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Electric Light Orchestra

'Elo Kiddies!

Introduction
No Answer
          ELO II 
On The Third Day
Eldorado
Face The Music
A New World Record
Out Of The Blue
Discovery
Xanadu
Time
Secret Passages
Balance of Power
Electric Light Orchestra, Part 2
Moment of Truth
Zoom

The Lineup Card 1972-2001

Jeff Lynne (vocals, guitar) until 1986 also of the Move

Some of the more notable players in ELO were:

Roy Wood (vocals, guitar) until 1972, also of Wizzard and The Move

Bev Bevan (drums) also of Black Sabbath

Richard Tandy (keyboards)

Mike DeAlberquerque (bass) 1972-1974

Kelly Groucutt (bass) 1975-1983

Capn's Note: There's so many other people (hell, it was a frigging Orchestra), I'm not going to strain myself trying to name them all. There was also an ELO II starring most of the rhythm section (yet no Jeff Lynne) that toured and released records in the Nineties, but I'm not gonna name those ungrateful jerks either.

Electric Light Orchestra, or Emerson, Lynne, and Palmer, as it's otherwise known, started out on a very different path from the one that ended up bringing it all kinds of Top 40 hits and movies starring the ever-talented Olivia Newton John and mutinous rhythm sections and whatnot. Nah, ELO began life as a spinoff of the Move, an especially weird latter-day British Invasion/Mod band which contained songwriters Jeff Lynne and all-around bizarro Roy Wood. The original concept was Wood's, who wished for ELO to take over 'Where 'I Am The Walrus' Left Off', meaning psychedelic rock augmented by edumacated dudes playing French Horns and strings and shit. Now, this whole classical-rock fusion thing wasn't nothin' new (see 'Eleanor Rigby', the Moody Blues, and Keith Emerson for the whole story, if you think you can keep your lunch down whilst talking to Emerson) but the difference was that Lynne and Wood couldn't play like those classical folks could, so there wasn't any real danger of them becoming progressive rockers of any note. Nah, Lynne idolized the Beatles and wrote exceedingly catchy little pop-rock songs while Wood, well, once I figure out what Roy Wood was all about I'll be sure to clue you in. Let's just suffice it to say that you'll know a Roy Wood song when you hear one, because it's kind of like a Smiley Smile-era Brian Wilson song turned to the Dark Side and fleshed out to full length. Or maybe not...hell, the guy was only around for an album, so maybe I orta save my Roy Wood analysis for when I do a Wizzard page sometime in 2009.

When Wood and most of the band used on the debut album split camp in 1972 (consequently busting up the Move in the process), hairdo-casualty Jeff Lynne was left with the ELO name and enough songwriting talent to kill most rodents at half a mile range. He and drummer Bev Bevan recruited a new band and proceeded to make 70's FM radio their personal playground for the remainder of the decade. Lynne took his easy hooks and dull-yet engaging voice (think Roy Orbison crossed with John Lennon on 'ludes and you're close) and applied his personal take on the 'Orchestra' concept by backing every song with lots of ultra-tight strings. ELO then launched a series of extremely consistent albums (beginning with 1973's On The Third Day) that only abated with their unfortunate discovery of disco in 1979, a flirtation that drove away pretty much all of their rock fans with their collaboration on the 1980 disco-rollerskating Olivia Newton John flop film Xanadu (you know you're suffering artistically when you agree to split an album with Miss Fucking 'Physical', you know?). The band limped into the 1980's, where it fared artistically better than a lot of 70's dinosaurs because of it's futuristic, beat-heavy sound, but attracted less popular interest than a midnight double bill of Gigli and Battlefield Earth. Lynne then retired the ELO name in the late 1980's to concentrate on his increasingly lucrative job producing his former idols' comeback albums (George Harrison's Cloud Nine and Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever being two good examples.  Dude still shows up from time to time, cranking the drums to ridiculous volumes and compressing everything to a slick, crystal clear buzz, just like every album he's had his hands on since the Nixon administration...you could never claim that Lynne was fickle with his sound, that's for sure. He even Lynne-ified the reconstituted Beatles in the mid-1990's, converting Ringo Starr to Bev Bevan and no doubt realizing a dream he's had for at least three decades. 'Free as a Bird' was the best ELO song of 1995, fer chrissakes!) while a bunch of former 80's ELO sidemen (including Bevan) toured and recorded as ELO II. Lynne released a comeback with ELO in 2000 that generated a bit of interest, but it's still the hits collections Ole ELO and ELO's Greatest Hits that stir the bowl financially, dig?

Strangely enough, ELO gets lumped in not only with the art-rock Moody Blues crowd, which sorta kinda makes sense, what with the whole 'Orchestra' thing and all, but also as prog rockers, which absolutely does not. On their debut and parts of ELO II, the band does play around a bit with time signatures, and they flirted lightly with concept albums, sci-fi album covers (which looked like Boston's) and long tracks, but that's where the resemblance to Yes and Genesis and the others ends, absolutely. ELO in their mid-70's heyday resembled nothing more than a harder, more macho ABBA, writing deceptively simple pop, firmly grounded in Beatles chord sequences, that was miles away from the flashy soloing and twisted psychedelic-classical spewing of the prog crowd. Now, I'm not saying that ELO couldn't play...their live shows may have been rote and they seemed reluctant to solo, but they were as tight and creative in the studio as you can stand.

Lynne was a guy who took more than a few pages from the Beatles' How To book, and if the Beatles didn't do it (solo endlessly, shift time signatures every few nanoseconds), goshdarn it if ELO didn't do it either. They just added strings to everything, that's all. This understandably places quite a limitation on ELO's range of styles, so a lot of folks blast that all the ELO albums sound the same, and they all sound boring. I'll agree that Lynne pretty much kept ELO sounding just like itself right up until disco began to infect it in 1979, and if you're not paying attention this kind of processed, slick stuff gets mighty samey after awhile (unlike, say, ABBA, which was cool enough to give each album a singular identity). I'm also not convinced that a good hits collection (or, probably best of all, the Afterglow boxed set) isn't all you really need from these guys...they certainly never successfully put out 'albums' as discrete and whole ideas that defy separation. A random mixture of 10 ELO tracks from 1973 to 1977 would probably fool anyone not already familiar with their stuff. Not like they didn't try to tie things together into a nice album package ...they often put 'overtures' and 'preludes' and other shit on their records, in keeping with their orchestral pretense, but it takes some really inventive imagination by the listener to claim that Eldorado is really so different from A New World's Record or Out of the Blue. Of course, the albums may be better or worse than their predecessors, but their driving inspiration and core sound remains exactly the same. Only after their disastrous disco phase did they really adjust themselves noticeably, and still they're easily identifiable as ELO records! And those records pretty much suck, so why even try to fight the overwhelming urge to repeat yourself?

So ELO can be dull, and one album is pretty much interchangeable with the next, but them's some good songs out there. Jeff Lynne really is a master of catchy, memorable pop music (not to mention arranging and production) and hasn't really been given the credit he deserves. Anyone who rues the day the Beatles took up their toys and went their separate ways really owes it to themselves to at least give one or two ELO albums a try (I think their Greatest Hits is essential listening for any classic rock fan) before attempting to buy up all of Ringo's solo albums or any other equally moronic attempt to fix up on more of that Beatle melody magic.  

dver
Any Short Comments?: When you wrote that we should better buy an ELO "Best" you were pretty right. They (he) have done quite some very fine songs spread into all their albums though you can't tell which was made in 1973 and which in 1981 (well ok, Time is different). A lot of ELO songs are overproduced and it is hard for me to here a whole album relaxed. Too many sounds at the same time. Anyway, I went and bought the ones marked with your "A" but i did wrong. The Best (whichever) is the right choice. My problem with ELO is Bev or Jeff who wants this specific ball-breaking 2/4 drum sound in all their 50 albums! If you know about drums you ll agree that Bev is a bad (and unbellievably boring) drummer. They simply won't change that fucking repetitive drum sound and style for 30 years. What a pity for such good melodies.

In this album 'Sweet Talkin Woman' is just AMAZING. Sweet is the night is also one of my favorites. The rest, I don't remember. Ok and turn to stone.

ELO: Very good singles, overproduced albums, irritating drumming.


No Answer - Jet 1972

ELO's debut, lotsa people like to say, is the only one that matters. A lot of people say a lot of stuff, like saying Budweiser beer tastes good, or how network television doesn't suck big hairy ass, or voting Republican is cool, that I unequivocally disagree with. This is one of those instances. This is the Roy Wood ELO, the Move side project, with which Jeff Lynne was simply an equitable partner and not the dominant puppet-master figure he'd later become. Well, strife is eminent, because Wood and Lynne are pretty dissimilar songwriters and, judging by their image, they're radically different as people, too. Lynne is the cool, laid back craftsman, unafraid of commercialism, and Wood is the freaky, ironic experimentalist always sticking pointy edges on everything like his name was Ginsu or something. As Wood seems to be the driving force behind much of this album, possibly only because his vision is so totally distinctive from Lynne's, it's almost impossible to compare this with what followed. This ELO prided itself on pro-level complication and atmospherics rather than melodies and hooks (though Lynne makes sure some melodies and hooks find themselves onto the record, as I've heard he goes into insulin shock and starts convulsing if the music becomes too weird) a rather different interpretation of 'classical rock' than Lynne's often insular Chuck Berry-with-strings approach. In fact, the band here included only a French horn player (there's lots of moments that remind me of Tommy-era Who because of this guy) and a violinist. There's some more folks here and there, like an oboe and some cellos on 'Battle of Marston Moor', but they're not really primary players. They mostly just took these two guys and just overdubbed them to sound 'orchestral', which works surprisingly well when you're trying to make lines as elaborate as possible, but that's just about all it's good for. The musical passages here are, almost without exception, there only as window dressing to prop up the symphonic concept rather than to drive the songs along, flailing into nowhere for indeterminate lengths of time like on 'Battle' and the gross 'Manhattan Rumble (49th Street Mass)' instrumental. But for window dressing, it sure is prominent...oftentimes the symphonic stuff is all that's keeping the music going, making for a veritable black hole of demonic chamber-music over which our heroes sing in their most pop-psychedelic manner. Yup, in short, these guys attempt to prog it up, with all the baggage that comes with that, but it's not quite Yes or ELP they come up with, it's more like the Moody Blues in a bad mood. It's original, that's for sure, and this is the only album where it's readily available, so you can put this on your grocery list or delete it from your memory as you see fit.

The saving grace here, without which sitting through this album would be about as enjoyable as removing a tattoo with a belt sander, is the top-grade Beatleesque melodies which find their way onto about half the songs here. (Half...isn't that about what Lynne's songwriting contribution was? Heh...I'm sure Wood did some of the good work, but some of these songs have Lynne stamped all over them) The UK hit '10538 Overture', a neato cross between the Who at their most grandiose and Pink Floyd at their most animated, is by far the best track to be found. It's terrifying in its sweep, a sci-fi paranoia tale that intimates more than it actually reveals, and strikes me as the perfect theme song for George Lucas' student film THX-1138. 'Nellie Takes Her Bow', 'Queen of The Hours' and 'Mr. Radio' aren't nearly as thematically impressive, but they're sure great melodies that simply lack proper arrangements. 'Nellie' and 'Mr. Radio' both strike me as very much in line with the ELO sound as we're used to it, just with classical textures taking prominence over popular ones. 'Queen of the Hours' is very Brit-Invasion-y, very 1967, very Kinks.

But when they do 'compositions' rather than songs, like on *ugh* the 'Battle of Epping Forest', urm, I mean, 'The Battle for Naboo', this stuff is dreadful and unlistenable. They simply can't help their hooks from sounding Beatlesque, and similarly can't help their orchestral arrangements from sounding leaden and gloomy...they all are. It's as if to sound important, they have to make everything grey and bleak. That's fine on '10538 Overture', which can float on it's melody and lyics, but too much of this album sinks to the bottom faster than Jimmy Hoffa.

Capn's Final Word: A far out as they go, they're still tied down by some sort of invisible strings. If only they would've let their melodic sense run around freely a little more.

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Damien Griffen  dgriffen@arcom.com.au   Your Rating: B+
Any Short Comments?: It's funny reading the commentry on this, The author semms to bag most of the songs except 10538 Overture which was written by Jeff Lynne.He/she has also bagged "The Battle or Marleston Moor" written by Roy Wood. Prior to stating that this is the best song on this album, he/she has stated that Jeff Lynne was basically a Beatles nut (which he is) and that Roy Wood put out far better songs. Please make up your mind. Both are incredible artists and make sensational songs, but at that stage, the album was being made at the same stage as the last Move album and maybe. it was better that they both went their separate ways after. Sometimes it is easier to comment on what could have happened after than during. Otherwise, the album is not bad. Haqrd to compre it with anything else at the time because it was for the time incredibly inovative and very different, but it certainly paved the way for many other bands since.
 

Bryan Stone bnstone@ix.netcom.com  Your Rating: B-
Any Short Comments?: Well although it is not their best, there are some very good songs on this album.  The best one by far is First Movement/Jumpin' Biz, don't know why it was not mentioned here.What would have made this album better is the deleation of Battle of Marston Moor, and Manhattan Rumble (eagh!).Even better would be to have this rereleased in its entirety in Quad mode (Whisper in the Night is the Second best song on this album and is awsome in quad).


ELO II - Jet 1972.

ELO's transitional album, and unless you're the Beatles, (who somehow made Revolver into one of their best albums), your transitional albums are usually hell on the listener. Here, Lynne does the inadvisable: he attempts to emulate the sound of the debut even though pretty much the whole of the 'orchestra' left with Roy Wood and, more importantly, he has about as much knack for this kind of songwriting as George Bush has for not sounding like a nerve-deficient monkey while speaking in public. The opening 'In England Town (Boogie #2)' is a downright ripoff of '10538 Overture', but oh so much worse...Lynne howls into his distorted mic (lots of distorted and otherwise muddified vocals on these first two albums...it's like they're demoing a faulty Mr. Microphone or something!) as the band does its best to mock the heavy-prog symphonic tone of the first Orchestra but ends up just sounding cartoonish. And long...each song here is offensively, despicably long. As in averaging almost eight and a half minutes each. And it's not like we're in Yes territory, with a bazillion different riffs and passages and things which easily make a 30 minute song sound more like eight 4-minute ones, these songs are padded out and fattened up by inept soloing and repetition, repetition, repetition.

The big hit *chuckle chuckle* , no doubt in radically edited form, is *Ho! Ho!* 'Roll Over Beethoven', rendered in *HAW!!! HAWWW!!! HAWWW!!!* symphonized form *HUCKY HUCKY HUCKY HOOOOOO!!!!* with an except from Beethoven himself *he!*. A one-joke two-minute novelty song strapped to the table, zapped in the head with lightning bolts and given new life as a pop hit, stomping around the countryside destroying houses and raping the cattle for 8 minutes as the orchestra blares and Lynne makes like the Mad Professor on the vocals.  He makes the line 'Roll Over Beethoven' sound like he wants to end it with 'A Steamroller!' I think it's irretrievably stupid. The other three songs? Well, 'Mama' is a fairly good ballad ruined by it's excessive length, and 'From The Sun To The World' may have a few nice moments, but it's a temporary thing, and the endless 'Kuiama' sucks all the life out of its little melody as it limps to the conclusion. Ugh...more of that over-heavy No Answer bullshit, the part without the cool melodies, but this time Lynne sounds absolutely unsure of what he's trying to say...all I get from II is confusion, a sad and disturbed feeling that I've just sat in something gross (or, rather, sat through something gross). This album really marks the death of the 'Symphonic Rock' concept of ELO, and not a moment too soon. This would be the last time in which the orchestral side smothers the life out of the pop side.

Capn's Final Word: Yick! Lynne is anything but a stern-faced progger. A stern-faced popster, maybe. Any who said he could go on for so long?

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Bryan Stone     Your Rating: C
Any Short Comments?: Yea, a bit confusing, but with all due respect, Mama, and Kuiama are the best songs on this one.  ROB is great but does not stand up too those two.

But Jeff and the boys were still young...

Joe     Your Rating: B-
Any Short Comments?: Some great tunes here. Just dragged out too long. I also love Kiuami's ending.

Clark Ray     Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: Personally this is the album that I pull out when I want to hear the REAL ELO.  It's odd for me to hear about people thinking these songs are too long.  They seem the right length to me but then I've also been listening to this album since 1979 when I was 8.  I basically grew up on it.  There's an absolutely fantastic remaster 2 CD set of this available that improves and clears up the sound quality to such an extent that you can hear the bows scraping across the cellos and you'll hear electric bass parts that were buried under blankets in the early CD versions.  Anyway, this album is almost perfect to me.  The jewel is "Kuiama" which is emotionally striking.


On The Third Day - Jet 1973

On the third day, Lynne stopped fucking about trying to make himself something he's not and created an album based more on pop hooks than bogus symphonic passages, and stopped including so many bogus symphonic passages and started coming up with more cool ones. This is where his personal interpretation of the orchestral-rock concept begins to shape up, where the orchestra (still just a few guys overdubbed all to bananas) has about as important a role as, say, the guitars, but no longer takes the rest of the band hostage and flies all over frig while the melody gets neglected and the song crumbles into a pile of ashes. On here, the orchestra is reliably there to add thickness and (Good God What a Concept!) drive the melody along.  Never before has the orchestra done anything but interfere, but here it's integrated perfectly, and in a very satisfying way. I suppose Third Day is still more progressively-oriented than the remainder of their output through the Seventies, but this is the inauguration of the Cult of the Beatle-hooked, Big Drummed, Thick'n'Slick ELO, taking itself more lightly and letting some sun shine on the rest of us, as well.

The last vestige of the old doom 'n' gloom is a cover of Grieg's 'In The Hall Of The Mountain King' done King Crimson-'Mars'-style, metallizing a classic but leaving the notes and the intent alone. It works like almost nothing on the first two albums has...taking a rock approach to classical music rather than making rock musicians play like classical ones or forcing classical instruments to play heavy and stupid. Despite some cool noisy bullshit from the likes of ELP, it seems like the only equation that really works, now that I really consider it. But as soon as it's perfected it's abandoned, and from here on out ELO would concentrate on improving its own sound rather than attempting to reform classical music.  

Rather, the band indulges itself in a little nice art rock that fails to push many boundaries but still clicks darn well. The opening 'Ocean Breakup - King of the Universe' threatens pretension ala 'England Town', but wisely breaks into a gorgeous soundtrack-y melody after a minute or so, somehow becoming a gorgeous mid-tempo praise of the sunrise. 'New World Rising' and 'Daybreak' live in harder territory, driven by synths but never really losing sight of their melodic backing through whatever sawing dynamic waves get broken over their bow. 'Dreaming of 4000' isn't so well-developed, ending up sounding more like Kansas in places than is otherwise recommended for good health. Lynne isn't able to fill up every second with great melodies, and he runs dry about 75% of the way through Third Day, but we can see the progression, and the future looks bright.

And when you have great little pop seedlings like the sneaky rocker 'Showdown', the fullblast firehose 'Ma-Ma-Ma Belle', not to mention the witheringly awesome 'Bluebird Is Dead', the future is all but assured. 'Ma-Ma-Ma' (sounds like Katia) is by far the hardest-rocking territory explored so far, sort of like BTO or Foghat with strings. Just a fantastically catchy stomper featuring T. Rex's Marc Bolan on second lead guitar (the guitar sound here is huge, like the entire glam-rock movement recorded an overdub at one time or another), it keeps it simple and tosses a winner. 'Showdown' is slower, more soulful, but still possesses a funky resilience that reminds me of Steely Dan's best work. Great musicians are no better than when it seems like they're only using half of their effort and are still blowing you away...this is ELO described to a tee. They may be simple pop songs, but they do everything they're intended to do, and never lose their cool. It's hard to believe what a complete turnaround this is for a band that could easily have been abandoned as lunk-headed proggers after their second album.

The best track, though, is 'Bluebird Is Dead', which sounds like John Lennon's lost sequel to 'Imagine' (Jeff Lynne's Beatle vocal impression is creepily apt. You can't place whether it's John or George he's closest to, it's like a computerized synthesis of the two.) based on light psychedelic atmospherics and a very deliberate melody that is both bitter and sweet, hell, just like the best post-Ono Band John Lennon solo material! Lynne's either brilliantly ripping off, or just brilliantly emulating, the Beatle creativity here, but whatever it is, it's brilliant.

Capn's Final Word: Shockingly good after such abject failure. I think I was even surprised at the quickness at which his vision matured. And just a little proggy for the pinheads.

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Bryan Stone     Your Rating: B+
Any Short Comments?: Jeff got better here.  Not my fav, but deffinitly an improvement.  Bluebird is Dead, okay the best song, Showdown being the second, and incidently my first ELO song heard. Side note:  Why did you not review Their live album "The Night The Light Went On In Long Beach"?

Those performances from this album certainly rock!

(Capn's Response: I scratched my copy.  It's just okay, though...)


Eldorado - Jet 1974.

ELO, continuing to refine and sand down all the rough edges off its sound, returns the last of its records that could be said to include even a smidgeon of the ol' nasty prog madness of days of yore. Granted, this album has tons more in common with the Moody Blues (preposterous poetic intro and outro just like someone named Graeme, elegant balladry just like Justin Hayward, and lots of galloping metal guitars, screaming, lyrics about World War, and massive moles the size of crabapples just like Lemmy) than King Crimson or some such, but it's there: Jeff Lynne has wanted to make a Big Statement just like all of his friends had done, and while he was a few years late to the prom, he's gosh darn gonna do it, too. Some bullcrap about 'dreams coming true and something and something', which I'm (obviously) never quite clear on, and don't really care to dig deeply into, but that's it, we've stepped over the line and are now trodding on pretentious ground. Luckily for us, Lynne takes the 'dull but melodic' route rather than the 'bombastic and ugly as sin' route like on II. Yup...the middle part of this record is very pleasant about how it goes along, boring the living fuck out of me. But man...them ends....there's gold in them there ends.

Like 'Can't Get It Out Of My Head', probably the best melody ELO ever came up with, and...yup...you guessed it....catchy as hell. And sad, something about loss and picking up the pieces and whatnot as far as I can tell, sadder than this band had the capacity for a few years later. See, this early-to mid-period ELO, while they were still perfecting their shtick, was home to some of the more subtle and deep songwriting the band had to offer. Never again would Lynne be so vulnerable as he makes himself on 'Can't Get Barney Out of Fred', and it's definitely the highlight of Eldorado for me...whenever I think of this record I think of this song. And oral sex, but then again I think about oral sex pretty much when I think of any record, even my old Read 'n' Listen of Pinnochio. Probably especially then.

'Can't Get My Head Out Of It' is followed by 'Boy Blue', a bit on the pretentious side what with its Renaissance Faire (Where the Unshaven Go To Frolick!) intro and all, but it's just a catchy rock tune at heart. We end everything with by far the most bombastic track on the album (yet not the most boombastic track on the album, which is 'Bitch, Get That Gelatinous Booty Az Back On My Jock Before I Slap the Weave Out Your Hair'), the title track, which seems to be based around all of the most sleazy 'up with people' movie soundtrack climaxes ever made, with it's totally hilarious 'When I will stayyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!! I'll not be back! Eldo-ra-do' climaxy thing that's half Beatles and half fucking Robert Goulet and half whoever wrote the score to all those late 1930's movies with casts of thousands and more corn than an NU-Iowa tailgate party. But 'Eldorado' is also one of the most memorable, with lots of flotsam and sods flying about to keep your interest as Lynne goes through almost schizoid mood changes over the course of a single line. Great, great stuff, and unfortunately you're only going to hear stuff like that on this record...this is sort of a singularity within the ELO catalog, the place where the hopelessly bombastic and the fantastically overstuffed meet 'n' greet 'n' eat pigs in blankets while discussing politics.

 But, well there is the rest, and it's melodic, but I'm unimpressed as it seems to be not a lot more than just standardized ELO music without those generous hooks that get us through the darkness and the rain and all that other crap. Apparently this is the 'concept' of this album, something about dreams and whatnot, but it's hard to follow considering that the entire middle section of the album just seems to be about big, sweeping orchestra noises. I suppose this might represent 'having your dreams come true' or some other crapola, but I just don't got the time, man. 'Laredo Tornado' and 'Illusions In G Minor' are both goofy and often embarrassing, 'Mister Kingdom' is a bald rewrite of 'Across The Universe', only boring as fuck, and the other songs don't even warrant mention because I'm sick of trying to figure out what to say about them. The total effect of Eldorado is like experiencing a nice, sticky summer nap...refreshing, but maybe not the most exciting way to spend an hour.

Capn's Final Word: Ungh...too much thinking drives a good boy to write good art rock songs when I want him to write great pop songs. Flabby middle section, but good peaks at the ends.

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Bryan Stone    Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: Okay, now we have some odds here. This is the first of their great string of albums and deserves to be noted as such, dude.

Too many good songs to count, and no I'm not Bev Bevans.

Take a few listens in a nice quiet room, playing the Gold or Remastered version and you'll realize your mistake...


Face the Music - Jet 1975.

Yes! And I mean, Yes, 1983! ELO cuts the last of its attempts at pretension and big statements and just makes an album full of groovy songs. No overriding themes, no concepts, no puffy symphonic passages - nah, this is where ELO begins to hit hard, just a little shift of priority and instead of making well constructed, poppy art rock songs, we're making well-constructed, arty pop songs. Artiness seems to be best in either really big (true prog, Krautrock, psychedelia) or very small doses. Half-measures confound the pop fans and dissatisfy the prog fans. Lynne's found the balance on Face the Music, also the first album to actually feature an orchestra of several dozen performers instead of a quartet and acres and acres of overdubbed tape. This has made the string sections simpler but harder hitting, and it seems like Lynne's had more time to concentrate on making the songs better now that he isn't having to watch over a million viola overdubs.

Just because Face isn't conceptual doesn't mean it's sacrificed the scope and sweep of the best ELO work...the band simply hasn't made a better instrumental than the freak classic-rock radio hit 'Fire On High', continuing with the cool soundtrackiness of parts of Eldorado, this time with some Hitchcockian moaning and scraping to start things off, but the crashing, heavy symphony of it all is frigging awesome. It's like Victory At Sea! Instead of cruisers blowing all to fuck it's, say, Frankenstein or Jack the Ripper, or maybe a rabid Oprah Winfrey on a mad Otis Spunkmeyer hunt at 3 A.M.. Whatever it is, it's spare and wastes nothing...just symphonic enough, I'd say. 'Waterfall' is another snazzy solo Beatle soundalike, this time it's George circa 1970, complete with ringing slides and heartbreaking vibe. The sparky 'Nightrider' strikes me as being ultimately ABBA-esque, and 'Poker' rocks harder than anything since 'Ma-ma-ma Belle', kinda late-period Led Zeppelin crossed with glam rock, but with a symphony. Got that? Maybe we can just call it fucking awesome and be done with it. Is it so hard for me to admit that ELO created original rock music when so many others were incapable of doing it? I guess so...part of me, part of all of us, I'd say, has a hard time realizing, despite the orchestra, despite the Beatlisms, despite the bombast, how good ELO really is.

The two real hits are almost the worst songs on the album, overly simple tunes that use just the tiniest bit of the ELO sound to distinguish them from everyone else clogging up the AM charts back in 1975. 'Evil Woman' and 'Strange Magic' are both good songs, though, 'Evil' with this odd Philly soul thing and 'Strange Magic', umm....I hear John Lennon and even a bit of Pink Floyd, but I just hit a tab of windowpane, so don't trust me to park your car, man! What you are hearing is the new direction for ELO as the desire for hits becomes larger and the return on investment for tasty licks becomes less and less...all we need is a hook and a catchphrase, and you got yerself a hit, Sam! 'Strange Magic!' 'Evil Woman!' yeah! I can dig it, man. Two words, rolls right off the tongue. quite unlike 'Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey', which is just destined to suck ass. Not really. One of the multiple features of the Beatles that points to their very genius is the fact that they could make very improbable pop songs work....ELO isn't quite that bright.

For laughs we've got the country cowpoke parody 'Down Home Town', where Lynne twists his voice into something between Dylan and Ringo, and 'One Summer Dream', which has a melody that sounds just like Lennon's '#9 Dream' to me, but I don't care. If you're going to nick, nick from the best....everyone else's done it, they've just maybe chosen to blindly steal from poor black bluesmen rather than, you know, the richest and most popular rock musicians of all time, but there you go...

It isn't that Face the Music cuts the bullshit (it doesn't), it's that somehow the bullshit is perfumed and remodeled to appear like, you know, good stuff. Lynne definitely knows what he's doing and what direction he's heading, so it'll be interesting while his focus is still right on. It's clear that soon the pop will overtake the mixture altogether, and what is a perfect balance right now will become dilute and won't get anyone except for the freshmen girls drunk.

Capn's Final Word: Just enough spicy art in the mix keeps the pop shiny and the hooks sharp. Great balancing act here.

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Bryan Stone     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: No minuses here, and its 1975 not 1983.

Every song here is worthy of Golden stature, especially "One Summer Dream" which I think should have been released as a single first.

Jeff was getting better as the next album shows...


A New World Record - Jet 1976.

More hits? More hits! Even more slicked down and hooked up than even Face The Music, this one doesn't even have any instrumentals. This is now Rock Band with Orchestral Backing, and nothing more, but it was more or less like that last time, and hasn't been anything far different from that since frigging ELO II. Nah, I coulda just as easily said that New World Record is just as catchy if not more so, but I'm trying to tie all this in to this grand, overwhelming career arc for the band where the 'orchestral side' peaks early and the 'pop side' peaks about 1977, and somewhere in the middle the mix is perfect. Well, I'm not so sure that's really the case, since they went right on truckin' through the early and mid-80's and still had some decent hooks at that time. No orchestra, though, so maybe we'll just call the dropoff in pop quality a long tapering.

And all I'm really trying to say in the above paragraph is that ELO is at their absolute peak on New World Record, as they were on the previous record, so if you're looking for a place to start, this is probably it. This one has the cool 'Telephone Line', home to some of the most desolate and soulful moments in the ELO catalog (there's doo-wop, Lynne does a neato pleading vocal, and...damn, it's a song, Mick!) There's 'Rockaria', which is 'Roll Over Beethoven II', except funnier and more rocking (not to mention half as long)...to me, the rocking parts almost seem to be a rip on Southern Rock, and the opera sections seem to rip on, umm, everything the old ELO stood for, I'd say. The mondo hit 'normal song' was 'Livin' Thing', which improves on 'Evil Woman' and 'Strange Magic' from last time, but it still strikes me as being somewhat less than what ELO is truly capable of. 'It's a living thing....it's a terrible thing to lose' is a weak choral hook after the great build-in to the chorus, but the bridge 'If I could die...upon the stage...hey!' is fucking brilliant. 'Do Ya' is the rockin' dinosaur tune, sorta like 'Ma-Ma-Ma Belle' again, but more orchestral and fucking awesome. Hooks galore...when Lynne rocks, it's almost like a simulation rather than actually getting down, but he puts such effort into his hooks (the 'I...IIII...IIIIIIIIII NEVER SEEN NUTHIN LIKE YOU!!! part, the guitar slides, the legato lead guitar, the staccato strings that out-Quadrophenia the Who...man. I haven't listed this many hooks on a simple tune since I reviewed 'Dancin Queen') that it's impossible for me not to get swept along by his (feigned) enthusiasm. Oh, so maybe the other tracks on here are kinda filler-dillerish, I'm still impressed by 'em, too. The ending is bombastic and the female opera person is a ridiculous touch, but hey, trying that kinda stuff is what makes ELO different.

Capn's Final Word: Just a hair this side of pop in the pop/art equation, and even the filler is killer. ELO's shooting threes from 10 feet beyond the arc.

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Bryan Stone     Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: No ELO-ite should be without this masterpiece... ever!

This IMHO is where Jeff peaked, and this is where he should have stayed musically. Not one bad song on this one, not 'a one.

Personnaly, A++++
 

Clark Ray     Your Rating: B-
Any Short Comments?: Just a few.  It appears that maybe you didn't realize that "Do Ya" was an old Move hit that Lynne decided to cover because he felt the new ELO fans might want to hear it and the old fans might like to hear it AGAIN.  Anyway, this verison of it is more smooth than the Move's and is actually a bit better, as much as I hate to admit it (me being a big fan of the Move).  This album is ok.  I liked it a lot more as a pre-teen and teenager, but now in my 30s I find I really only like about half of it.  "So Fine", "Above The Clouds", "Mission", and "Shangri-la" are the ones I like.

Tom     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Brilliant. i could listen to this over and over again and not get bored....hooks galore

 


Out of the Blue - Jet 1977

Out of the Blue strikes me as nothing more than what happens on a regular basis here in the CD age - musicians realise that they have 70 whole minutes to fill with music, and, goshdarn it, they're gonna fill it all! Lynne never before felt the need to hoist a double-LP on us, but since he'd reached some sort of personal peak with New World Record (apparently the first record he really felt made the grade, from his own standpoint), no time was better than 1977 to seriously fill the people's brains with Electric Light and fill his own pockets with Green Paper. I can't really disagree with the decision from that standpoint...I mean, it wasn't like he'd decided to make ELO III and IV or anything, but more New World Record? Hell, bring it on! Just promise you'll keep the hooks and the wit just as sharp and make sure you wipe your feet before you bring your Whitefro in here!

Out of the Blue fails to deliver, but it fails in such a pleasant 'drowning in ELO' way that it almost seems perfectly acceptable. Lynne is still nothing if not listenable, and Out of the Blue is his most accessible to date. But after listening to the second half it really sinks in - this album has really no more great songs than New World Record had, and has a few that are seriously worse. This may be par for the course for most double LP's (you know, the whole 'coulda been a single LP and would've been twice as good' cliche) but the real problem lies with the good songs, rather than the bad ones. Even the best songs on Out of the Blue are thinner, less compelling, and have fewer cool little details than the best songs of the previous few albums...the idea tank is being bled dry. Nothing here reaches the rock-ass kicking of 'Do Ya', the soul-rending of 'Can't Get It Out Of My Head' or 'Showdown'...none of that. The best tracks on here, 'Mr. Blue Sky', 'Sweet Talkin Woman' and 'Turn To Stone', are at best, somewhere along the lines of 'Evil Woman'...good radio hits, but nothing to go kicking in your neighbor's mailbox about. He may have perfected his production technique...this album sounds flawless...but he's compressed a lot of the cool essence out of his songs. At least they still sound like ELO, and it all goes down easier than a $2 crack whore, so it's not like there are a lot of angry responses to this record. Its just meaningless, that's all...it contains no notes that push your envelope in any new or interesting ways, and so many of the songs sound so close to one another that, sheet, what's the point of discussing them at all? Even the instrumental ('The Whale') is all atmospheric whooshes and no concrete melodies. And this from the 'Fire On High' guy who could burn down the gambling house with nothing but a rock guitar and 75 friends playing a bunch of instruments? Psha!

Things get slightly more lame once Side 2 kicks off with the whole 'Concerto' business no one cares about, but like most of Lynne's post-II attempts at conceptualism, the theme is easily ignored. I actually didn't even know it was supposed to be a suite (I have this on MP3, so I don't have any cover notes to tell me otherwise) until someone told me about it. I thought it was just slightly more orchestrated than usual. In fact, it's not too hot melodically, but I could say that for a large chunk of the record. I dunno, I guess I object to Lynne making something called a 'Concerto' on general anti-pretension purposes, rather than any real criticism of the (admittedly boring) suite. Lynne in general seems to be indulging a certain anti-rock thing here...so much is so pleasantly unmelodic that I feel very little energy outside of all of the frigging hours he must've put down mixing and mastering the living pee-wad out of this. Sometimes, rarely, relying on your studio to inspire you makes for some great records, but a lot of the time you get pale, sweet-smelling crap like half of this record turned out as.

I can't even say I didn't see Out of the Blue coming...it just got here a little faster than I thought, and I never expected Jeff Lynne to go quite so vanilla white in quite so brief a time. Regardless, the main thing I want you to get from this review is not that Lynne created a bad album...he didn't. But he's just not challenging the likes of ABBA and Paul McCartney at their craft any longer, and while the 'ELO sound' remains intact, he's trying to make fewer and fewer things fit into it. A pleasant disappointment.

Capn's Final Word: The giant Simon game on the cover aside, this album is where all the gloss and glamour really belie a sad loss in the melody department, despite a general competence throughout. Making it a double probably exacerbated matters, but no one held a gun to Lynne's head to do it...

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Bryan Stone     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Just another EXCELLENT album from the boys, alas not as good as ANWR, but their second best hands down. Great concept album, this one deserved double album status.

However,
Jeff could have done without "The Whale".

Best Song: Big Wheels

Marco Zorich  sharko1105@comcast.net   Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: This is the best album any one person ever made. If you don't agree you do no know what your talking about. Shut your mouth and open tour friggin head and soul. Listen and learn. If that album does not move you than you must be.........................

(Capn's Response: Unwilling to accept an overlong show of mediocre competence as the Second Coming.  Guilty as charged, pal.  Oh, and who sez 'one person' made this album? There's probably a dozen people playing instruments at any one time. Open my head? I'll leave my brains in there where they belong, asswipe. )

Gavin Ewoldt     Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: The Out Of The Blue album is clearly Jeff Lynne's best work. Trademark production couldn't be any clearer. Lynne vocals were as crisp as ever while croning the Beatles-styled lyrics. Double album = double Lynne efforts and it all makes up for the least of mistakes here- if any....

 


Discovery - Jet 1979

Hrm, well now this was obvious. When your stock in trade is heavy drums and orchestras, and your recent album was mechanically pleasant, and the year is 1979, it'd take a dense friggin piece of driftwood not to make a disco record. And how hard was it? You make Bev Bevan hit that two/four bass drum and that chattery hi-hat in that certain black-person way, ask the orchestra to play cheap hits instead of actual melody lines, and sing falsetto like you've just slammed Mr. Potato Head in Mr. Studio Door. Which is a bit of a simplification, but so is playing disco, so we're fair, huh? I personally have nothing against disco music (nothing I don't also have against other white-dominated dance crazes like the twist, techno, New Romanticism, and the music of the Screaming Trees) as long as it's good and memorable and

 ....aaaahhhh! There we go! ELO's main problem is now it's dull, undifferentiated melodies, and it don't matter if you slap half a gallon of Liz Claiborne Extra Opaque Clown Makeup Wood-Look Spackle/Concealer ($49.99 an ounce at your local Nordstrom's) on her, if you're trying to take Janet Reno to the senior prom, you oughta expect some good-natured teasing, quickly followed by 100 heavily-armed ATF agents storming the building and burning it to the ground. You've still got an ugly date, and your melodies still suck, and it's only you, Jeff Lynne, that's gotta live with it. I guess the gooey melodic goodness of the '73-'76 period is long gone for good, but we've still got hooks to help us through the night, and there's enough fun on this record to keep my interest nearly throughout. The writing may be gauzy thin and the record may reward repeat listens about as much as a fire alarm, but for cheap laughs, it's pretty able as long as decent lyrics aren't a requirement. Lynne is still a lot more obsessed with production than songwriting, and the lyrics have dropped to simply silly levels.

Good tracks include the two openers, 'Shine A Little Love' and 'Confusion', the first being a disco booty-shake freakout coke-snort like you might expect, the latter being a roboto-voiced midtempo soulful thing which seems to ask, when the world is so darned nice, why do you have the right to be unhappy and ambivalent? Yeah, okay. I think Ian Curtis might want to have some words with you out in the hall, Jeff. The 'rocker' here is 'Don't Bring Me Down', yet another deconstruction of the boogie cliche, this time being more stupid and deconstructed than usual, and featuring the line 'You're looking good just like a snake in the grass', which I always like to end with the line 'Why not take your love and insert it in your rectum'. No one gets my jokes anymore...this song is goofy, goofy fun, and while it doesn't ever hit me like 'Do Ya' or 'Ma Belle' did in the ol' days, I still like them rockin tunes. It is a bit jarring how, after an album full of this nice bland disco/ballad stuff, they just launch into this moronorocker, it so totally doesn't fit. Adds a bit of interest, though.

The rest of the songs are, well, hit-and-miss filler, and no one does filler quite as safe and unremarkable as Jeff Lynne does. The unfortunately titled 'Ballad of Horace Wimp' is a stupid and uneventful story that seems to copy 'Ob-la-di Ob-la-da', but it does it in such a  useless, unentertaining way that I could also say it tries to copy my office Ficus plant, which is pretty uneventful itself. Except when it sprouts those pretty green iris-looking things full of 6-inch needles dripping poison that it uses to drop co-workers at 100 yards with during 'hunting season' as I like to call it. Most of the time, though, it's just a vegetable. Just like Horace, I'd say. 'Last Train To London' is more disco freakout for men who like to watch other men dance in stupid, Anglo-Saxon ways, 'Need Her Love', and 'Midnight Blue' are boring, agreeable ballads, and 'Wishing' is flatly soulful. Lynne has so perfected this no-risk policy regarding most of his songs that listening to albums from this period can actually convince you that they're good, until you pique your ears a little closer and realize that he's been coasting for the last 3 years. Again, this time the watchword is disco, and if this causes you pain, please keep looking and just grab 'Don't Bring Me Down' and 'Confusion' on a compilation somewhere. In fact, that's probably best for everyone.

Capn's Final Word:  The real problem is not disco. The real problem is writing songs simpler than the National Enquirer crossword puzzle.

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Xanadu - Jet 1980.

ELO somehow got wrangled into doing a soundtrack for a disco roller-skating movie starring Miss Plastic Fantastic Olivia Newton John, a person whose only claim to fame seems to be the appearance of her oddly-shaped asscheeks in their sheer, skin-tight black pants in the final scene of Grease. But even as the Sergeant Pepper movie bit into the choad with the force of a thousand angry schnauzers, pissing off Beatles fans and film-lovers in equal measure, producer Robert Greenwood still wanted to recreate the long musical green created by Grease and, particularly, Saturday Night Fever, and he somehow thought the best way to accomplish this was to make a kiddie fairy tale about a disco angel (Newton-John) who somehow comes down to bless this magical skating rink (The Flesh Pot) to protect it from an evil force (The Blue Meanies), but her ears grow too big (breasts) and she's whisked away to the magical land of Oz (LSD trip) where she's led into a room where three guys are sitting on swings around her with crotchless pants (Mary Poppins) while ELO songs get played in the background. And people think Glitter and Gigli were ego projects. Yarf! The only thing I remember about the movie is this completely preposterous animated sequence that looks like a cross between Fantasia, the freakout scene in 2001, and a Scooby Doo outtake. Regardless, the soundtrack album was one of the first records I ever heard, and one of the first albums I ever outright hated (along with ABBA Gold, but 'cmon...I was 4!). The album is split equally between Newton-John's whitebread bleating and ELO's slickodisco, with guest appearances by Cliff Richard(!) and the Tubes (who suck ass) duetting with Neutron Bomb on Side A. Allegedly ELO backs up John on everything but the ridiculous Tubes duet ('Dancing'), but that sounds about as true as President Bush saying he knows exactly where the Iraqi WMD are hidden. This is backed by the most faceless El Lay studio hacks if I'm a day old. I'm not gonna go into reviewing this part, mostly because this isn't much of an Olivia Newton John review page I've started here, and also because I can hardly stand anything on it other than the opening 'Magic', an inoffensive little AOR scrap that somehow got tapped as the big hit from the soundtrack, still showing up on lite-rock radio from time to time. The rest of this...eh, c'mon, you don't really want to have to stick your nose into 20-odd year old trash, do you? This stuff wasn't any good back then, why would it ever improve with age?

Anyway, the ELO side can't help but improve on the glitter-brained shit on the first side, and since the band only has a half a record to work with (and an entire year to come up with new material since Discovery), they come up with a pretty good series of songs in their new synthy-disco style. I mean, nothing to wizzle your nizzle over, but at least another pleasant group of songs that somewhat fit the whole hedonist/mystical/space cadet disco thing that the movie tried so hard to capture (but why? Man, by 1980, even the gay guys were ditching disco...talk about coming to the party late without bringing any beer!) Like 'I'm Alive', which is about as flaming homo-on-the-dancefloor as you can get, or 'The Fall', which, as far as I can tell, is 'I'm Alive' at half speed, both seem to embody the doofy 1979-80 vibe I remember as a kid. To have one run right after the other in the track listing? Pure balls, ladies and gentiles, pure balls. 'Don't Walk Away' was another hit you'll still encounter on the street now and again, but don't give him a dollar, no matter how much he begs. If you do, you'll never get rid of him trying to do the awful 'Can't Get It Out Of My Head' impression he does. The most pedestrian song is the title track, sung by Ms. Fig Newton, where the only thing that proves to me it's really ELO is the gated snap on the snare drum that indicates it has to be Bev Bevan. I guess the main hook is okay, but does it have to scream out 'WHITEBREAD' so much? Man, the reason why disco failed was that the black folks couldn't get into it. Any dance craze that black people don't cater to...man, keep me out. Some of the faux-sympho stuff can be catchy, but a lot of the time it sounds like frigging Barry Manilow with 2-4 bass drum kicks. ELO's take on disco may be a bit more interesting than that, but it still put them right up next to Rod Stewart on the Rock 'n' Rollers Enemies List of 1980. Luckily, Lynne pulled his hooter out of his blowfish and realized Disco was already dead long before they fucked up Comiskey Park with flying shards of vinyl shrapnel. The next bandwagon had already warmed up and was idling by the curb, and Lynne jumped right on.

Capn's Final Word: Soundtrack album featuring some of ELO's better songs of the time. Meaning not very good at all.

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Bryan Stone     Your Rating: B+
Any Short Comments?: Saddly they did not let Jeff have this one by himself.

ONJ?  Cliff Richards?

The TUBES!

The ELO half is the best stuff, and very good in my opinion.  I even thing Xanadu was worthy of ELO-ism.

But Jeff... Jeff... Jeff, you should have used this stuff on a seperate album.

 


Time - Jet 1981

Stupendous album. Time is Lynne's and ELO's last gasp of greatness in this world of ours, before they were destroyed by the very synth-pop that makes this album brilliant. Though some of the good ol' ELO trappings are still available (notably those choruses of Jeff Lynnes singing like marmots have begun nibbling on their thigh hairs, some synthesized string things, and, of course, that mock-symphonic pomp thing that pumped up their more 'classic' albums puffier than Lynne's Whitey-Fro), this is New Age ELO, taking the Buggles ('Yours Truly, 2095'), Roxy Music ('Ticket To The Moon')  and Gary Numan ('Another Heart Breaks') mixed with George Harrison and the Cars ('From The End Of The World'), and the operator's manuals from their Prophet 5's all to heart. While some of the sharper eardrums in the audience will still spot a few disco-ey beats, which was all but inevitable in 1981, I contend that this stuff is the result of a deft about-face. Lynne realised that Xanadu had painted him into a corner that would probably end up eating him alive off a silver platter, he wised up and went for what must've seemed like the best option to recreate the creative success he'd had in 1973...synth-rock was nothing if not the prog of the early 80's, wasn't it? But what matters is that Lynne puts more thought into Time than any album since New World Record, and the result is an album that not only flies the flag of some amazingly strong melodies, but also a compelling sci-fi thematic that saves the record from ever being boring. Lynne's ironic, witty take on the future days may not necessarily cause fever dream-hallucinations like Yes, but it's sure a lot more interesting to follow. From the isolation threat of 'Ticket To The Moon' (another 'Can't Get It Out Of My Head' rewrite, but a great one), through the effective synth minimalism of 'Another Heart Breaks' to the hilarious and off-putting 'Here Is The News', Lynne puts a lot more humanism into his futurist vision than corresponding Alan Parsons Projects, Asias, Utopias who were exploring similar territory in the early 1980's. Where else would you hear the lines 'She does everything you do, but she's an IBM' in such dorky territory as an aging progger's 1981 record? It also helps that Lynne's Beatlevision Satellite Melody Reception Disc was working 25 hours a day, eight days a week...it was getting some snow for a few year, but these songs crackle with energy and inventiveness. Jeff Lynne's not only rescued his band, I think he's injected something very interesting into both art-rock and synth-rock both. Nice trick.

Musically, calling this all synth-pop would be a big mistake. There's large flashes of Lynne's late-80's obsession with futurist-retro doo-wop and 50's rock, like 'The Way Life's Meant to Be', which would've sounded perfect on New World Record, 'Rain Is Falling', which could've been on just about anything Lynne's ever put out except for that one synth playing horn lines way back there, and the soul shoop shoop of 'The Lights Go Down', which beats the holy hand lotion out of the sort of coked-up retro bull that the Honeydrippers made millions out of a couple of years later. It's possible that Lynne was busily exploring two facets of 'time', the 50's and the 80's, and how they relate to his own band - his firmly grounded Beatle rock side and his experimental sympho/syntho side. Yeah, there's a concept here, with another intro/outro just like Eldorado, but at least this time he holds to it as far as the sci-fi thematics go. 

All in all, I'm as impressed by Time as I am by any ELO album, and I enjoy listening to it at least as much as any others. While it seems to lack a power hitter hit single, the album tracks are almost all strong. Time's a bit goofy, a bit over-synthy in places, perhaps, but it's an excellent album. Dare I say? One of the best albums of 1981.

Capn's Final Word: A last gasp? Time blows out all of Lynne's remaining prog-pop dreams and points the way towards a retro future for Lynne and ourselves. It's a catchy, groovy, sci-fi hoot.

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Bryan Stone     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: I agree on much of what is said here.  Time was the last flash of JL's greatness, and Kelly reeally should have listened to him about this one.

They were a dynamic team, saddly Jeff liked the limelight and if he had shared on this one, it would have done a lot better.

Still, impressionable and worth the bucks.

Best song:  Your's Truely, 2095

 


Secret Messages - Jet 1983

Uh Oh, better get Maaco, 'cos this album 'll suck the finish clean off your car from 30 paces. Lynne falls completely off the melodic high he'd been riding with Time (hell, with Xanadu, too) and produces an album so fundamentally boring as to be nearly nonexistent. This one netted only 'Rock 'n' Roll Is King' as a hit, fell off the charts quickly, and has since been left to the dustbin of history, and the dollar bin everywhere else. This record has all of the artificial musicianship of Time (syndrums, synorchestra, synsoul, synmelodies, syngroupies), but none of the heart, melodies, atmosphere, concept, wit, or big bowls of chocolate pudding. In short, whatever synth-rock pitfalls Time deftly avoided, this one drops into faster than a chicken nugget into Roseanne's dirty maw. And gets chewed up and swallowed and comes out the chubby end faster than you can say 'Rockaria!' The whole record has so few memorable sections that it flies by in seemingly half of its 46 minutes, blending in with the wallpaper and sliding past your memory cells as if coated in Teflon.

Pretty much all of the songs are about the same as one another, but I'd like to mention that the chorus to 'Loser Gone Wild' provokes mental pictures that are probably half influenced by Taxi Driver, half Chris Farley movies, and half Traci Lords' mid-80's porn output. Probably not what was intended, but with Lynne, who knows anymore? There's s'more of that retro stuff like from Time, but it's so 50's prefab and artificial that 'Rock 'n' Roll Is King' makes me lust after the days of 'Roll Over Beethoven', not to mention real-life no-kidding actual rockers like 'Ma-Ma-Ma Belle'. There's also a stretch, unequalled in the ELO catalog, of seven songs ('Bluebird' to 'Letter From Spain') without one single, lousy hook between them. That's worse than ELO II, friends! No, this album isn't particularly pretentious, but it's about as boring and repetitive as reading the entire works of Beetle Bailey. Not only that, but Secret Messages was the name of an Earth, Wind and Fire album from 1982, only a year before this scrap heap was released. And, if I may mention, another E-band with three words in the name. Lynne's now so lazy as to not even change record racks when he rips someone off!

Capn's Final Word: 70% sounds like itself. 30% is failed 'experimentation'. The remaining part is pretty good.

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Bryan Stone     Your Rating: B-
Any Short Comments?: There are actually two grades here, folks.

B- for the release those pirates at Sony let out, and A for what could have been a great double album.

As for the blasphemy the good ol'Capn is spouting, shame on you, man.

Jeff wanted a double album, had all, well most of the songs done, linked, and then the heads at Sony were absormed by Chicophobe who totaly failed to recognize this one had potental. Scrapping a double album into a single will kill any musicians day, and yes, Jeff did his best.  He did say he was longing for another venu and lost some interest in the group, but still he has very good pieces on this album!

P.S. where is the review of Kelly's solo album that came out before this one in 82'?

 

Dominic      Your Rating: C
Any Short Comments?: i've never listened to the album but know the singles, and i think it's a shame you didn't speak up about 4 little diamonds, sure not their best, but i think it's the best thing they did post-77.

 


Balance of Power - Epic 1986

Silly, light as a feather, and bouncier than an Enron 401(k) check, Balance of Power would be an abomination if Secret Messages hadn't already taken the honors. In comparison with that glue horse, this is a downright thoroughbred. Er...maybe a decent plow horse, but a good-natured one. This is, if anything, even more synthetic than previous, if that's possible. No sound on this record sound like it was ever created by anything not directly married to a microchip, so the whole 'Orchestra' thing is just that more obsolete. Not that Lynne's cared since, like, 1979, but it'd be nice if he'd at least acknowledge the idea that got him this far. But he's not gonna, and to be completely sure and honest with my audience, I'm glad he's forgotten all about that pomp and circumcision stuff. I'd hate to think what kind of spew he'd be ralphing up in 1986 if a whole horde of string musicians were in the studio with him. If you give him Bev Bevan and Richard Tandy (yup, he had only two band members at this point. And three engineers and one producer. It took more guys to twiddle knobs than to actually make notes on this heap? That, to me, screams out 'bullshit!') and he comes up with a bunch of clean, uneventful pop tunes, some of which allegedly have melodies, that's probably all you should expect out of the guy in 1986. Hell, he should be elected King Heroin Drunken Master Surgeon General Secretary of Da Funk Emperor of the Planet for even coming out with a pseudo-listenable album in 1986, the worst year since 1960 for rock music. I mean, when your main competition is the Stones' Dirty Work, you don't necessarily have to be swinging for the fences, you know?

Songwise, this is another sickly consistent group, pale and hairless and with squinty, beady eyes because Lynne didn't love them enough to let them out to play and develop. But some of these genetic stunts stick around after the record stops its languid spin, like the doo-wop harmonies on 'So Serious' that seem to prefigure the George Harrison comeback record Lynne would helm the next year. To be sure, Harrison had more songwriting talent in his slide finger alone than Lynne had in his entire afro (though George failed to show much of it since, umm...1970!), so Cloud 9 seemed refreshing and effortless, while Balance of Power is contrived and lacks personality. 'Calling America' was the near-hit, and it's at least got some breath left in it, and 'Getting To The Point' is exactly what frigging David Gilmour's Pink Floyd was trying to sound like on Momentary Lapse Of Reason, and it wouldn't surprise me if he wasn't emulating it consciously. But Beatles emulations beat out second-hand Roger Waters emulations any day, and 'Point' is a nice little relaxing snooze on the floor. The rest of these songs...eh, well, I think you should probably know by now what a Lynne filler track sounds like (and if you've heard Secret Messages, I'm sure you've had multiple nightmares about them), and let me remind you that this is still synth-pop ELO with the drums all-echoing back and forth like they don't say Roland TB-808 on them, the synths cry and honk and sigh reservedly, Lynne cries and honks and sighs (all much more reservedly than the synths do) as 500 of himselfs sing along in the background. It won't cause you brain hemorrhaging or anything...again, this doesn't suck out loud, but sometimes being lulled into inaction and sloth by a bunch of half-written, slightly pompous synth-rock tunes feels infinitely more time-wasting.

Capn's Final Word: An improvement, but even less like ELO than ever. Lynne rightfully hung up the spurs after this faceless synth-rock outing hit bottom faster than Bill Clinton at the Playboy Mansion.

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Bryan Stone     Your Rating: C
Any Short Comments?: Ugh!

I must agree with some of the rehtoric our Cap'n spouts here.

Not one of Jeff's best outings, he did better with Armchair Theater four years later IMHO.

Still, there are some catchy tunes on this one, but the synth is evident, alas...

 


Electric Light Orchestra Part 2 - Scotti Bros. 1990

Because not all reviews have to be long, don't buy this album. This is a bunch of former ELO sidemen led by drummer Bev Bevan who've stolen the name of ELO, but nothing else. Oh, there's a stray violin line here and there and the singer, Neil Lockwood, sounds oddly familiar (no doubt sung some backup vocals somewhere...his bio said he was 'associated with' the first ELO, but I can't figure out what album he was on), but this is nothing like Jeff Lynne's ELO in any other way. For one thing, Lynne never wrote mid-tempo cock rock straight out of Loverboy like 'Every Night', and no matter how lame the last few ELO albums were, he never sank to the disco/new age of 'Thousand Eyes', of which Air Supply should be mighty suspicious. This stuff is about as genuine as a back-alley Rolex...they're hacks and they know it. The songwriting, which by far is the worst thing about ELO Part II, is some of the most immature and amateurish I've ever had the poxy opportunity to rip out of my CD drive and fling against the nearest retaining wall. 'I have the love of a woman! Just for the love of a woman! Just for the looooooove! Of a woman!'...glad you could get your point across, Skippy, but you sound more like South Park's Mr. Garrison trying to convince everyone he's not gay while Mr. Stick goes up Mr. Bunghole. And each and every song has lines like this in it These men are not talented, are barely competent instrumentalists (even Bevan sounds emasculated without Lynne's drums-first production), and embarrass the hell out of me to even be this close to this kind of crud. Let me reiterate: 

Capn's Final Word: Do not. Buy. This Album.

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C     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: With Bev Bevan and Eric Troyer in the lead positions, ELO Part II has not only lived up to the great reputation of ELO but has also gone beyond it with this exquisitely written, produced, and performed cd.  This is a must buy for anyone interested in symphonic rock in the tradition of The Beatles, Queen, and ELO.

(Capn's Response: Wha? Is this the president of Scotti Brothers records or what? A 'must buy'? 'In the tradition of the Beatles?' Which Beatle? Billy Preston? Don't listen to this guy...this record blows.)

Bryan Stone     Your Rating: C-
Any Short Comments?: I bought it because I missed ELO

Don't regret it...

... okay sort'a, but I do like Heart of Hearts, and The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.

Other than that, an album to get if just to say you have them all.


 


Moment of Truth (as Electric Light Orchestra Part 2) - Edel 1994

No, this is much worse. If Electric-Like Orchestra at least had some minor, tenuous connection to the Lynne group in sound and personnel, this bunch of Bev Bevan-led idiots is just squatting on the name, both literally and figuratively.  The whole ELO Part II band (aside for a violinist and a tympani player or some shit) quit, so Bevan rounded up a bunch more no-names for another go-round at grinding the ELO name into the dirt while Lynne was off producing the Beatles and whatever. The closest parallels I can draw here is a cross between Michael Bolton and Survivor (or some idiotic Christian rock band like Petra or something...it's just that smarmy) but cheesier. There's simply no connection to anything ELO was ever about. No hooks here, no melodies, no orchestration besides the opening sympo-instrumental title track I actually sorta enjoy (otherwise, this'd get slapped with the F-bomb, pretty much unheard of for albums containing chords and singing)...nothing.  I'm only writing a review of these fools because I want to warn you that not only is this not ELO. it's not even ELO Part II!

And believe me when I say it...this is a hellish listening experience after that first track finished. This makes all those Eric Burdon and the Animals and 90's CSN albums I just finished with sound like London Calling. If you thought Styx were pompous, get a load of laugh-riots like 'The Fox' and 'One More Tomorrow', which somehow mix the worst fey effeminacy of the New Romantic movement with the most self-important tendencies of the prog movement in one, huge, stupid ball of goop. It's simply one offense after another, without one single shred of cool or talent or restraint or anything. And Jesus, they make this thing last forever. Why is it that whenever Swamp Things like ELO Part II deem necessary to torture us with a record album, they decide to make it at least an hour long? Is there really that much left unsaid after giving us 35? Do we need the extra half hour of glower? Oh my good God, I have to stop this review. Any more of this and it's going to ruin my day and my lunch. Don't stoop yourself so low as to pollute your eardrums with this horse-cud. One of the worst albums I've ever come across.

Capn's Final Word: A bobcat barfing. Rusty screws scraped against steel cooking pots. Your girlfriend breaking up with you..because she's in love with your mom.  Just a few of the sounds which are more appealing than listening to this record.

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C     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Moment of Truth is a phenomenal blend of the old ELO tradition with the new material.  I only wish the cd were longer.

(Capn's Response: Bev Bevan, is that you, you sly ol' dog?)

Bryan Stone     Your Rating: C-
Any Short Comments?: Horray!  Kelly's back and he's brought Mik with him!

AGuast!  What is this?  Okay, the album was not a top ten-er, but it was slightly better than the affore mentioned debacle.

Still, with a change of crew, this one does have it's bright moments.

Blue Violin: should have been longer and is the best cut off this one. Love or Money: just as close as these guys got to original ELO

I will say though, I bought the live One Night album when it was released.  Now in this double album the guys really rocked out and I enjoyed it a lot more than MOT.

Buy it only to have a complete set, listen to it only when you are desperate for a change.

And as for the Fox... well it was a nice jesture from Kelly, but not one of his stellar ideas.

Oh yes, I will say if you can get your hands on it, give the offshoot of this group: The Orchestra, 'No Rewind' a listen.  I think it is a better album by far.

 


Zoom - Epic 2001

Lynne's long-awaited return to the ELO name, after several years and two albums by his mutinous former sidemen under the name ELO II. Well, Jeff wouldn't have any more of that, so he reconvened himself and some of his best friends under the ELO name and reminded everyone who, exactly, was Pink. The funniest joke on here is that George Harrison provides his creamy slide guitar and Ringo Starr takes Bev Bevan's place (and Bev Bevan's sound) on the drums, thus finally bringing to reality John Lennon's old crack that if the Beatles had continued into the 1970's, they'd have ended up sounding like ELO. Now the Beatles are ELO. Of course, Lynne'd formed a tight connection to Harrison through his involvement with the Cloud 9 album in 1987 and the Traveling Wilburys a few years later, and Lynne pretty much Orchestrated the 'Free As A Bird' and 'Real Love' reunion singles in 1995, so it's not as weird as it might seem. Anyway, the old guys banded together to make, well, a cross between Out of the Blue (lots of mid-tempo rockers, a stupid flying saucer on the cover) and Balance of Power (bunches of synths and not a hint of real-life orchestras) that works fairly well within it's tight little definitions, but ultimately bores me just as much as the worst original ELO albums did. Zoom ends up being a very strange thing...it's obviously an Electric Light Orchestra album - the hooks come quick and easy, Lynne's voice is still flawlessly flat, and the songs have that slight added Beatles/classical pomp thing all dressed up in loving, crystalline production - but it's got all of the old ELO problems, too. When ELO isn't making singles, they're making filler, and this album has only two or three songs that would even be considered as possible singles, and two of them are both right at the top of the record. 'Alright' is 'Showdown's great-great-grandson, a fleet, toothy rocker that we haven't heard the likes of for a loooonnnggg time, and the gorgeous slow-roller 'Moment In Paradise' sounds more like classic George Harrison than the man himself. It kinda lacks a major hook, but the singing is fantastic and the rhythm section works it like a hot date. There's a certain something to these two songs, a little bit of added spirit that makes me think that maybe they'd had these knocking around among the three of them for a few years, but I could be wrong. The whole album does have a very friendly, fraternal vibe, and it's clear the band has a lot more synergy than the 80's ELO clan ended up with in 1986.

After this, the album follows the same general pattern: mid tempo rocker followed by slower-tempo soft rocker, and slowly lulls us off into ELO filler-land. Sure, there's a few bright spots, like the bridge to 'Just for Love' or the goony Chuck Berry-ish 'Easy Money', which, after 'Roll Over Beethoven' and 'Rockaria' is nice because of it's genuine lack of irony. The band just rocks, is all. I also love 'A Long Time Gone', which brings to mind CSN at their best (and not just because of the song title, neither). But the main fault of Zoom is that there's just no killers on it...I can appreciate the sweat and study that went into it, but there's nothing that places it any higher than MOR-nice on the Great Scale of Pop, which was a usual fault of the latter-day ELO anyway. Still, I'd rather hear the most faceless filler on Zoom than anything by the sequel-heads, and that's probably the only goal Lynne had in mind anyway. Mostly, I'd like Jeff Lynne to attempt to update the symphonic thing to the 90's - give us the choirs, the crashing strings, the drive that the old '73-'76 band had so much of. I guess we'll be fairly lucky if Lynne gives us more ELO at all.

Capn's Final Word: The return of the saucer and the return of Lynne, and while he 'n' the Beatles give it a grand shot, it needs the hits to do it right.

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Bryan Stone     Your Rating: B+
Any Short Comments?: I agree with da'capn on this one as well.

Jeff was back, had some great songs, but again Sony could not deliver with publicity and singles release. It should have been Moment In Paradise not Alright, which is the
weakest of the songs on this one.

A better choice might have been Melting in the Sun, the best song on this album.

Incidently, I don't know why U.S. Sony deleted Long Black Road from the American release.

And for Jeff, that mysterious Ordinary Dream rework certainly out did the original.  I have a copy, made a new version of Zoom with both on it, and it surely makes a world of difference.

Now Make peace with Kelly and Bev, get the rest of the guys back for a reunion album and lets hear some more great stuff...

 


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