5 comments on “In Praise of Pop II: The Electric Light Orchestra

    • Excellent question! I actually thought about talking about this album, but it’s a difficult one for me. My thoughts on it wound up taking too much space in my notes, and took away from where I wanted to end the piece. But here’s my take on it:

      Compositionally, I think it’s got some great songs. I love the *songs* “Heaven Only Knows,” “Secret Lives,” “Endless Lies” (talk about Roy Orbison influence!) and “Calling America” a lot. Overall, it’s not as inspired as, say, A New World Record or Out of the Blue, but few things in this crazy life are. The melodies are great, Lynne’s vocals are top-notch as usual, and the darker tone of the lyrics serves as a nice counterpoint to the more upbeat melodies on offer.

      The problem is that the album is hampered by production and arrangements that aren’t up to Jeff Lynne’s standards — for an album with “Balance” in the title, it’s WAY too top-heavy, and it’s one of the only ELO albums that feels cluttered even as the lineup was pared down to three members and no additional strings. It’s also a very 1986-sounding record, which works to its detriment in the long run. Even when ELO embraced trends of the times, they always *sounded* different from everything else.

      Vocally, the production bridges the “typical” ELO sound with what he’d later achieve producing for Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Tom Petty and the Wilburys. And there are some hints of the overall sound he’d go for with those (and other) acts just a few years later, especially in “Calling America” (which is almost a template for the entirety of George’s Cloud Nine).

      But for far too much of the album, the instrumental production and arrangements sound as if they could have come from any generic mid-’80s soundtrack LP. Take, for instance, “Send It” — it sounds like it could have been, as a pared-back ELO track, a punchy trad-rock-influenced piece as dynamic as “Don’t Bring Me Down.” But in its current form, it lacks muscle (and Bev Bevan is nothing if not a powerful drummer, and that power is just not in evidence here; hell, he may not have even played on that song, given Jeff’s experimentation with electronic percussion at this time). It feels like an anonymous synth-pop take on 50’s rock ‘n’ roll, and anonymous shouldn’t be a word associated with ELO.

      Part of the whole problem is that there’s no…*lushness* with this album. It feels hard and brittle. It’s not warm. I don’t want to say it sounds plastic, but…well…it sounds plastic.

      And the saxophone solo just makes me cringe.

      All in all, it’s a hard album for me to get my head around. It’s a transitional album (from ELO to solo work and outside production), and those are always tough. And it takes me a while to listen to it and focus chiefly on the songcraft, because the production can take me out of it if I give it half a chance. But when I can do it, I enjoy it. But it’s harder to do than it should be.

      And I won’t go into nearly as much detail, but I like Zoom a great deal. I completely overlooked it at the time of its release, and though I don’t go back to it as often as the other ELO albums today, it gets its share of spins. It sounds more like a Jeff Lynne solo album than anything else, but I’ll take what I can get if it’s as well-done as that.

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  3. Thanks for your wonderful reviews of Jeff Lynne and ELO. As a musician I must give credit to Richard Tandy (ELO’s keyboard player) for his incredible creativity and abilities. In my mind those musicians were partners in creating the ELO songs and sound. They recently performed 2 songs for the BBC’s fundraising special for the charity “Children in Need”. Best live rendition of Mr. Blue Sky ever. What do you think?

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