Saturday, April 21, 2007

ELO (Electric Light Orchestra)

Jason Ankeny @ All Music
The Electric Light Orchestra's ambitious yet irresistible fusion of Beatlesque pop, classical arrangements, and futuristic iconography rocketed the group to massive commercial success throughout the 1970s. ELO was formed in Birmingham, England in the autumn of 1970 from the ashes of the eccentric art-pop combo the Move, reuniting frontman Roy Wood with guitarist/composer Jeff Lynne, bassist Rick Price, and drummer Bev Bevan. Announcing their intentions to "pick up where 'I Am the Walrus' left off," the quartet sought to embellish their engagingly melodic rock with classical flourishes, tapping French horn player Bill Hunt and violinist Steve Woolam to record their self-titled debut LP (issued as No Answer in the U.S.). In the months between the sessions for the album and its eventual release, the Move embarked on their farewell tour, with Woolam exiting the ELO lineup prior to the enlistment of violinist Wilf Gibson, bassist Richard Tandy, and cellists Andy Craig and Hugh McDowell; despite the lengthy delay, Electric Light Orchestra sold strongly, buoyed by the success of the U.K. Top Ten hit "10538 Overture."

However, Wood soon left ELO to form Wizzard, taking Hunt and McDowell with him; Price and Craig were soon out as well, and with the additions of bassist Michael D'Albuquerque, keyboardist Richard Tandy, and cellists Mike Edwards and Colin Walker, Lynne assumed vocal duties, with his Lennonesque tenor proving the ideal complement to his increasingly sophisticated melodies. With 1973's ELO II, the group returned to the Top Ten with their grandiose cover of the Chuck Berry chestnut "Roll Over Beethoven"; the record was also their first American hit, with 1974's Eldorado yielding their first U.S. Top Ten, the lovely "Can't Get It Out of My Head." Despite Electric Light Orchestra's commercial success, the band remained relatively faceless; the lineup changed constantly, with sole mainstays Lynne and Bevan preferring to let their elaborate stage shows and omnipresent spaceship imagery instead serve as the group's public persona. 1975's Face the Music went gold, generating the hits "Evil Woman" and "Strange Magic," while the follow-up, A New World Record, sold five million copies internationally thanks to standouts like "Telephone Line" and "Livin' Thing."

The platinum-selling double-LP, Out of the Blue, appeared in 1977, although the record's success was tempered somewhat by a lawsuit filed by Electric Light Orchestra against their former distributor, United Artists, whom the band charged flooded the market with defective copies of the album. Columbia distributed the remainder of the group's output, issued through their own Jet Records imprint, beginning with 1979's Discovery, which notched the Top Ten entries "Shine a Little Love" and "Don't Bring Me Down." In the wake of ELO's best-selling Greatest Hits compilation, Lynne wrote several songs for the soundtrack of the Olivia Newton-John film Xanadu, including the hit title track. The next proper Electric Light Orchestra album, 1981's Time, generated their final Top Ten hit, "Hold on Tight." Following 1983's Secret Messages, Bevan left the group to join Black Sabbath, although he returned to the fold for 1986's Balance of Power, which despite the presence of the Top 20 hit "Calling America" received little interest from fans and media alike.

However, as Electric Light Orchestra's career descended, Lynne emerged as a sought-after producer, helming well-received comebacks from George Harrison (1987's Cloud Nine) and Roy Orbison (1989's Mystery Girl) and additionally re-teaming with both rock legends as well as Bob Dylan and Tom Petty in the hit supergroup the Traveling Wilburys. Lynne made his solo debut in 1990 with Armchair Theatre but otherwise spent the decade out of the limelight, instead producing material for Joe Cocker, Tom Jones, and Paul McCartney in addition to working on the Beatles' Anthology project. In 1988, meanwhile, Bevan formed Electric Light Orchestra Part II with vocalist Neil Lockwood, keyboardist Eric Troyer, and bassist Pete Haycock; although Lynne filed suit against the group (hence the "Part II" tag), a self-titled LP followed in 1991, with a live collection recorded with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra appearing a year later. Outside of 1994's Moment of Truth, subsequent ELO II releases have been live efforts as well. =>>>>>>>>>>>

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@ George Starostin's Review

Electric Light Orchestra is certainly the world's readiest candidate for 'Most Grossly Misinterpreted And Most Unjustly Despised' band of the past thirty years. And that's a fact, baby. I can't even say that this happened because of the world not being properly acquainted with ELO - most of their hit singles that used to 'pollute' radio waves for years on end were pretty typical of their material, and a normal 'greatest hits compilation' would be able to give any listener a pretty adequate, if certainly incomplete, picture of the band's identity. But somehow, based essentially on the critical disillusionment about the band, their image has been dirtied up so much throughout the last decade that nowadays, ELO often stands for the ultimate example of 'cheesy boring sappy crappy pap' or something like that. It might be possible that this also has a lot to do with obvious gaffes like Xanadu or that idiotic parody on the band, Electric Light Orchestra Part Two, that have been dicking around for a large part of the Nineties, but let's face it with dignity - the world actually listened to 'Evil Woman', 'Telephone Line', 'Sweet Talkin' Woman', and other songs of their type, and intentionally turned away from them. Which was a dreadful and unforgivable mistake. With all sincerity I state the following: Electric Light Orchestra are, in fact, one of the best, most creative, inventive and productive bands of the Seventies, a band of truly giant stature and nearly limitless potential; no other band in the Seventies could put out excellent records with a minimal amount of filler as consistently as ELO did since about 1973, and even in the Eighties they managed not to suck entirely. ELO was originally the brainchild of Move leaders Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne, and their intention was to effectuate a complete and genuine synthesis of rock music and classical music, a grandiose plan that had in this way or other been partially worked on by many bands, but only ELO in their prime came the closest to realising that dream. Wood and Lynne only managed to release one record together - a record that was rather spotty and perfectly reflected their clash of personalities, so Wood abandoned the project right after the first record, and Lynne was left to carry on. Now, as much as Mr Lynne has been badmouthed through the years, even the worst of his enemies would not dare to deny the man's talent. Lynne is a master of hook and vocal melody, one of the best pop songwriters of the Seventies, and even if John Lennon's replica about the Beatles possibly metamorphosing into ELO had they carried on into the Seventies was supposed to be a sarcastic one, I actually take it as a compliment - second-rate Beatles is, after all, much better than most bands can manage. In any case, the 'classical-rock' synthesis of ELO worked amazingly well on albums like Eldorado, even if every time that Lynne tried to clash classical and rock with each other directly, it resulted in kitschy moves rather than in something truly fine ('Roll Over Beethoven', 'Rockaria'). However, pretty soon he realized that all that was needed was to write a masterful pop hook, spice it up with a steady rock rhythm section, on one side, and a trusty strings' arrangement, on the other, and hoopla, the cat's in the well. The formula steadily evolved over the years - Eldorado and Face The Music are still essentially 'symph-rock', with drawled out, loose, swooping arrangements, but starting from A New World Record, Lynne added more punch to the sound and pushed his songwriting into a somewhat more commercial direction, which is why prog fans usually only digest the band's pre-1976 output. On Discovery, Lynne put his dance-pop exercises into disco rock stylistics, and later on, the band went from strings-dominated to synth-dominated, like every nice commercial band of the epoch did; however, even at their worst, Electric Light Orchestra always had something to offer, and it should also be mentioned that certain things that Lynne did with synth-pop were quite experimental and innovative. And much as the infamous "Lynne Production" is hated when it is applied to outside artists, there's no denying that it exists, and that it is unique - you can tell a Lynne-produced record at first sight. Speaking of which, I actually like the way he produced Harrison's Cloud 9. Of course, ELO's music was always 'safe' - Lynne constantly groped for commercial success, and one could easily accuse him of the same things I often accuse Queen of: namely, this is 'artsy music' rendered a bit sterile and simplified so that it would appeal to even the 'lowest common denominator', if you get my drift. There's no denying all the numerous faults of ELO: they often went overboard with pretentiousness (mainly on the early records), Lynne's lyrics are tremendously inconsistent, ranging from nicely formulated, if not thoroughly original, observations, to hideous romantic and sci-fi cliches, and, of course, the band was so formulaic it could be easily possible to develop an alergy on their general sound. But my usual practice is - let us concentrate on the good sides, and if they overshadow the bad ones, who gives a damn? The good side is that Lynne is the master of melody, THE master of melody, and he's penned more memorable and inventive pop masterpieces than most power-pop bands I'm aware of. As for the sci-fi thematics, bombast and pretentiousness... well, let's just note that Lynne is not as pretentious as it might seem. His primary mood is that of introspective melancholia, not of universalist prayer or something like that. Even Eldorado, arguably the most 'pretentious' record among ELO's good ones, is essentially devoted to the inner world of a small humble guy, nothing else. No 'Bohemian Rhapsody' or 'We Will Rock You' in Lynne's catalog - Jeff always knows Let's see about the line-up now. Note that you will rarely find anybody but Lynne and, perhaps, drummer Bev Bevan mentioned in the actual text of the reviews - this may not be too accurate, but it's at least fully understandable, as Jeff always wrote 99% of the material and was the main inspiration between everything ELO ever put out (unless we're speaking of the 'ELO Part II' bastardization, of course, but I would prefer not to speak about it until we get to 'em in the regular review section - too much of a pain in my kidneys). what he's writing and singing about, and that's the key. Line-up: Jeff Lynne - guitar, vocals; Roy Wood - vocals, guitars, bagpipes, etc.; Richard Tandy - bass; Bev Bevan - drums; Andy Craig, Hugh McDowell - cellos; Steve Woolam, Wilf Gibson - violins; Bill Hunt - French horn. (Yeah, kinda huge for a band, eh? That's 'Orchestra' for you!) Wood quit after the release of first album, taking Hunt and McDowell with him. Woolam and Craig departed as well. For the second album, Lynne, Bevan and Tandy (who switched from bass to keyboards) enlisted bassist Michael D'Albuquerque, and Mike Edwards and Colin Walker on cellos. Walker and Gibsons left, 1973; replaced by Mik Kaminski and a returning Hugh McDowell. Mike Edwards left, 1974, replaced by Kelly Groucutt and Melvin Gale; the lineup of Lynne, Bevan, Tandy, McDowell, Kaminski, Groucutt and Gale was the most stable and lasted through much of the Seventies. In 1978, McDowell, Kaminski and Gale left the band (which might actually have something to do with the fact that there were less strings on subsequent albums). In 1983, the band went on a halt, then regrouped as a trio (Lynne, Bevan and Tandy - the three most important members) to record Balance Of Power in 1986. Then the band collapsed for good. Whew, that was a hard two-paragraph set of trivia, wasn't it?

    General Evaluation:

    Listenability: 4/5. Bar some of the clumsy and flimsy early 'experimental' cookies, ELO are perfectly listenable.
    Resonance: 2/5. But they're hardly perfectly resonant - every time I wanna shed a tear over a Lynne masterpiece, I keep remembering what a commercial hack this guy is. Eh!
    Originality: 3/5. VERY original in the early days, not at all original later on.
    Adequacy: 3/5. Oh well, I suppose 'Fire On High' isn't very adequate.
    Diversity: 2/5. Let's count in the synth-pop, okay?
    Overall: 2.8 = C on the rating scale.

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ELO @ You Tube

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