I'm really gonna rock tonight' are all underwhelmed by smooth gentle violins. And what about the lyrics? 'She's sweet on Wagner/I think she'd died for Beethoven'? What the heck is that? Is that supposed to be real funny or what?

I mean, it's even more frustrating when you consider that this stuff could have been pulled off convincingly. I know many people would like to accuse Mr Lynne of something like "the last time that guy had rock'n'roll drive was listening to his Chuck Berry records in his nursery", but that would be a total lie. Lynne does know how to rock, if we assume that energetic rock'n'roll can be just a little overproduced and sterile (look at Paul McCartney, for instance). But what I see here is Lynne desperately trying to shove the 'classical spirit' into the 'rock'n'roll body', and it's like trying to transplant a monkey's heart into a human corpse - the result is totally baffling. 'Rockaria' does kick ass on its own, but how well can you kick ass when every fifteen seconds or so your rock'n'roll drive is sabotaged by a female operatic announcer or a gentle classical violin swoosh?

Aw, never mind. Having vented my frustration so efficiently, I now turn around to say that just about every other track on this album rules in some way or other. For the most part it has to do with a particularly impressive twist of the vocal harmonies or a particularly irresistable twist of some violin passage - but what else do you want? I 'can't get it out of my head', so to say. The first two tracks are enough to escort you into paradise. 'Tightrope' rocks along moderately, with mind-bending 'woooooh!' exclamations before each chorus that really send you tumbling down into space from that same tightrope. 'Telephone Line' simply might be one of the most marvelous tunes that ever came into Mr Lynne's head - the unabashed romanticism of the tune, the charming falsetto 'aaaaah!'/baritone 'ooooh!' 'interplay' between the harmonies of the band and Lynne himself, the delicious 'du-wah du-wah' chantings, all of these neat little tricks combine in one hell of a pleasant musical experience. This is catchiness defined - the good sort of catchiness, the sort of catchiness that may not come from an inspired moment of musicwriting but comes from a laborious and calculated approach to the essence of 'catchiness', but it's a really laborious approach and I embrace it with as many hands as I have. I know it ain't much, but I'll give it what I got.

The other five tracks can't really live up to such a glorious start, but they all have their moments: 'Mission (A World Record)' is rather shallow in its typical cosmic/metaphysic message, but who cares when a line like 'who are you and who am I-I-I-I?' once again defines the very essence of wild-eyed romanticism? 'So Fine' is an excellent danceable track, with yet another hyper-memorable refrain and a brilliant guitar/violin interplay. 'Livin' Thing' gives you another opportunity to dance around, although it'll wear you out due to constant tempo changes, so perhaps you'd better just sit down and enjoy the 'higher and higher' refrain and the wonderful organ riff that props up from time to time.

'Above The Clouds' is perhaps the only fillerish bit on the album, a bit too even and unclimactic to garner serious attention, but it's also the shortest song on the album (what a rare exception - the worst song is the shortest!). And I'm not at all offended by ELO's remake of the Move's classic hit 'Do Ya', even though I haven't heard the original yet.

But the highest point - perhaps even higher than 'Telephone Line' - is the closing 'Shangri-La'. No, it certainly can't measure up to the grandiosity of the Kinks' song of the same name; and I can also state that it was a little generic for Jeff Lynne to so blatantly repeat the same stylistic ending he'd already used for Eldorado. But taken on its own, with no comparisons, this is a magnificent experience: stately, majestic, with a soaring refrain, memorable and smoothly constructed verses, tasty little bits of Claptonish/Harrisonish slide guitar, rhythmic violins a la 'Kashmir', funny Fab Four reference ('my Shangri-La has gone away, faded like the Beatles on Hey Jude'), and a message that's almost a direct opposite to 'Eldorado': the once happy and peaceful and optimistic protagonist of Mr Lynne is now left in complete disillusionment and desperation... Simply classic. Just disregard the outro to the album, where the annoying operatic female singer springs up again, and everything will be all right.

And one last thing - am I wrong, or is the record title one of the smartest in history? Reflecting the slight Americanization of the band's approach, on one side, and a hint at increased sales on the other. No wonder it really sold well, and for once, I have no regrets, although I sure wish ELO had made it real big in the States before that album. Maybe that would have changed the public perception of the band. In any case, it is a marginally slicker and more conventional record than Eldorado, but lightning strike me if it ain't just as consistent. I have no choice but to rate them equally as masterpieces.



Year Of Release: 1977

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Overkill with a large bunch of filler, but what a pleasant listen nonetheless.

Best song: TURN TO STONE

Track listing: 1) Turn To Stone; 2) It's Over; 3) Sweet Talkin' Woman; 4) Across The Border; 5) Night In The City; 6) Starlight; 7) Jungle; 8) Believe Me Now; 9) Steppin' Out; 10) Standing In The Rain; 11) Big Wheels; 12) Summer And Lightning; 13) Mr Blue Sky; 14) The Whale; 15) Birmingham Blues; 16) Sweet Is The Night; 17) Wild West Hero.

My original review for this baby sucked, so here's a new one for ya. See, the most troublesome thing about this album is that it's a double set, and double sets tend to wear you out unless they're so incredibly diverse, like The White Album, that you just don't notice. Even when the songwriting is at the peak, albums like George Harrison's All Things Must Pass and the Stones' Exile On Main Street can just bring you down with a certain monotonousness - so what's to be said of this record, which is monotonous ad nauseam and certainly does not represent Lynne at his creative peak?

Not that the songs are bad or anything - it's just that Out Of The Blue, with all of its gigantomanic sprawl, conceptualism, multi-part structure, shining glammy tour where the band stepped out of flying saucers, etc., actually doesn't offer us anything that we didn't have before. It mostly follows the uptempo "strings-pop" of its predecessor, although on the second LP Lynne suddenly remembers his former 'progressive ambitions', churning out a pompous suite entitled 'Concerto For A Rainy Day'; in any case, the "strings-pop" was done better on New World Record, the epic feel was captured better on Eldorado, and the progressive ambitions of ELO are better left uncommented anyway. The only way for the band to make this album seem on par with the ones that came before it would be to hit the listener over the head with an endless stream of hooks and unbeatable melodies - but it's certainly hard to do this over the course of two full LPs, and while the best of the songs on here certainly match Lynne's highest criteria, there's too many songs that are, well, nice. As a result, Out Of The Blue is a record that would significantly appeal only to the kind of ELO fanatic who claims that "More ELO is better ELO!". I, on the contrary, can only claim that "Better ELO is less ELO!" and urge the casual listener not to put this album on the high priority list - do not be tempted by the fact that this is a '2-record set on one CD' and get the real meat of Mr Lynne first instead.

Still, let's see the songs, shall we? Like I said, the hooks are generally 'paler' than before, but that doesn't prevent us from finding a small bunch of absolute classics on here. 'Turn To Stone', for instance, opens the record on a totally glorious note - too bad the rest of the songs don't live up to its amazing punch. That simple, romantic chorus ('I turn to stone, when you are gone, I turn to stone') gotta be one of the most effective things ever written by Mr Lynne; even Paul McCartney could learn a lesson or two out of this. And, while the hookline of the hit 'Sweet Talkin' Woman' is not as clearly evident on first listen, after some time the song also stands out as one of the album's major highlights - it's like an essential model for your ideal pop song that has everything, including sparkling acoustic rhythm, perfectly placed vocal harmonies, amazing string riff in the chorus, an angry, raucous mid-section that contrasts ideally with the chorus, and even some weird kind of talkbox that keeps interrupting the song to weird effect.

Nothing else really matches these two classics, but still, Lynne has gathered enough forces to spice up all of the songs on the first LP with at least a few creative ideas - 'It's Over' is distinguished by clever tempo changes and a curious pleading intonation in Lynne's voice; 'Across The Border' cleverly borrows the vocal melody off Chuck Berry's 'You Never Can Tell' and then drives it at full speed against the gorgeous 'mo-o-o-o-ove down the line' line; 'Night In The City' is Lynne's first and rather timid dabbling with disco, quite memorable at that; 'Starlight' will bowl you over with its, well, starry-eyed romanticism, even if you'll hardly be able to remember the song afterwards; 'Jungle', with its idiotic 'chooka chooka hoo la ley' chorus, is so ridiculously stupid and repulsive it's immediately placed in the 'so bad it's genius' category; and 'Steppin' Out', well, I suppose the song is supposed to cheer up the population and optimize the mood, and to a certain extent, it does exactly that.

Things get worse towards the second half - for my money, the entire 'Concerto For A Rainy Day' is the worst idea Lynne had got since his lengthy pointless sonic ruminations on ELO II. It's pretty, unmemorable, bombastic ear-candy with absolutely no memorable melodies in sight. Typical example is 'Big Wheels', where the atmosphere for a great classic is set perfectly (and for some people, that atmosphere might be enough), but where's DA HOOK? Ethereal orchestration, angelic echoey effects, and over all, a tremendously pathetic Mr Lynne who delivers the lyrics with twice the philosophic penchant he employed in singing anything off Eldorado, but in the long run, all of these efforts run down the drain. It's essentially the same for the rest of the tunes.

At least, on the last side we have a nice instrumental ('The Whale') and the album's only claim for a 'rocking' tune ('Birmingham Blues', with a musical quote from Bizet of all people), but there's also 'Wild West Hero', one of the least inspired album closers Jeff ever wrote - just a bunch of atmospheric synth/strings passages, too long in comparison to a much too short, if pretty, main theme. In any case, you get the drift: stylistically and substantially, this is still "classic" ELO, only it's, like you know, overkill. Cut down in length to a single album, with the ridiculous 'concerto' and some other filler tunes thrown out, this would be a 9. As it is, it's still an 8, and that's a really huge score for such a predictably inconsistent record. Really huge.



Year Of Release: 1979

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Jeff Lynne sold out. The question is - WHEN did he sell out?


Track listing: 1) Shine A Little Light; 2) Confusion; 3) Need Her Love; 4) The Diary Of Horace Wimp; 5) Last Train To London; 6) Midnight Blue; 7) On The Run; 8) Wishing; 9) Don't Bring Me Down.

It's funny that some ELO fans are actually willing to defend this album as not containing any disco influences whatsoever. Whoever does that should simply pay attention to the album title to be dissuaded. Discovery = "very disco", isn't it? Well, this album is 'very disco' indeed. But that's not to say that all of the album is devoted to disco numbers, nor is this to say that the disco numbers in question all necessarily suck. In fact, I suppose that the fans who deny the presence of disco on this album actually confuse disco with synth-pop: production-wise and arrangement-wise, Discovery still follows ELO's Seventies formula. Only the hit single, 'Don't Bring Me Down', announces the arrival of the new drum-heavy, synth-happy ELO that would dominate the charts in the early Eighties and utterly ruin the band's reputation. But 'Don't Bring Me Down' comes right at the very end, as if tacked on at the last moment, and feels seriously out of place on the whole album. Imagine hearing 'Invisible Touch' at the end of, say, Genesis' Trick Of The Tail, and you'll get the analogy. When these huge booming drums kick in, you feel like jumping out of your chair - you were so unprepared for this conclusion.

That said, I don't really think 'Don't Bring Me Down' is a bad song. It's certainly not bad just because it has that patented crash-boom-banging drum sound and docks strings in favour of synthesizers; rather it's just mediocre because it's actually based on a generic blues-rock melody, something not all that typical for Lynne's vocal-heavy Beatlesque pop symphonies. I've never liked ELO all that much when they were trying to rock out - at their best, they were amusing ('Ma Ma Ma Belle', for instance), at worst, corny and stupid ('Roll Over Beethoven'), but it was never their main schtick, and trying to rock out with the aid of modernistic production isn't particularly convincing. Still, the song does get me to stomp my feet, and this was definitely the song's main purpose.

As for the rest of the album, well, as usual, it ain't particularly bad, but I swear I can almost see Lynne's amazing talent slowly, gradually melt and vanish into thin air. The process started on Out Of The Blue - a little bit; here, it steadily goes on and is even more evident. Strange enough, perhaps the biggest dropdown this time is in the... lyrics department. Discovery features lots of truly hideous lyrical spots that make me actually wonder about how much Mr Lynne had lost contact with his native language. Examples? "I feel beautiful ways of loving you" ('Midnight Blue'). 'I wish that everything was cold, I wish you were here to hold' ('Wishing'). EH? Horrendous cliches abound - 'everywhere the sun is shining, all around the world it's shining' ('Confusion'). And to top it off, 'The Diary Of Horace Wimp' is a general lyrical disgrace, an absolute lyrical nadir, even. It is often taken as some kind of a lyrical "rip-off" of 'Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da', with its simple story of a simple guy who met and married a simple girl, but where 'Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da' was funny, 'Horace Wimp' takes itself in a deadly serious manner.

But to hell with the lyrics - I just wanted to give some of these examples to show how low Mr Lynne, once a rather delicate master of lyrical imagery, has fallen in that respect. In the end, it's the melodies that make the grade, don't they? And fortunately, there are still some melodies to laud on here. 'Confusion', for instance, utilizes the standard Beatlesque vocal harmonies to good effect, with some funny little vocoder effects in the chorus. The disco-pop extravaganza 'Last Train To London' is mind-numbingly catchy and boasts that classy heartfelt optimism that made ELO's classic compositions so irresistable. And 'Midnight Blue' is the last in a line of slow solemn epics ('Eldorado', 'Shangri-La', etc. - in fact, it borrows part of its melody from 'Shangri-La') that will forever stand as one of ELO's most obvious reasons for existence. Hmm, don't you think that Lynne has a serious passion for the word 'blue'? Only it's 'blue' as in 'bl-ooooooooooo', with the vowel extended for about five hours' length...

And as for the other songs, they all have something to redeem them - as in the case of Out Of The Blue, a serious listen will reveal at least a slight hook at least in every song; the problem is, the hooks are just way too slight. It's not enough, for instance, for a song like 'On The Run' to have a fast upbeat rhythm and have some funny falsetto stutterings in the chorus ('do-do-do-do-don't wanna lo-o-o-o-se it' is the most memorable moment). Simply not enough. It's not enough to repeat the chorus again and again in 'Shine A Little Love', a song that tries very very hard to be the next 'Turn To Stone' but fails because there's way too much generic disco party atmosphere and not enough heartfelt hooks. And however cool the McCartnyesque 'Diary Of Horace Wimp' might sound, there's simply nothing to make me forget the abysmal lyrics. Nothing.

All in all, if you're head over heels with ELO's 1973-77 period and would rate Out Of The Blue higher than I did, don't hesitate to pick this one up. Disco or no disco, the traditional "classical/pop" synthesis is still here, and if there is such a thing as "The Warm Breath Of ELO", this record still has some of it, unlike most of the cold, lifeless Eighties' albums of the band. But objectively, it is obvious that ELO are on a slide - in 1973, they were setting trends, in 1977, they obstinately followed these self-made trends, but in 1979, they were already willing to jump on other people's bandwagons, sacrificing their identity in the process. As poor as Discovery might seem compared to its predecessors, it would be easy to predict even without hearing ELO's Eighties' output, that no Eighties' album would be better than Discovery (although one would actually prove oneself wrong - with Time, Lynne made an unexpected, if controversial, rebound). Hey, I bet some of the wittier critics could have even predicted that at the time of the record's release.



Year Of Release: 1980

Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

This is the exact equivalent of the "drowning one's talent in shit" saying.

Best song: I'M ALIVE

Track listing: 1) Magic; 2) Suddenly; 3) Dancing; 4) Suspend In Time; 5) Whenever You're Away; 6) I'm Alive; 7) The Fall; 8) Don't Walk Away; 9) All Over The World; 10) Xanadu.

Oh boy. Now see here: it's not the hit singles of the Seventies, it's not the flying saucers, it's not the 'Diary Of Horace Wimp', it's not the beard and not the aviator sunglasses. It's one word that destroyed Jeff Lynne's reputation forever, and that word was Xanadu.

This movie and ELO's ridiculous, idiotic, disastrous idea to participate in it immediately put the band in the same category as the Bee Gees - aging disco dorks putting out fluffy commercial trash with the lowest common denominator. And, while the final musical results may not have turned out so nasty if we judge everything from a purely musical perspective, public opinion never forgets these flaws. Not to mention that Xanadu is, after all, that breaking point which separates the ELO of the Seventies from the ELO of the Eighties: two entirely different bands with different stylistics and musical approach. Entering the Eighties with Xanadu as their visit card can only be compared to entering a Chinese house without taking off your boots, or even worse: the one initial move that's needed to disrupt your relations with others forever.

Robert Greenwood definitely made Xanadu being envious of Saturday Night Fever - even if he didn't quite catch the flame, as the disco fever was already dying away by 1980. No matter; he grabbed himself Olivia Newton-John (by the way, isn't that person one of the best illustrations for all the 'sterile decadent excesses' of the Seventies or am I too annoying in my generalizations?) and Jeff Lynne and made a movie about a disco club. Never seen it and wouldn't want to. This album, strictly speaking, is not even an ELO album: it's divided fifty-fifty, with the first side dedicated to stuff composed by John Farrer and sung by Olivia herself and only the second side dominated by Lynne compositions (although Jeff still gives the title track to Olivia). The first stuff is complete garbage - it was tough for me to sit through it even once. Generic cabaret crap crossed with the blandest in disco and adult pop arrangements is really not my cup of tea, nor should it be the cup of tea of any more or less intelligent being on the planet. I agree Olivia Newton-John has a good sexy voice, but so does Christina Aguillera.

The ELO-penned side is, without a doubt, MUCH better, and it's the only side I'm ready to discuss here - on its own, it would reduce the album to a nice little six-rated EP (in a good mood, maybe even seven-rated, although I doubt it), but the crap on the first side drags it down. As usual, Jeff has penned several overtly bombastic numbers that don't stray too far away from the formula of Discovery: soft pop with occasional strings arrangements, although relying more and more on synthesizers, heavenly vocal harmonies and catchy hooks. Although... how catchy? Well, I'll be frank here: these songs are catchy. From a pure melodic standpoint they are written just as well, some maybe even better than on Discovery.

The problem is that all the songs sound utterly, unbelievably conventional. Typical disco stuff polluting the airwaves in the Eighties - no idosyncrasy whatever. No uniqueness. High songwriting class, mayhaps, but, well, the same goes for the Bee Gees. The same goes for ABBA, by the way: ABBA had already exploited the disco formula and milked most of its potential. Nothing on here sounds fresh or inventive; no raised eyebrows or huge surprises guaranteed. Yes, repeated listens bring out the hooks. So what? No repeated listens will get you rid of the feeling that the atmosphere on here, generally, is more commercial, sterile, lifeless, pro forma than on any given ABBA hit. Blah.

That said, I am not really going to knock these songs into dust because, well, it took time and effort to write them, and even if the hooks here are among the most miserable hooks I've ever witnessed, a hook, after all, is a hook, and you can't get away from it. 'I'm Alive', for instance, has the obligatory McCartney overtones in the vocal melody (first part of each verse) until it slips into bombastic Europop (second part of each verse). 'The Fall' has an interesting opposition between the slow echoey moody verse and the bouncy chorus. 'Don't Walk Away' is a power ballad where Lynne somehow forgets to muffle his voice as he always does and shows us that he could be a great near-operatic singer even without all those reverb masks and echoes he always employed on classic ELO records - and as bombastic as the song is, you can't deny that Lynne's vocal modulations are as perfect as always. 'All Over The World' is irritating and corny, but still memorable: I betcha the Gibb brothers were pulling out their hair (back then, they still had some) in frustration over not having come up with an idea as effective as 'all over the world, everybody got the word' themselves.

So out of all these songs, only the title track is the one I can't stand - I don't know why Olivia Newton-John decided to sing the song in such a blatant ABBAesque intonation, or why they employed those ABBAesque baroque piano chords in every chorus, but the song's hooks are too poorly developed for the song to match ABBAesque quality, and I kinda get infuriated with the chant 'in Xanadu, in Xanadu' repeated over and over. Oh, the cheese. THE CHEESE.

Aw, shucks. Basically, this is just high quality Eighties pop for those who stand Eighties pop at all. I can't give it more than a rating of eight, of course - crappy first side, corny arrangements, cheesy atmosphere. One thing I do not wish to say, though, is that Xanadu in any way testifies about Lynne losing his songwriting talents. The songwriting talents are still there; this guy was really OOMPHY when it came to all these vocal modulations and hooks. But Xanadu is certainly the worst place possible to savour the talents of Mr Lynne.



Year Of Release: 1981

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Synth-pop? You bet! But... but... it's CLASSY synth-pop!


Track listing: 1) Prologue; 2) Twilight; 3) Yours Truly, 2095; 4) Ticket To The Moon; 5) The Way Life's Supposed To Be; 6) Another Heart Breaks; 7) Rain Is Falling; 8) From The End Of The World; 9) The Lights Go Down; 10) Here Is The News; 11) 21st Century Man; 12) Hold On Tight; 13) Epilogue.

Xanadu left Lynne's reputation in the dust - the singles still charted high and the LPs still sold like hotcakes, but no critic would from now on say a good word about Mr Lynne. Well, maybe some would, but that's irrelevant to the case at hand, so scram. The important thing is: Time is a good record. Time is a good record, you hear this? And this is despite the lack of almost everything that made up the charm of classic Seventies' ELO. Namely.

Number one: Time is a synth-pop album, and Lynne's trusty stringin' friends are totally devoid of any important functions, the role of strings being relegated to synthesizers and even synthesized strings. Bev Bevan's crashing drums, in the meantime, are electronized - since Bev was one of the band's founding fathers, Jeff was probably not too keen on having him replaced by drum machines, but at least the drums need to be enhanced in some way, you know, it's the Eighties for Chrissake. (Take a hint: remember all those loud crashing drumming on Harrison's Cloud Nine and the reunited Beatles' 'Free As A Bird' and 'Real Love'? That's Mr Lynne magically transforming Mr Ringo Starr into Mr Bev Bevan... I guess).

Number two: the singing. The times did not call for operatic modulation, and Lynne does not modulate. Well, he does, but not as much as before, and from now on few of the songs depend on the immaculate quality of his vocal chord twists.

But does that matter? Lynne seems to have grasped the essence of synth-pop quite well, and there's no way the man would simply want to substitute solidly written melodies for generic "synth-riffage" and typical corny exhilarated pseudo-emotional vocals. Not to mention that, frankly speaking, by 1981 synth-pop as a genre wasn't yet fully elaborated, and Time still sounds rather fresh and exciting after all that time. Okay, granted, the main hit from the record was 'Twilight', and it's pretty worthless... in fact, it might just as well be the worst song on the entire record, although even that little stinker is still salvaged by hunks of Beatlesque vocal harmonies in the chorus ('twilight, I only meant to stay awhile' - doesn't that line sound particularly tasty?). But is it possible to resist the groovy funky bassline of 'From The End Of The World', for instance? It's kinda cute, too, to hear Lynne strain his voice trying to reach those falsetto notes and ultimately failing, but that don't spoil our damn picture one single bit.

In a similar way, 'Here Is The News' is simply awash in synth patterns - sounding all artificial and processed to the utmost sterility, BUT if you tell me the song's arrangement isn't among the most creative, lush arrangements ever met on a synth-pop sound, I won't want to believe you. The main synth riff alone that carries the number is catchier than any Cars riff in existence, and that's not counting all the multiple sonic overdubs that show Jeff certainly has been taking lessons from Brian Eno. And 'Yours Truly, 2095' predicts the Pet Shop Boys in all their glory and misery, 'nuff said - any fan of inventive synth-pop should check out its origins. Oh, by the way, I actually forgot to mention that Time is a concept album (three guesses on the topic); I once read a review of this album by a fan saying that it was funny that while Lynne had all those flying saucers and stuff for Out Of The Blue, he still had to wait until four years later to release a record that would really explore space, time and general sci-fi thematics. Well, it's obvious that Lynne was pushed forward by all the technological stuff - just a simple glance at the increasing power and might of all this synthesizer battery will bring images of time transporters and spacecrafts on your mind. Hence the obligatory robot thematics ('I met someone who looks a lot like you, she does the things you do, but she is an IBM') and suchlike.

Still, I wouldn't want anybody to believe that Time is a pure synth-pop album. It is indeed the most radical transformation of the ELO sound since at least A New World Record, and if we count 'liquidation of strings' as the main point, it's their most radical transformation since the very beginning. But pure synth-pop albums with no guitars don't really rate that high in my book unless they're absolute marvels of creation. Fortunately, Jeff had the good taste to include a bunch of decent guitar-driven/piano-driven pop songs as well - 'The Way Life's Meant To Be', for instance, which is a great folksy popster that could easily have come out of the hands of George Harrison (see now? George and Jeff do have a lot in common). It's the most graceful and tasteful thing on the whole record, of course (although I question the validity of the inclusion of the melody of 'You Never Can Tell' as part of the guitar solo once again), but there are others: 'The Rain Is Falling' is a typical bombastic ballad with all the necessary vocal modulations... actually, unpredictable vocal modulations - the beauty of the chorus is achieved by Lynne simply pronouncing the 'ooh, the rain is falling' line without chanting it. Modesty never hurts when it's applied in the right place. '21st Century Man' is pretty and lovely, as well, and 'The Lights Go Down' is a cute little shuffle borrowing its melody off Bo Diddley's 'Crackin' Up'.

In short, I'm amazed to report that apart from maybe the obligatory pompous intro and outro, there's not a truly bad song on the album - it's amazingly consistent, whether it be something retroish or a new dabbling in synth-pop. Even the closing number, 'Hold On Tight', a synthpoppified retro rocker, is kinda inoffensive despite the cheesiness: Gene Vincent meets the Cars! Apparently, it's just an effort to make something along the lines of 'Don't Bring Me Down', only in a more lightweight manner. I accept it.

So why only an eight? Because try as I might, my senses won't allow me to rate this hoopster on the same level as Face The Music, that's why! Get the hell offa me, wouldya? SYNTH-POP SUCKS! ALL OF IT! Even when it's good synth-pop. Good synth-pop gets tens and elevens. Bad synth-pop gets... eh, well, bad synth-pop gets less, I suppose. On this plain and simple note may I be allowed to close this review.



Year Of Release: 1983

Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

Pathetic. At least on the previous album they didn't forget to write good songs while jumping on the synth-pop bandwagon...

Best song: not in my life!

Track listing: 1) Secret Messages; 2) Loser Gone Wild; 3) Bluebird; 4) Take Me On And On; 5) Time After Time; 6) Four Little Diamonds; 7) Stranger; 8) Danger Ahead; 9) Letter From Spain; 10) Train Of Gold; 11) Rock'n'Roll Is King.

Finally, a record where I can utter a sigh of relief and say that I agree with the critics. Perversely enough, it's the exact record that (a) never gained any major kind of commercial success and never yielded any hit singles and (b) made Bev Bevan leave the group and Jeff put the whole experience on hold for some time. Isn't that kinda nice - the band puts out its first shitty album (Xanadu not counting) in years and immediately disbands? Isn't that kinda generous?

Seriously now, when I first took a listen to ELO's Eighties' records, none of them impressed me all that much. But after a while Time clicks on you - there's no denying the hooks, nor could you deny that the band wasn't trying to do something really interesting with that generic synth-pop sound. In comparison, Secret Messages is utterly bland, an album so pointless and conventional it makes me go ICK. I can't even blame the songs, I can't say there's no melodies or that they have been spoiled by, like, synthesized horns or drum machines or something. But there's not, listen closely, there ain't a SINGLE hook in any of these songs. It's almost as if Jeff Lynne had been eliminated, swiped off the band in an instant - although that wouldn't actually happen in reality until eight years later. Yeah, there is some stylistic diversity - some power ballads, some folksy rockers, some boogie-woogie, some starry-eyed lyricism, but it's all taken in that dreadful emotionless, uncaptivating mid-Eighties style. If I might suggest an analogy, take such an opposition as McCartney's Tug Of War and Pipes Of Peace (the latter, by the way, came out in the same unhappy 1983): the first album is a creation of genius, the second is a pale shadow, a wobbly insecure hookless concoction of a washed-up old coot, even if production-wise and style-wise they're both the same stuff. How does that happen? And how do such things happen so quickly? God help me, I simply don't know. Maybe Lynne needed another good-time concept about space/chronos travelling to cheer him up...

I tell you what: out of all the songs on here, only three stand out in my mind, and all of them stand out as anything but 'solid tunes'. 'Bluebird', an infamy in relation to McCartney's tune of the same name, is a completely unremarkable folk-rocker where the once creative opposition of guitar/strings/synths is replaced by a most straightforward monotonous strum-strum-strum worthy of second-rate Eagles, and I only remember it because of those dumb background vocals that echo Jeff's every word and then lock themselves in a 'groove' chanting 'work, work, work, work' all over the place. And then there are the two 'real' rockers - 'Four Little Diamonds' has a mildly entertaining chorus, despite the stupid lyrics, and 'Rock'n'Roll Is King'... ooh, don't get me about that one. For some reason, this is the third record in a row that ends in a 'modernized' rendition of a pseudo-Fifties boogie standard - 'Don't Bring Me Down' initiated the procedure, 'Hold On Tight' more or less cemented the idea, but 'Rock'n'Roll Is King' is undoubtedly the cheesiest of the lot: I've always felt a little indignant at Lynne incorporating all these 'look at me I'm gonna teach you how to rock'n'roll' tricks into his songs, and this song overdoes the trick. Down with cheesy dumb pseudo-rockers, I say! People who write cheesy dumb pseudo-rockers should burn in hell and listen to hardcore punk as punishment till judgement day. Wouldn't that be a sweet sight to tie up Jeff Lynne and play the Misfits in his face for, like, a whole eternity?

Oh well, I guess we gotta say a few words about the rest of the tracks, anyway. Okay? You wanna hear me say 'a few songs are still able to salvage this album', right? Much as I'd like to, that would be killing my soul. Ripping it apart. How can one stay calm at the sight of atrocities like 'Letter From Spain'? What's that? Three minutes of minimalistic atmosphere and near-accappella hookless atmospheric chanting? Mr Lynne, you can hardly pretend to be Brian Eno. The title track should be equally left in the dumpster - by 1983, miriads of performers all over the world were turning out these faceless dance-pop numbers, ear-candy for a few moments and a few ass movements.

What happened? One thing you can't accuse Lynne of is that throughout most of the Seventies and all up to Time he was searching - yes, occasionally repeating himself due to the original limitation of his 'classical-rock fusion' formula, but for the most part, evolving from psychedelic to progressive to symph-rock to symph-pop to disco to synth-pop. Here, there is no exploration whatsoever, be it good or bad, just sterile, lifeless, useless formula that never goes anywhere in particular - and not only so, but Lynne's once impeccable sense of melody also goes down the drain. And it took but two years to get to such a sad state of affairs! Two years! Two years to end up in a dumpster!

Together with most copies of this album, so it seems - say what we will about the general lack of taste among the public, it's nice to see that such a huge collapse in taste and creativity coincided with a collapse in sales.



Year Of Release: 1986

Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

Bringing back the hooks and stabilizing the production - which is not to say I'm pretty glad about this stuff.

Best song: SO SERIOUS

Track listing: 1) Heaven Only Knows; 2) So Serious; 3) Getting To The Point; 4) Secret Lives; 5) Is It Alright; 6) Sorrow About To Fall; 7) Without Someone; 8) Calling America; 9) Endless Lies; 10) Send It.

The Orchestra is back, to make a 1986 album. Wair a minute! How the Hell could Mr Lynne be so insensitive as to make an album in 1986, the worst year in popular music for Sixties/Seventies acts? Couldn't he at least have waited a couple years more or something? Surely such an album with such a blatantly lifeless sleeve and but THREE band members - Lynne to deliver conformist vocals, Bevan to deliver electronic drumming and Richard Tandy to man the synthesizers - would suck pretty bad, maybe even worse than McCartney's Press To Play...

Strange enough, it doesn't - in fact, the record is a huge step up from the total muck of Secret Messages. But it is obvious that in order to appreciate at least some of this stuff, you have to brace up seriously and completely forget any biases you might have against generic Eighties' production. Once you did this, a revelation will come: Lynne had actually used the last three years to work on some material and come up with, well, I guess it's pretty boring to hear me say the word 'hooks' once again, but you gotta understand, not using the word 'hook' in an Electric Light Orchestra review is just about the same as not using the word 'riff' in a Black Sabbath review (or the word 'generic' in a Grand Funk Railroad review, or the word 'spritual' in a Santana review, whatever). Anyway, there are some nice hooks here: nothing more, nothing less.

As for the production excesses, you're well advised to let yourself sink into George Harrison's Cloud Nine, issued next year with Lynne's production. Many people have complained abut Lynne butchering George's output and all, but I've never really minded it: the songs were cool themselves, and the huge booming drums, echoey vocals and heavenly background synthesizers never distracted from it. Balance Of Power, then, is essentially Cloud Nine with a little less songwriting talent (after all, much as I adore Lynne, Harrison is a better songwriter when he's at his peak) and a little less star potential (no Eric Clapton to provide dazzling guitar solos, well, you know how it goes).

The public wasn't amused, though, and the album's single, 'Calling America', never made the big time. Too bad; it's far from the worst synth-pop song Lynne ever wrote, a nice upbeat popster with well-structured verses and even a tiny streak of emotional power - although the lyrics are so obscure you can't really understand if the song is an ode to mobile phone service or a rant against mobile phone service. Personally, I prefer to choose the latter, otherwise the 'yeah we're living in a modern world' line would sounds way too corny. Likewise, 'Sorrow About To Fall' is pretty moody and depressing, capturing Lynne in his patented "the world sucks" state, with cool vocal modulations that could only be dreamt of on Secret Messages.

Even the final number, 'Send It', which again finds Lynne sticking to the formula of his album closers, is tons more tolerable than 'Rock'n'Roll Is King'. If we assume that each and every one of those numbers is set to emulate a specific rocker's style, with 'Don't Bring Me Down' being a 'parody' on Elvis, 'Hold On Tight' on Gene Vincent, and 'Rock'n'Roll Is King' on Little Richard, then 'Send It' is more of a Carl Perkins send-up with hilarious 'wobbly' synths imitating his guitar style and a more relaxed and less pretentious atmosphere than before.

Eh? Well no, I'm not saying that this is a great album or anything. Hey, it's not even a good album - just halway decent, but for a 1986 record, it's a real true masterpiece, baby. Who else of the 'dinosaurs' could have come up with such a fun Cars-ish synth-rocker as 'So Serious'? You go ahead and get that chorus out of your brain, mister, before accusing Jeff of selling out and all that. And, for the record, Jeff Lynne never really sold out - maybe the closest he ever came to selling out was the unabashed embracing of disco in 1979, but even then, he was just moving along with the mainstream rather than crashing out of the 'underground' or something. You won't, in fact, understand the amazingly smooth and gradual development of ELO's sound until you've taken a proper listen to all of their albums in chronologic order... only Time sounds radically different from the previous efforts, otherwise, it's always fifty percent new and fifty percent old or so. In any case, I was speaking about 'So Serious' and praising the song because it deserves praise. If you like bouncy catchy lightweight well-written synth-pop, you can't go wrong with that one.

Not that there aren't any misfires - a few unmemorable fillerish power ballads, a few meaningless thumpers that don't stand out at all - but overall, this almost pleased me as a minor comeback. Don't believe your eyes and ears when you read about how Balance Of Power returned the band to their classic Seventies' style (believe it or not, some entries on ELO in various guides do say that; supposedly, people never really took the 'pain' to listen to ELO's Eighties output), because it's hogwash, but if you see the album for half a penny, it's worth scooping up just to add a few masterful hooks to your collection. And in any case, Balance Of Power is certainly a far more fitting end to ELO's career than the totally insipid Secret Messages. Who knows - maybe that was Lynne's ultimate goal? To gather the band for a final effort that would prop up their reputation? Look, there's not even a pretentious 'bombastic sonic intro' to the record...



Year Of Release: 1991

Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 7

More like 'Part of the Jealous Bad Guy'. What a hideous ELO-alike soundin' piece of...

Best song: HELLO

Track listing: 1) Hello; 2) Honest Men; 3) Every Night; 4) Once Upon A Time; 5) Heartbreaker; 6) Thousand Eyes; 7) For The Love Of A Woman; 8) Kiss Me Red; 9) Heart Of Hearts; 10) Easy Streets.

Once upon a time I was young and naive and thought that if an album was completely atrocious, no person in the world would like it. Since then, I found out that I was wrong - some people actually even like George Harrison's Electronic Sound, not to mention Eighties' Rod Stewart and post-Collins Genesis. No need to lose faith in humankind, though: instead of that, I just wonder at the great diversity of lifeforms on this planet. Actually, I'm saying all this with one aim: if, by any chance, you happen to be one of the few select immortals who do like Electric Light Orchestra Part Two, know this - I gave this album three completely unbiased listens. Completely unbiased. I know it's hard to believe, but try to do that. I took my trusty CDR, and as I locked it into the compartment, here's what I said to myself: "OK. I know that Electric Light Orchestra without Jeff Lynne is like the Beatles without both John Lennon and Paul McCartney. But how do I know Lynne's replacements in this band are apriori worse than him? Probably, this won't sound like ELO. But does that mean it will necessarily sound bad? Not at all. Maybe these guys are songwriting geniuses. Maybe they're gorgeous singers. In fact, they should be all of that - otherwise, it would take a lot of gall to dub this incarnation of the band with its original name. Lynne or no Lynne, who cares if they may still make good music?" And then I turned on the CD...

You know, I really respect Bev Bevan. He's an understated, prolific, experienced drummer, and his sound had very much defined both the Move and the classic ELO sound, before the Eighties' electronic production toned his importance down. But the thing he did with this reincarnation of a pseudo-ELO is downright outrageous. Forget about Lynne or, in fact, any 'names' that made up the band; one should understand that at the very essence, it wasn't the pomposity and the strings and the synthesizers and the pretentious lyrics and the multi-tracked vocal harmonies that made ELO such an enjoyable experience. It was, above all, the quality of the songwriting - memorable hooks galore and the songs' incredible emotional potential. Everything else was just a tasteful addition.

If this principle hadn't been forgotten on ELO Part II, it has at least turned out to be totally impossible to realize in practice. There are nine songs on here, and there's not a single good one among them. Yes, the production is fabulous: Louis Clark's string arrangements indeed recall the ELO of old, as lush and splendiferous as they hadn't been since at least Out Of The Blue, all the pianos and guitars are in their place, and the synth-pop elements are significantly reduced. But neither Bevan, nor the new vocalist, Neil Lockwood, nor the new bass player, Pete Haycock (Bevan is the only link, in fact, that connects this motley crue to the ELO of old), can write a half-decent song to save their life! In addition, Lockwood, while not a bad singer technically, just can't module his voice in any possible way - compared to Lynne, hey, even not compared to Lynne, he just sounds flat and generic.

It's kinda funny, though, to hear the short one-minute introduction to this record - a short piano-based poppy ditty simply called 'Hello', where some of the employed harmonies really recall ELO (and the Beatles). It's nice, short, cool and cute. That's it, though, as the very next number, 'Honest Men', is a lush piece of power poppy orchestrated garbage, a six-minute long monster with not a decent hook in sight. They even add a goofy bit of operatic vocals in the background at the beginning (to remind us of 'Rockaria', mayhaps?), but it doesn't work at all, in any case. Lockwood croons just fine, but the singing is so conventional and in the long run so unemotional and constipated that I can only shrug my shoulders. In fact, that's what I'm gonna do right now. (Shrug. Shrug. Creeak. Damn. How long have I been sitting in this frickin' armchair?)

From then on, it's just one unmemorable number after another. Just for the lush production and a relatively ear-harmless sound I don't give this record an even lower rating, but fact is, there's eight more songs on here and I can't write anything about them. Oh, wait. I know. I'll put up a quote. "I KNOW WHAT YOU DO EVERY NIGHT EVERY NIGHT I KNOW WHAT YOU DO WHEN YOU TURN OUT THE LIGHT I SEE WHAT YOU DO EVERY NIGHT EVERY NIGHT AND I WANT YOU TO DO IT TO ME" ('Every Night'). Essential part of the recipe: this should be chanted in zero-tone, as generic and DDDDDUMB as possible, so that you should hear your brain pounding at your skull, asking to get out of this container that once used to be your head.

I mean, seriously, these albums annoy me as hell because I can't even explain what it is that irks me about them. There are melodies, there are solid arrangements, there's a lot of work put in. There's just not an ounce of talent. Music should be loved because it's music, not because it's a way to make a few quick bucks by cashing in on a former great band's name, and that's what happens here exactly. I heard Lynne actually sued these guys so they had to call themselves 'Electric Light Orchestra Part Two' and not just 'Electric Light Orchestra', and while I don't usually favour all these endless court battles between musicians, I feel Jeff had been totally justified in this particular case. This, 'Electric Light Orchestra'? More like 'Total Blackout Orchestra'. Stay away.




Year Of Release: 1994

Record rating = 3
Overall rating = 6

Even more bombast and even less true creativity.

Best song: just forget it.

Track listing: 1) Moment Of Truth; 2) Breaking Down The Walls; 3) Power Of Million Lights; 4) Interlude 3; 5) One More Tomorrow; 6) Don't Wanna; 7) Voices; 8) Interlude 2; 9) Vixen; 10) The Fox; 11) Love Or Money; 12) Blue Violin; 13) Whiskey Girls; 14) Interlude 1; 15) Twist Of The Knife; 16) So Glad You Said Goodbye; 17) Underture; 18) The Leaving.

And so we continue to dirty up the reputation of the band. After the pile of shit that was Part Two was released, most of the 'band members' apparently understood the total lack of perspective and gave up on the project. Most, that is, save old drummer boy, Mr Bevan, who waited a few years and then recruited a new team of equally unknown and untalented hacks: Eric Troyer on keyboards, Phil Bates on guitars, plus, for 'authenticity', Bevan reenlists Mik Kaminski on violins and Kelly Groucutt on bass and vocals. Louis Clark is still around to provide the pseudo-band with orchestration, and he is certainly reliable - the swooping, majestic orchestration is the only thing that saves the record from absolute misery, and were Jeff Lynne here to throw a few timeless melodies into the pot, this could have worked out all right.

Sadly, it doesn't. Moment Of Truth is twice as bombastic as its predecessor - starting from the title (right, everything before it was a lie, and now we FINALLY GOTTA SEE THE TRUTH!), continuing with the album cover (cool lightbulb, dude), the length (about an hour long) and, of course, all the grandiose orchestral interludes and chorale arrangements and stuff. I'm not quite sure if this was supposed to be a concept album, what with the 'Underture' and all, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was. Really, nothing like a bombastic concept album to sweeten up the pill.

And oh boy, is that a bitter pill. It's fair to say that nothing on here sounds like classic ELO, apart from maybe the title track - a pompous opening instrumental that vaguely reminds us of ELO's early excesses like 'Fire On High', but only vaguely, as the composition is highly conventional and unsurprising. The rest basically runs the gamut from... from Styx to Kiss, I'd say. Yeah, Kiss, you heard right: 'Whiskey Girls' is a dumb, offensive, totally ridiculous mid-tempo 'rocker' with smutty misogynist lyrics that could have easily fit on any 'classic' Kiss album. Somebody on the Amazon site actually called it 'Lynyrd Skynyrd-ish' but Lynyrd Skynyrd were far too intelligent to put up with simplistic two-chord crap like that. So what if it's got a violin solo? Big deal.

The rest, like I said, is pure Styx: grandiose orchestrated production, pretentious meaningless/thoroughly cliched lyrics, and an overblown vocal delivery that seems to really pretend to be opening your eyes, you know, like, moment of truth and all. Just listen to 'Voices' and you'll know what I mean. 'VOICES, I WANNA HEAR THEM CALLING, FROM THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN...'. Phil Bates is Dennis DeYoung in disguise, I know that. As if we didn't already have plenty of Styx records in existence - and if I wanna stuff myself with cheese, I'll go straight to the source.

Almost every second track on here presents the listener with a stupid gaffe of some sorts - it's actually kinda interesting to sit through this muck just to get a few laughs of the business. For instance, the lyrics to the short interlude 'Blue Violin' go like this: 'Blue violin, play for me your saddest melody, violin, play for me your saddest melody', while in the background a violin is drilling out some boring, lifeless and totally unresonant pattern. 'Saddest melody', indeed. Not to mention that as soon as it stops, the band rips right into 'Whiskey Girls'. Nothing better than a nice solid contrast. A bit of sadness and depression, after which come 'the kind of hips that make you fantasize' and we're all into normal healthy sexual life. Likewise, 'The Fox' could probably make a nice soundtrack for a cheap Disney movie about a fox. Is there a melody in that 'song' at all? It seems like somebody got drunk and decided to vocalize a documentary on animal life by singing the text instead of reciting it. I couldn't believe my ears when I heard that stuff - to put songs like these under the 'ELO' name is a crime.

Maybe just two or three tracks on here display less cheese and dumbness than the rest, but you gotta look for 'em. The rocker 'Don't Wanna', for instance, could have been salvaged and reworked into a nice menacing, even grungey song, if only they'd worked a little on the lyrics. The chorus to 'So Glad You Said Goodbye' is moderately catchy, although I have to question myself about the real reason - maybe it's just because they repeat it so damn much. Because, for instance, 'Power Of A Million Lights' is hardly a different song stylistically, and while it doesn't offend me more than your average Backstreet Boys stuff, it's just a typical routine power-popster of the typical routine kind that roll through your TV screen if you happen to have MTV turned on when you're doing household chores. Talent, we need talent. We need genius. These guys just suck at songwriting.

So the best thing about the record are the instrumental interludes, which are few and short, and the bombastic power intro, but even so, they're hardly masterpieces, ya know. And since dreck like 'Whiskey Girls' and 'The Fox' are a little too much for my Rod Stewart-hurt heart to tolerate, I can only proclaim this to be the worst piece o' schlock that ever came out under the ELO moniker, and certainly one of, if not the, worst case of a bunch of dirty hacks spoiling a former great band's reputation by stealing its name. Bev Bevan, I'm talking to you - there's no forgiving for this shit.



Year Of Release: 2001

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Quit the namegame! This is Mr Lynne and let him do whatever he wants.

Best song: one more of those impossible cases. Cool, let it be STRANGER ON A QUIET STREET.

Track listing: 1) Alright; 2) Moment In Paradise; 3) State Of Mind; 4) Just For Love; 5) Stranger On A Quiet Street; 6) In My Own Time; 7) Easy Money; 8) It Really Doesn't Matter; 9) Ordinary Dream; 10) A Long Time Gone; 11) Melting In The Sun; 12) All She Wanted; 13) Lonesome Lullaby.

One morning Jeff Lynne woke up with a burning question in his head. It read: "If Bevan calls himself Electric Light Orchestra and prospers, why can't I call myself Electric Light Orchestra and prosper"? At least, I think it was kinda like this. And hoopla, Jeff Lynne gets into the studio and records an album all by himself, with a little help from George Harrison and Ringo Starr and a bunch of lesser-known Beatles-unrelated dudes, and calls it Electric Light Orchestra. The only link with the other band members is a short 'guest appearance' by Richard Tandy to play keyboards on one track.

Not that I blame Jeff. After all, he's been holding off on using the band's name (which he apparently had legitimate copyright to) for fiteen years; his only solo album throughout that period was released under his own name (see below). And it really WAS necessary to put an end to the infamous fraud of 'ELO Part II'; I can only hope that Bevan and his gang won't dare put out an 'ELO Part Three' album after Lynne's move. And, after all, Jeff Lynne IS Electric Light Orchestra, there's no getting away from it. So what if there are no strings on here? Where were the strings on Secret Messages? So what if Bevan doesn't take care of the drums? The drumwork on here, done partially by Ringo, partially by Jeff himself, can't be distinguished from the drumming on ELO's "synth-pop" albums. Who cares? Heck, I don't even care that the album cover is such a cheesy reference to the sci-fi cover of Out Of The Blue. All I know is Jeff Lynne put out another album, his first in ten years, and the only question I have is - is it good?

Ah, but that's a different question indeed. Well... yes, it is. It is good, I think so. But I also think it depends a lot on what you consider good. If you expect another Eldorado or even another Out Of The Blue, don't go any further than the album cover. Rather this album sounds like an exact, well-flowing continuation of Lynne's Balance Of Power ==> Traveling Wilburys ==> Armchair Theatre streamline. It's not synth-pop, but it ain't no symph-rock, either. Lynne has a formula now, ever heard of that? Watery, echoey guitars, preferably overdubbed, mid-tempo, steady b-b-b-b-bashing drums, some keyboards to spice up the sound, angelic vocalic harmonies, and endless vocal hooks. Thirteen songs, all in one style: the only difference is that some are "lightweight rockers", some are "serious rockers", and some are "ballads". You leave it - get outta here. You take it - let's go on, see what I can say about 'em.

Then again, maybe let's not, because there's little I can say about the individual titles. In general, I feel this is a slight letdown from Armchair Theatre; that album had a somewhat fresher attitude and Lynne wasn't that perturbed about making an 'ELO album' - here, he's not having as much fun, and therefore, a lot of material comes out kinda contrived. Like the "lightweight rockers", for instance. 'Easy Money' is pretty ordinary, routine blues-rock with too little 'enjoyability' about it; and 'State Of Mind', for no apparent reason, borrows its riff from 'Lady Madonna', while 'All She Wanted' rapes 'Get It On (Bang A Gong)' to no purpose. It's almost as if Lynne was so entirely spent on thinking of vocal hooks for the 'serious' stuff that he just decided to get away with a few obvious rip-offs while doing the necessary 'lightweight' stuff.

Fortunately, the good stuff is really good. The ballads will make any Lynne fan revel in ecstasy, like the stately, gorgeous 'Moment In Paradise' (which I actually always end up hearing as 'my old man in paradise' - what a creepy reference to untrained ears!), or the slightly rougher 'It Really Doesn't Matter' - that song alone would suffer to demonstrate that Lynne is still as capable of pulling out a decent Beatlesque hook as he was thirty years ago. Actually, since we're in Beatles territory and I already mentioned the reference to Lady Madonna, let me just tell you that Beatlesque references abound on this album; I'm pretty sure that there are still more that I haven't discovered, but here are at least two more examples - the 'cry baby cry' line in the cool rocker 'Lonesome Lullaby' that ends the album, and the chanting of 'alright alright alright' in the exact same way as done on the slower version of 'Revolution' on the White Album in 'Alright'. Let's hope Beatle fans won't be offended by these innocent quotations. After all, Beatle fans have to bless Jeff Lynne for having produced 'Free As A Bird', don't they?

Okay, maybe they don't, come to think of it. In any case, one more song and I'll be on my way. I have taken a particular liking to 'Stranger On A Quiet Street' recently. A song a bit less trivial than most of the others on here. Trippy key changes and mood shifts. Interesting philosophic lyrics (a rare treat for Mr Lynne, for the most part known for stuff like 'WHO ARE YOU AND WHO AM I?'). And a cute self-reference, too - 'it came to me out of the blue'. I'd make an easy bet that if we make a statistic count of words used in Lynne's lyrics, the root "blue" will come out in the first couple dozen at the very least.

And, of course, the perfect phrase to use in this review would be "there is absolutely no need for this album's existence". BECAUSE it adds nothing to what we already know of Mr Lynne. Just a nice little retro-oriented album. But oh boy, won't all those fans be so perfectly happy. In fact, I checked the reviews for the album and so far, nobody's even penned a one-star review!! That's incredible, isn't it? No one-star reviews? What is this Jeff Lynne, a new Stevie Wonder or something?



Yeah, right. Do I look like the kind of guy to collect every single solo album released by Kelly Groucutt? No way. This section will only include one album, for now, at least. Three guesses which one...


(released by: JEFF LYNNE)

Year Of Release: 1990
Overall rating =

Not up to 'classic' standard, but very pleasant and relaxing in its 'modern production meets retro stylistics'.

Best song: NOBODY HOME

Track listing: 1) Every Little Thing; 2) Don't Let Go; 3) Lift Me Up; 4) Nobody Home; 5) September Song; 6) Now You're Gone; 7) Don't Say Goodbye; 8) What Would It Take; 9) Stormy Weather; 10) Blown Away; 11) Save Me Now.

No, it's not a masterpiece, and it's definitely a Jeff Lynne album, not a quasi-ELO record - but so much the better, and it kicks the shit out of the "ELO Part Two" records anyway. Lynne wasn't much headed for a solo career anyway; this is his only solo album in fifteen years, during which he enjoyed his career as producer, 'elder statesman' and occasional member of the Traveling Wilburys, apparently thinking that Electric Light Orchestra had outlived its creative potential. And even this particular record is more of a slight pleasant stunt than a 'serious' experience - which means it might not necessarily appeal to ELO fans who go for bombast and 'heaviness', but it will certainly appeal to Traveling Wilburys fans. Short, compact, full of nice, pleasant pop ditties and by now traditional vocal hooks, this is an aural delight for anybody who can look past the occasionally sterile production.

No wonder that the record sounds so much like vintage Traveling Wilburys - it was recorded two years after the Wilburys' debut, and shares the same relaxed and unpretentious spirit, not to mention same jangly guitars and occasional folksy and rootsy sound, although as far as I know, no other Wilburys' members were actually involved in the project, not directly at least. Even the funny album cover, featuring Jeff in a relaxed pose in an armchair at the seashore, hints at something 'for your instantaneous pleasure' and nothing more.

And the songs mostly rule - no absolute breathtaking chef-d'oeuvres here, but no dubious experimentation either, and not really a duffer in all, even if few of the tracks are highly memorable. 'Now You're Gone' is perhaps the most dubious thing on here, because the song itself is pretty nice in its melodramatic and depressing mood, but for some reason Jeff decided to embellish it with rather stupid-sounting Eastern-influenced incantations that lend an air of stupidness and formulaicness to the song (I mean, "sad and depressed" ==> "bring in Eastern elements". Who do they take me for? A nitwit?).

The rest are good. A couple of retro-rockers recreate the Wilburys spirit just fine, particularly 'Don't Let Go' which sounds just excellent in its Fifties' vibe, although the stop-and-start structure and the line 'Aw, shucks, I wouldn't stop for a million bucks' are anything but the Fifties, but that's certainly the coolest thing about the song. Even better is 'Nobody Home', where Jeff's vocal talents are on the move again - the line about 'I said no, I SAID NO, I SAID NOOOOO, nobody home' is a pure marvel, not to mention these cute crescendos on the chorus and the equally cute falsetto harmonies. And while 'Every Little Thing' has absolutely nothing to do with the Beatles' song of the same name, it's a terrific power-popster with some of our favourite aviator-glassed vocal modulations.

Of course, essentially the album is comprised of ballads - we all know that Mr Lynne can rock pretty good if he wants to, but he's a balladeer above all, and frankly speaking, I was afraid that there'd be a lot of the Balance Of Power/Secret Messages kind of stuff here, dull synth-pop chuggers with bleak half-liquid melodies of vast yawning potential. Not at all. A couple of them are, in fact, drastically underproduced, like the jazzey lounge-style 'September Song', which I would probably dismiss had I heard it on a, say, early Carl Perkins record, but since Lynne has far more years of experience behind his shoulders than Perkins had when he recorded 'Let The Jukebox Keep On Playing' and stuff, he makes the song positively endearing with a brilliant McCartneyesque vocal approach. Likewise, 'Stormy Weather' is just a simplistic music-hall sendup, kinda like Paul's cover of 'Baby's Request', and it's good.

And finally, even the overproduced Lynne-style ballads are nice. 'What Would It Take', for instance. Is it slight? Sure. Is it easy-going? You bet. Is it radio-friendly? Definitely. Is it genius? Undoubtedly. Everybody can write a verse like 'remember what you told me, that you would always be there, if you change your mind now' and set it to a monotonous steady crash-boom-banging mid-tempo rhythm, but it takes a genius to seamlessly lead this verse into the heartfelt-sung line 'ooh, what would it take to save me, what would it take to save me now'. Or the beautiful vocals on 'Don't Say Goodbye', aw crap, every song on here is pretty nice in its own way. Jeff even succeeds where his pal George Harrison ultimately failed - he ends the album with an eco-oriented song, but instead of giving it a full-fledged cheesy bombastic arrangement, he makes it a simple acoustic-led ballad with Dylan influences and an understated chorus... and it lasts for a mind-blowing one minute and forty seconds. Come on now, do you need any more time to really 'Save Me Now'?

Seriously now, I am totally overwhelmed by this record. I originally gave it a 10 for being 'slight' and 'lightweight', but hey, so is A Hard Day's Night. This adds nothing important to Lynne's or ELO's legacy, but it convinces me that even after twenty years of constant work, Jeff's stock of creative and melodic ideas hasn't been in the least depleted. In fact, I heartily and honestly recommend this stuff to any Wilburys fan - you won't regret it. Thirty-seven minutes of total silly fun. Too bad they never played this stuff on the radio.


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