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Old 10-17-2021, 06:43 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Trollheart's Album Discography Reviews: Electric Light Orchestra

The time seems right for this, as people are discussing it in its own thread, so here we go.

ELO, or the Electric Light Orchestra, were I believe the first band I truly got into. I came to them, of course, as most if not all of us did, through their hit singles, such as "Don't Bring Me Down" and "Mister Blue Sky", but once I bought Out of the Blue that was it: I was a fan for life. Still am, despite the band basically consisting of Jeff Lynne these days. Over their career they had some stellar albums and rarely put a foot wrong. Some real classics, but I'm going to kick this off with something not quite obscure, but not as well known as their most famous recordings.

Face the Music (1975)


Like I say, I was always a huge ELO fan, even long before I got my first record player (turntable to you, sonny!) and naturally once I did purchase that coveted item - even if it was powered by valves and got so hot it had to be switched off after every record, allowed cool down before being used again! - the albums of ELO were the first I bought. Discovery, A New World Record and of course Out of the Blue were the first ones I got, then for my birthday I was presented with a three-album box set which was comprised of El Dorado, On the Third Day and this one, three albums in chronological order. While I loved El Dorado (and still do) and was pretty meh about On the Third Day, this album initially scared me, believe it or not, from the first track. What an idiot! But to hear more and understand why it had that effect on me, read on.

This was the first album to gain substantial sales for the band, giving them their first platinum album, though it failed to chart. It did however yield a future classic in the single "Evil Woman", and was the first of their albums to feature new boys Kelly Groucutt on bass and Melvyn Gale on cello; they would remain with ELO up to 1983 in Groucutt's case and 1979 in Gale's. This album was also one of the only ones to feature a different lead vocal to that of Jeff Lynne, on "Poker", where Groucutt took the mike. Face the Music would pave the way for future chart successes A New World Record, Discovery and Out of the Blue, which throughout the later part of the seventies would give them their biggest hit singles and their first number one album.

So why was I so scared of it? Well, not scared really but uneasy. I've always been averse to horror movies, the more psychological the horror the worse it affects me, and the opener on this album, "Fire On High", is created with that idea in mind; essentially I believe it's meant to conjure up images of Hell. It starts with wailing voices, spooky piano and then ghostly violin, with a backward-masked track saying what I thought at the time was "Damn you! Damn you!" What it actually says is "Music is reversible. Time is not. Turn back. Turn back." But with the moaning and the weird sound of a backwards voice it comes across as pretty frightening. Well, it did to me. The whole thing then sounds like the soundtrack to a horror movie, with wails, screams, the sound of echoing footsteps, whips, an angelic choir... sensory overload for me. Add to this the devilish violins and cellos and it just all sounds like something out of Dante. Until that is the guitar comes in alongside soft strings and Ben Bevan's pounding drums, and a melody of sorts finally gets going, the "scary sounds" fading out in the background.

A Spanish guitar then gets going as the thing takes off in a sort of flamenco style, the melody clearly established now, and the second half of the piece, all instrumental, is much more recognisable as music. Celestial strings merge with soaring electric guitar and thumping percussion and it slows down on the back of gentle falling guitar with choral voices raised, then it all ends in a big finish on that Spanish guitar and violins. After such an ambitious piece - and quite brave to start the album off with that - "Waterfall" is much more accessible. A slow, soft ballad with lovely guitar and strong strings section whereafter we first hear the voice of Jeff Lynne backed by Richard Tandy's solo piano, until the heavy percussion cuts in and the song takes off, one of ELO's many lovely ballads. It showcases the undeniable vocal talents of Lynne, who would of course go on to be identified as the voice of ELO on such hits as "Mister Blue Sky", "Don't Bring Me Down" and "Last Train to London". It also highlights his spectacular songwriting ability - every song here is written and composed by him, and to write two tracks as poles apart as "Fire On High" and "Waterfall" is no mean feat.

Eight tracks may seem like very poor value for money, but this was the age of vinyl, and most artists would only be able to fit four tracks per side onto their albums; if more were required you'd be looking at a double, as in the case of the later Out of the Blue. Double albums were more expensive of course, so hard-pressed record buyers might baulk at shelling out. The big hit is up next, and "Evil Woman" is a real mid-paced rocker with some great piano, and in fact was ELO's first hit on both sides of the Atlantic, hitting the top ten on both the US and the UK. As a song, it tends to rely more on guitar and piano than later songs which would utilise the whole string section of the orchestra, as it were, though the violins and cellos are in there. It's also the first song on the album to feature female backing vocals, perhaps odd given the title? "Nightrider" starts off with a solo violin piece and Lynne singing the vocal, a little bass then Bev Bevan's drums thunder in and the rest of the band comes in on the back of that for the chorus. It's a powerful, driving song, with some lovely orchestral passages and great drumming from Bevan.

As I mentioned, the only song on the album to feature vocals other than those of Jeff Lynne is "Poker", a song about, well, poker, with a great snarling guitar intro and it's the closest to hard rock on the album, almost recalling the later Meat Loaf's "Dead ringer for love" in places. With a fast-flowing keyboard from Tandy and indeed a rapid-fire vocal delivery from Kelly Groucutt it's a little different to the ELO I had come to know and love, and took a little getting used to but now it's a favourite of mine. A slow piece in the middle only accentuates and throws into sharp relief the returning almost-metal guitar that takes the song to its conclusion. Hey! ELO could rock, ya know? A big orchestral intro then, in contrast, to "Strange Magic", but it fades out and is replaced by a high-pitched guitar, the song another ballad, with Lynne back on vocals, and this time Richard Tandy on guitar.

For me, the low point of the album, if it has one, comes with "Down Home Town", which is basically a country jamboree with a weird vocal opening and then violins and heavy drumming with folky guitar taking the melody almost like a banjo. They even throw in a Dixieland line! It's interesting I guess but it was always a track I skipped when playing the album, and moved on to the closer, the beautiful, lazy "One Summer Dream", with its soft cello opening and wistful vocal from Lynne, then joined by chingling guitar and measured drumming with a kind of echoing effect running through it. It's another fine example of just how excellent a ballad Lynne could write, and it just sort of slides along like a river winding its way down a mountain, or a gentle breeze sailing over the land (both of which descriptions are I think in the lyric, so don't bother telling me). A soft backing vocal merges with some gentle violin and the last three minutes or so of the song are pretty much instrumental, with the exception of the singing of the title mostly, in a kind of fading echo as it winds towards its conclusion. Superb ending to an album which, while not at the top of my ELO list, is certainly one of their better ones.

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

If you put a gun to my head and threatened me to come up with my top three ELO albums they would almost certainly be Out of the Blue, El Dorado and one other, though I don't know which. Time? Secret Messages? A New World Record? Okay, okay! I'm thinking! It's not easy to concentrate with that thing in my face! Point is, I easily know my two favourite album from this band but the rest are generally all pretty much as good as one another, with the exception perhaps of On the Third Day and Balance of Power. But Face the Music, though it wouldn't come as I say high in that list, would be in the top ten certainly. An album with maybe one weak track is not to be sniffed at , and we are talking mid seventies here. At any rate, it was the one that more or less broke ELO, or led to them breaking commercially. The next one, A New World Record, would start a sequence of albums that would all hit the top ten on both sides of the water, and establish the Electric Light Orchestra as a household name and a constant presence in the charts.

I'm just glad I can finally listen to "Fire On High" without getting the heebie-jeebies any more!

Rating: 7.9/10
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Old 11-02-2021, 07:56 PM   #2 (permalink)
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A New World Record (1976)

Though they had had a hit in the US with “Can’t Get it Out of My Head” from their 1974 album El Dorado, most people back home still did not know who ELO were at this point. This album was the one to change all of that. It broke them commercially, giving them no less than four hit singles, taking the album itself into the top ten in both the UK and the USA, and selling over five million units in its first year of release. After this, nobody - whether they liked them or not - would be able to say “EL Who?” The album marks a move away from the more ponderous, classically-based compositions of previous efforts like Face the Music and On the Third Day, and looks more to the accessible, pop sensibilities of songs from El Dorado while yet keeping the strings, choir and orchestra very much to the forefront.

There’s a very clever double entendre in the album title. It is, for them, a new world record - their first album to chart properly and their first (but by no means last) to break the States, as well as their first recording to hit such a height in sales - but also it is, as the title track notes, the record of a new world, as we’ll, um, explore, when we get to that track. It kicks off though on “Tightrope”, with spacey sounds, almost like the opening to El Dorado, but which get louder and can now be made out to be the approach of a spacecraft, then dark strings and orchestra get going in what has become almost typical ELO style before a choir comes in and then, just when you think this is some sort of overture there’s a staggered descent on keys into rock and roll guitar and things get going. Lynne’s lyric could be characterising the fortunes of the band to date - “They say somedays you gonna win/ They say somedays you gonna lose/ I tell you I got news for you/ You losing all the time you never win.” Not true of this album, my son.

The easy-on-the-ear, catchy nature of Lynne’s latest work here is evident; these are pop songs, intended for radio and, hopefully, for the charts, which is where many of them are headed. There’s a great sense of exuberance and joy in this song, and it’s hard to stay still while listening to it. Some use of echoed vocals here, which would become another trademark of ELO, lots of “Whoo!” sounds and then we’re into a reprise of, if you like, the overture to the song, forming a kind of middle eighth with the choir before it goes right back to the guitar. Great opener, and it leads into the first hit single, and one of my favourites of theirs. Starting off with the sound of a touch-tone telephone, then ringing, Richard Tandy’s solid keyboard pours all over the track as “Telephone Line” gets going on Lynne’s lonely, all but mono speaking voice with the opening lines “Hello, how are you? Have you been all right/ Through all the lonely lonely night?” Almost a message to the fans who have waited so long for a breakthrough album, perhaps?

If you’re any fan at all, you’ll know this song, even if, like Bob, you hate it, and Lynne’s melancholic electric piano carries the first lines of the verse before the orchestra comes in and the chorus is a masterclass in vocal harmonies. There’s even some doo-wop in there for good measure. The chorus future references one of their later hits when he sings “Oh, oh, telephone line, give me some time/ I’m living in twilight. It’s not hard to envisage this being on the radio and climbing the charts, as indeed it was and it did, performing almost identically on both sides of the Atlantic, making it to number eight in the UK and one better in the USA. I must admit I’ve never been the biggest fan of “Rockaria!” but it delivers what it promises, an operatic aria opening the song before it kicks into a very Chuck Berry-like rock song as Lynne tries to convert an opera diva into a rock and roller. It’s a fun song I guess but it just has never done anything for me.

But who the hell cares about me? Another hit, it reached number nine in the UK, but seems to have passed over the heads of the Americans, who probably didn’t get it. Opera? You mean Star Wars? Great guitar work no doubt, and the orchestra really gets it on, the aria courtesy of Welsh soprano Mary Walsh, and in a sly nudge to the fans Lynne apparently left in the false start when she began singing before the music was ready. Quite endearing in a way; you can hear her go “oops!” The title track is up next, and here’s where the album title gets its double meaning. “Mission (A World Record)” is viewed from the standpoint of the crew of an alien ship who have come to monitor Earth - thus this being the record of a new world, to them - and opens with that spaceship sound again before it develops into what will be very familiar to anyone who’s heard “Ticket to the Moon” from the Time album, released 1981.

A simple piano line carries the tune until the chorus when it’s all hands on deck with some beautiful slide guitar and cello, the tone getting a little darker and almost Spanish in ways, or so it seems to me anyway. One thing I really love(d) about ELO was the fact that they knew not to overextend themselves, and here none of the songs run for over five minutes (well, the closer is five and a half) so you’re not listening to any epics and your attention rarely has time to wander. I wouldn’t say the title track is close to the best on the album, but it’s impressive, and when Lynne’s vocal gets ragged and emotional it’s very effective, almost lyrically a “Watcher of the Skies” in reverse. Sort of. First use on the album I think of the vocoder, which would become a regular weapon in ELO’s arsenal, and which they would help popularise in pop music.

“So Fine” has a sort of Beach Boys feel to it, very upbeat, very surf rock wedded to strings with a chunky guitar alongside sonorous cello and a simple idea in the lyric. Exceptionally catchy, more “woo-woo!” going on, a very simple chorus, perfect radio fare. No a hit single (not even a single) it features African tribal drumming in the midsection which is then joined by the orchestra, making it very sort of samba-flavoured, and it leads into another hit in “Livin’ Thing” which starts off with violin and trumpet and then gets going in another upbeat pop style, which gave them their highest chart placing at the time, reaching number four in the UK and hovering just outside the top ten in the States. More echoed vocal, and female backing vocals, another song that you kind of need to dance to.

A total contrast in the next two tracks: “Above the Clouds” features group vocals against rising strings in a sort of blues style. The song owes a lot to the Beatles, also the Beach Boys, with some very layered vocals, a short song, just over two minutes, and again foreshadowing a track on their next album with the lyric “You’d better believe me now. Just as you’re relaxing and closing your eyes to this though, sharp, nasty guitar kicks up upside the head and “Do Ya” is a hard, powerful, unapologetic re-working of one of the Move’s 1972 songs that just drags you all over the place with almost a sense of later Bryan Adams circa Reckless and some pretty spaced-out lyrics I must say. Lynne’s love of fifties and sixties rock and roll shines through on this song, something he would really never lose. The track however ends very similarly to how one of their biggest hits, “Mister Blue Sky” will do on the next album, a real orchestral ending.

You can catch your breath though, as the album ends on a slow luxuriant ballad, “Shangri-La” tidying up the room and ushering you quietly and gently out with some fine vocal harmonies again and a literal tribute to the Fab Four as Lynne sings “Faded like the Beatles on Hey Jude.” The orchestra comes into its own here, with some lovely work from the choir too, and as warned in the lyric, the song fades away, leaving you with a definite feeling of wanting more.

TRACK LISTING

Tightrope
Telephone Line
Rockaria!
Mission (A World Record)
So Fine
Livin’ Thing
Above the Clouds
Do Ya
Shangri-La

It’s hard in these times, when ELO have become a household name and their albums sell in the tens of millions of units, to understand that their rise to fame was so slow. It took five albums and four years before they finally made it. Once they did, of course, it wasn’t a one-hit breakthrough but an all-out assault on the charts. A New World Record would be followed by the massive Out of the Blue and finally a number one album in 1979’s Discovery. Hell, even when they teamed up with Olivia Newton-John they ended up getting two major hit singles, one of them hitting the top slot.

This was it. This was the big time. After a hard slog with carefully crafted but largely ignored albums, I suppose you could say ELO pandered to the masses and it paid off, but they kept their core principles of crossing pop and rock music with classical, and this remained their defining characteristic all through their career.

Rating: 8.8/10
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Old 11-10-2021, 04:46 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Evil Woman is an amazing song. Just a ****ing jam to have in the background. And Hold on Tight just gets you going. I almost always unintentionally start accelerating when I listen to it driving.
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Old 11-11-2021, 05:33 AM   #4 (permalink)
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I listened to the whole of A New World Record for the first time today. Of course I knew the hits, which comprise about half of it.

I found I liked the lesser known tracks better, especially "Above the Clouds".

Of the big hits, "Livin' Thing" is the best. I never liked "Telephone Line", with that corny ring tone that got old very quickly.
I do think that Out of the Blue was a step up, and probably has the best combination of songwriting quality and "accessibility".
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Old 03-04-2022, 02:50 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Note: Having seen an interview with him, it seems that perhaps I was a little harsh in my criticism here. The man obviously loves playing and writing music, and loves his fans. Nevertheless, it can't be denied that they came to his recent(ish) concerts not for his new material but for the classics they know and love.

Since this was written (August 2012) it appears he has realised the best way to showcase his "new" music is to use it as a supplement for his classic hits with the band. A recent show I watched had all the hits but only two songs off his new albums. I guess people like them okay, but as with most fans, what they really want is the songs they know, the songs they may have grown up on. It's hard to recapture that when the whole band is gone, so I think Lynne has got this through his head now, and things look relatively bright for the "new" ELO. As long as the classics are always played.




Zoom (2001)

You know when we say “so-and-so IS such-a-band”, like “Lemmy IS Motorhead” or “Freddie Mercury WAS Queen”? Well, it seems Jeff Lynne took that quite literally for this, ostensibly ELO's last ever album. With none of the previous members of the band playing on the album, bar the one track on which keyboardist Richard Tandy guests, this really became a case of “I don't need you! I don't need any of you!” but was to prove Lynne's overconfidence in his own popularity to be his undoing. The album failed to chart well, its two singles were released and quickly sunk from sight, and ELO fans did not take the album to their hearts.

Now, I'm a huge ELO fan. They, along with Genesis and Supertramp, were the first band I ever got seriously into, and I've remained a fan of their music. But their last “proper” album was fifteen years prior to this, and though it was okay, it wasn't as good as Secret Messages, and you have to go right back to 1981's Time for their last big hit singles. Not that that has ever bothered me - I follow many bands who have never even troubled the charts - but with a pedigree like ELO's, with twelve albums and almost thirty hit singles prior to this, you have to take their chart success into account, and really, the dying gasps of the band were heard on Balance of Power, which, while a good album, shows ELO a frail, former shadow of themselves.

So when Zoom hit the streets it seemed like there was life in the old dog yet, and I of course went out and bought it (this being in an era where you did rush out and buy records, not just download or order them online), eager to hear if they still “had it”. When I played it I did not realise it was only Jeff Lynne (I seldom used to read liner notes, unless I was trying to get a particular lyric or had some other reason to), and to his credit, that's a good thing, as this album does sound like the ELO of old. But it certainly didn't get him the resurgence of success with, and interest in the band he had founded back in the seventies, and a planned US tour had to be cancelled due to poor ticket sales. Well, would you pay to see a band, knowing only one member (maybe two) of the original lineup was going to be there?

But to the album. It starts off with a typical ELO mid-paced rocker with, it has to be said, some influences from those Traveling Wilburys leaking in. “Alright” is a good opener, quite standard rock but with the expected ELO backing vocals, however without the expected strings accompaniment which, quite literally, made the band their name back in the seventies and eighties. It's a foot tapper for sure, the only track on the album to feature Richard Tandy on keys, and therefore the only track on which any ELO member other than Lynne are involved. To be fair to Lynne, he's in perfect voice after a decade and a half of being “away” from the band, apart from his involvement with the aforementioned Wilburys and his one solo flop effort, Armchair Theatre. “Moment in Paradise” is far more of what we expect from ELO, lovely laidback ballad with soft piano melody, synth sounds and the beginnings of involvement for cello, with a really slick little guitar solo. There's the odd star appearance on the album, like Ringo, who guests here behind the drumkit, and his co-Beatle, George Harrison, elsewhere.

Lynne doesn't stretch anything here: the tracks generally bottom out at around three minutes each, a few shorter and one at four, though nothing longer. They benefit from this brevity, and “State of Mind”, with a riff totally robbed from “Pretty Woman” is a good rocker, with the old ELO backing vocals and some nice hard rock and roll guitar from Lynne, who plays everything from guitar to keyboards and cello, as well as singing and playing drums. You'd have to definitely consider Zoom his second solo album, though it does rely heavily both on the ELO name and sound, something he stayed away completely from on his solo debut, perhaps explaining why it was not such a good album. Playing to his strengths here, and using the ELO brand and fanbase in what amounts to an almost shameful degree, he continues with “Just for Love”, the first song that really sounds like the ELO of old.

Reminding me of songs off A New World Record, especially “Above the Clouds”, this is another lovely guitar-led ballad with great backing vocals by - guess who? Yeah, that's right, he even does his own backing vox on this album. With a lot of Beatles in it, this is definitely one of the better tracks, and the guitar line is very ELO, the drumming too. That could almost be Bev Bevan behind the kit, and it really is a pity Lynne didn't see fit, for whatever reason, to entice the rest of the boys back, as this could have been a really great comeback for ELO, but the “Jeff-Lynne-solo” aspect of it just seems to have turned people off. Perhaps had he released it under something like “Jeff Lynne's ELO*” they might have looked more kindly on the project, but the fact that Lynne was essentially trying to say this is ELO when it patently was only him I think got up people's noses.

Such a pity though, as it really is a fine album, and should have done much better. “Stranger On a Quiet Street” recalls the best from Secret Messages, with some great funky keyboard work and some sharp guitar, while the cellos really come into their own on the almost forties-style “In My Own Time”, another ballad with more great backing vocals. You could see Lynne onstage (had the tour gone ahead) in a tux playing the cello while behind him a choir backed him, and it could have been great. But the next track, whether intentionally or not, betrays what many may have believed he was up to, and while “Easy Money” is an uptempo blues rocker very much in the style of Dave Edmunds or even Chuck Berry, with Ringo bashing out the drums in obvious delight, the subject is too close to people's suspicions I would think, the reason why so many believed Lynne came “out of retirement” as it were, and tried to bring ELO the brand with him.

The lyric actually contains perhaps a satirical jab at his own intentions, when he sings ”Some people never learn/ To stop when they've had enough.” I'm sure he wasn't that sure of himself that he could put that into the lyric and realise it could refer to him, but it's pretty much a damning indictment of his efforts to flog the dead horse a little more. Talk about getting your (easy) money's worth! The next track could also be said to refer back to this, and “It Really Doesn't Matter” is a good mid-paced rocker, with some great feedback/echo guitar and a really nice hook. That's the annoying thing about this album: it's really quite good, in places excellent. Handled properly, as a reunion album and tour, with the full band, it could have been huge. Now perhaps Lynne tried and failed to get the guys back together, but I see no evidence of that anywhere, so you're left with the inescapable conclusion that he must have thought he could go it alone and didn't need the band. People would still come and see “ELO”, as he was ELO, and ELO was him. But that's not how people saw it. Not at all.

And so a great album got given short shrift by the record-buying public and by ELO fans, and they really missed out, as there isn't really a bad track on this album at all. “Ordinary Dream” is again a Beatles-sounding ballad, with some beautiful strings and nice piano, a lot of the old ELO in this, recalling something of “One Summer Dream” from the Face the Music album, way back in 1975, and a great little guitar solo at the end, then “A Long Time Gone” is very Tom Petty influenced, and features some superb slide guitar from George Harrison, another sumptuous ballad while “Melting in the Sun” is a more uptempo rocker, again with Wilburys edges and Petty sounds, which helps to make it next to impossible to pick a standout track from this album. There are certainly no bad ones, and I would go so far as to say it was the best quote ELO unquote album since Secret Messages - certainly it's streets ahead of Balance of Power.

Harrison is back then on slide for “All She Wanted”, a rock and roll/blues thumper, sort of like a slowed down version of “Four Little Diamonds” off Secret Messages, and the album closes on “Lonesome Lullaby”, the longest track at just seconds over four minutes, with a big feedback guitar opening, then heavy drumming and accompanying guitar. With a title like this you would expect it to be another ballad, but Lynne pulls one more surprise out of his bag of tricks and the closer is in fact a mid-paced rocker with some balladic overtones, and a very satisfying finale.

I was more than surprised, impressed and happy with the quality of Zoom, and to be honest, it didn't bother me that much that it was only Jeff Lynne - though I did feel a small sense of being cheated: the album should have made this clear on the case I think - but this obviously figured in the decision of a lot of other people not to buy it. It's such a missed opportunity, as the writing is top-class, as you would expect, the playing excellent, even if it is Lynne more or less solo, and this should have been, and could have been, a massively powerful swansong for ELO, or even a rebirth.

As it is, it would appear the ego of one man got in the way of signing off a band which had given millions pleasure for decades, and now, instead of being happy and content with this album, most people probably feel cheated, and just a little bit taken for a ride. Sad.

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

* This is now the name he goes under

Rating: 7.8/10
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Old 03-04-2022, 05:39 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Just a fun bit of useless trivia.

The ELO logo is based on the Wurlitzer 4008 wall speaker that was used for jukeboxes.



Pretty cool.

Anyway I enjoy your reviews Trollheart so keep up the good work and btw if you give my favorite ELO album Out of the Blue a low rating I will disown you k thx.
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Old 03-07-2022, 09:57 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Queen Boo View Post
Just a fun bit of useless trivia.

The ELO logo is based on the Wurlitzer 4008 wall speaker that was used for jukeboxes.



Pretty cool.

Anyway I enjoy your reviews Trollheart so keep up the good work and btw if you give my favorite ELO album Out of the Blue a low rating I will disown you k thx.
That's about as likely as my getting a girlfriend. It was one of the first albums I owned and I love it.
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Old 05-14-2022, 09:14 AM   #8 (permalink)
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and here it is. This was originally reviewed by me in the first few weeks of my re-joining the forum, way back in 2011.




Out of the Blue (1977)

One of the first albums I ever owned, Out of the Blue was a huge success when it was released, garnering five hit singles from the double album, the most famous of which of course is the almost-chart-topping “Mr. Blue Sky”. The album was composed entirely by founder member and creative force Jeff Lynne, was their seventh studio release and marked the end of their proper progressive rock and orchestral leanings which had been evidenced on earlier albums like El Dorado and Face the Music. The next album, another huge success, Discovery, took the band in a whole new direction, so in many ways Out of the Blue marks the end of a particular period in the band's history, and a subtle sea change in their musical aspirations.

Odd, really, when you think about it. This was their most successful album to date, and yet two years later ELO would release Discovery, a total departure from the sort of music featured here - while still retaining the classic ELO sound - which would go on to spawn yet more hit singles! You would think the old adage “If it ain't broke don't fix it” would apply, and yet that's exactly what they did. They had a hugely successful album, hit singles aplenty, and then they went and changed their direction for the next album, and THAT ended up being mega-successful, too! Could these boys do no wrong?

But to concentrate on this album, which starts off with a fade-in to the first track, a fast, boppy and very commercial number, “Turn to Stone” was the first single released from the album, and features the by-then famous multi-vocals that were the trademark of ELO. “It's Over” is a sparse, tense ballad, equating a love affair with the passage of summer - feeding in almost instantly to the overall theme of side three of the album, the weather. It begins with the end section of “Mr. Blue Sky”, again from side three, and it runs into the next single, “Sweet Talkin' Woman”, introduced on a violin opening before it takes off as a poppy and commercial song, perhaps continuing to explore the theme of the previous song, as Lynne searches for the woman (the “sweet talkin' woman”) he lost in that song. “Across the Border” is a song written very much with the intention of conveying the impression of a steam-train, again with violin intro and kicking into a Spanish/Mexican theme which pulls the song along at a decent pace, with a real sense of urgency (”I gottta get that southbound train tonight!”) and ends with a thunder of drums and keys that sounds just like a train rocketing past.

On the original album (yes, I know, here comes Grandad again!) this was the end of side one, and side two begins with the sounds of traffic merging with an orchestral tune-up as “Night in the City” gets underway. You can also just hear, if you're nerdy enough, the end strains of the opener, “Turn to stone” merging into the first few bars. It's followed by “Starlight”, a nice, breezy little tune with some really nice keyboard, and thence into “Jungle”, which is enjoyable nonsense, with its African beats and its silly story about animals that can talk.

The orchestration ramps up then for “Believe Me Now”, a very short (less than a minute and a half) piece, mostly taken up by dramatic, powerful and stately music, with Lynne singing the only lyric through a vocoder right at the end, and that segues directly into “Steppin' Out”, another ballad which rides along on an electric piano line with violin, but is then orchestrated, with more vocoder work and a reprise at the end. And so side two of the album, and record one, comes to a close.

Side three is taken up by a full symphonic composition, lasting in total over eighteen minutes, and broken into four movements. It's called “Concerto for a Rainy Day”, and the four parts are linked by the central theme of weather, and how it affects people. Opening with simple tinkling piano, a weird vocoder part naming the concerto and then (as might be expected) the sound of rain, and crashing cymbals to denote thunder, the first movement is called “Standing in the Rain”, and is sung with some urgency, as Lynne laments waiting out in the downpour: ”Standing in the rain/ Getting soaking wet/ I'm doing my best/ But what do I get?” The orchestra really comes into its own on this, and throughout the concerto, leading into the second part, “Big Wheels”, a slower, more restrained effort, still backed by the sounds of rain falling, and again using the “Mr. Blue Sky” theme to introduce itself, with more vocoder speaking the words “Big wheels, keep turning...”

The mood of “Summer and Lightning” brightens as the weather begins to clear, and though we can still hear rain as the third movement progresses, it is getting lighter, until finally it is gone altogether, and the final movement, and one of ELO's biggest ever hit singles, “Mr. Blue Sky” brings the concerto to a glorious finale with its upbeat, happy, joyous celebration of sun and the summer. It's probably a good bet that just about everyone knows the song, but what I didn't know for years was that at the very end, as the orchestra winds down and the finale is played out, the vocoder message right at the very end says “Please turn me over”, and not as I had believed for decades, “Mister Blue Sky why”, or any variation on that. It is in fact an instruction to flip over the record and hear side four. Clever, but the idea will have been completely lost on today's kids... turn what over??

There's little doubt that “Concerto for a rainy day” marks the highpoint of the album, and although it's not quite all downhill from there, the final side contains not too much of interest, besides the clever and evocative instrumental “The Whale”, and the closer, another hit single, the quite brilliant “Wild West Hero”, with its cowboy themes and horsey sound-effects.

For nerds like me in the late seventies, this was one of THE albums to have. It was double, so expensive. It had the concerto on it, so you could feel superior to the kids listening to the likes of the Sweet or even Thin Lizzy, and it had one hell of a cool gatefold sleeve. Even listening to it now, over thirty years later, Out of the Blue has stood the test of time, and whereas many ELO records now sound somewhat dated, the technology and themes on this album, and the way it was produced and put together make it seem years ahead of its time.

It's such a pity they went disco after this...

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. Concerto for a Rainy Day
i) Standing in the Rain
ii) Big Wheels
iii) Summer and Lightning
iv) Mr. Blue Sky
11. Sweet is the Night
12. The Whale
13. Birmingham Blues
14. Wild West Hero

Rating: 9.9/10
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