Electric Light Orchestra – Balance Of Power (remaster)

ELO - Balance Of PowerReleased in tandem with the 30th anniversary edition of Out Of The Blue is, oddly, the last album released by anything resembling ELO’s original lineup as a band. In the years after Secret Messages, bassist Kelly Groucutt vanished from the lineup, leaving a three-piece outfit of Bev Bevan, Richard Tandy and Jeff Lynne, looking in this album’s photography like three guys angling for a chance to be extras in the background of a Miami Vice scene. With Lynne tired of touring, and Bevan tiring of Lynne’s increasingly elaborate studio sessions, this was the end of the road for ELO as a group. There’s a certain weariness to the songs that, while it doesn’t prevent them from being decent music, lets one read between the lines a bit. It was all over.

For this remastered edition of the now 21-year-old album, we’re treated to more honest-to-God outtakes recorded at the same time as the rest of the album’s tracks than any other ELO remaster since the group’s 1972 album. A strikingly different version of “Heaven Only Knows” is presented here, having become the stuff of legend, played only at pre-concert fan club gatherings and other such functions, as well as vintage 1986 B-sides “Destination Unknown”, “A Matter Of Fact” and “Caught In A Trap”. Some of these have been heard before, on the 1990 box set Afterglow (proof that, even in “retirement,” ELO wasn’t out of circulation for long). The real gem of this CD’s bonus tracks is “In For The Kill” – it’s essentially “Caught In A Trap” in a slightly different form, with almost identical music with completely different and (for Jeff Lynne) atypically almost-political lyrics, but the best part is Lynne’s exploration of almost Crosby, Stills & Nash-inspired harmonies. It’s a crying shame this got left off the original album (especially an album that arrived just a year before the movie Wall Street) because in retrospect, it would’ve been the best, most energetic follow-up single to “Calling America”. This song alone is just about worth the price of the album.

There were still other rarities from this era that could’ve filled out the CD to its full capacity – there also exists a lyric variation for “Matter Of Fact” – but alas, that opportunity was missed and the CD only runs to about an hour.

The album itself is still quite good, better than most critics would have you believe, with tunes like “Calling America” and “Is It Alright” living up to ELO’s best standards, although produced with much more modern technology. In a way, though, the 80s instrumentation and style is probably what hurts Balance Of Power the most – the album is robbed of the relative timelessness of, say, A New World Record, and some songs just become casualties of the 80s. With some of ELO’s best (and better known) material, when Lynne was able to overcome his fixation on a four-to-the-flour disco beat and Chic-style guitar riffs, the songs withstand the test of time better; one listen can pretty much nail this album down to the late ’80s. Not that that’s a bad thing.

Rating: 4 out of 4The only truly sad part about it is that this represents the end of the remastered ELO albums, and possibly the mining of that band’s vaults as well. The liner notes booklet talks about Lynne’s revival of ELO for 2001’s Zoom in the past tense, as if that marks the end of the band’s legacy. One wonders if we aren’t being sent a bit of a secret message there.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. Heaven Only Knows (2:56)
  2. So Serious (2:43)
  3. Getting To The Point (4:30)
  4. Secret Lives (3:32)
  5. Is It Alright (3:27)
  6. Sorrow About To Fall (4:04)
  7. Without Someone (3:51)
  8. Calling America (3:30)
  9. Endless Lies (3:00)
  10. Send It (3:10)
  11. Opening (0:24)
  12. Heaven Only Knows (alternate version) (2:34)
  13. In For The Kill (3:16)
  14. Secret Lives (alternate take) (3:26)
  15. Sorrow About To Fall (alternate mix) (3:50)
  16. Caught In A Trap (3:47)
  17. Destination Unknown (4:10)

Released by: Epic / Legacy
Release date: 2007 (originally released in 1986)
Total running time: 56:10

Electric Light Orchesta – Out Of The Blue (remaster)

ELO - Out Of The BlueOut Of The Blue is, quite simply, one of the most iconic albums of the ’70s, hands-down. It seems that, despite its intricate arrangements and impeccable musicianship, this album will simply never have the rock critic cachet of, say, Dark Side Of The Moon. And yet these days, one hears more young artists coming out of the woodwork trying to achieve the sound of Jeff Lynne and company than one hears Pink Floyd sound-alikes. You can do the math there if you like.

This remastered edition adds only a handful of bonus material, largely because the original double LP takes up most of a single CD. (I would’ve been happy to go to two CDs, a la the remasters of ELO’s first two albums, but there’s not much indication that there was really enough material to go that route.) The one full bonus track that isn’t a demo or other form of outtake is the lovely “Latitude 88 North,” a song which, according to the notes, was partially written at the same time as the other Out Of The Blue tracks but just didn’t make the cut. Of the various bonus tracks that have come along since the Flashback box set ushered in this new era of “remastered with a few freshly recorded bonus tracks” activity, “Latitude 88 North” is the best one to come along since “Love Changes All” and “Helpless” (or, for that matter, Zoom). Even if it’s clearly a recent recording (at best, the song itself may be 30 years old, but the track itself is much more recent), it’s a great song that hearkens back to ELO’s glory days, and it at least sounds closer to that classic style than “Surrender” (from the remastered A New World Record) does. Bringing up the rear are an excerpt from a demo of “Wild West Hero” (which demonstrates great harmony, but lousy lyrics that were replaced in the final version) and the rousing instrumental “The Quick And The Daft”, which most certainly is a 1977 original – good material for serious fans and students of ELO’s work to chew on, but nothing that will really excite casual listeners.

Fortunately for casual listeners, one of the most iconic albums of the ’70s is still here, perfectly intact and remastered, and it’s never sounded better. The remastering isn’t so radical as to have me reassesing my favorite songs, but it’s nice to hear them cleaned up and sounding sharper than ever before. The booklet-style case is also a treat, with an extensive set of notes about the making of Out Of The Blue. There’s a standard version of this CD with a slightly pared-down version of that booklet, but the deluxe edition – bound like a little book, featuring the full liner notes and even a miniature replica of the original LP’s punch-out cardstock spaceship – is a real treat for fans of the band’s work. I’ll admit I just haven’t had the heart to punch out the spaceship and build it, though; I did that with the one that came with the LP, years and years and years ago, and lost track of that one; I think I’ll leave this one intact, and maybe when my own child is around the same age I was when I first heard this album, it’ll be punched out and put together.

Rating: 4 out of 4Not a bad package at all, celebrating an album that means a lot to quite a few people, even those who would never in a million years profess to be ELO fans. Though I’d wager that the original release of Out Of The Blue created plenty of those as well.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. Turn To Stone (3:49)
  2. It’s Over (4:08)
  3. Sweet Talkin’ Woman (3:49)
  4. Across The Border (3:53)
  5. Night In The City (4:03)
  6. Starlight (4:31)
  7. Jungle (3:53)
  8. Believe Me Now (1:21)
  9. Steppin’ Out (4:40)
  10. Standin’ In The Rain (3:59)
  11. Big Wheels (5:32)
  12. Summer And Lightning (4:15)
  13. Mr. Blue Sky (5:03)
  14. Sweet Is The Night (3:27)
  15. The Whale (5:07)
  16. Birmingham Blues (4:23)
  17. Wild West Hero (4:45)
  18. Wild West Hero (alternate bridge – home demo) (0:26)
  19. The Quick And The Daft (1:50)
  20. Latitude 88 North (3:24)

Released by: Epic / Legacy
Release date: 2007 (originally released in 1977)
Total running time: 76:18

Electric Light Orchestra – Face The Music (remaster)

ELO - Face The MusicOne of the three most recently remastered ELO albums, Face The Music is long overdue for a fresh listen, being – arguably – the first album of the band’s golden years. It’s also the album with “Evil Woman” and “Face The Music” on it, which certainly doesn’t hurt. (Sadly, during the remastering process, nobody remembered to kick “Down Home Town” out of the original track listing.)

As with the other remastered titles from ELO’s back catalog, the sound has been sharpened up quite a bit, softening a few rough edges that had become noticeable with repeat listens. The obligatory bonus tracks are included as well, though they’re not much to write home about. In the liner notes booklet, Jeff Lynne says he prefers the slightly longer, stripped-down and orchestra-free new mix of “Evil Woman,” but even with that extra verse and chorus that we hadn’t heard before, something is just missing without that big string section adding to the song. Similarly, a series of demos for the menacing “Fire On High” intro will interest serious students of Lynne’s work, but maybe not anyone else, and the U.S. single edit of “Strange Magic” isn’t so staggeringly different as to be a real revelation.

That said, it’s surprising that a song that we have heard before turns out to be the real gem of the bonus tracks. Closing out this new edition of Face The Music is a completely instrumental mix of Waterfall, with the full-up instrumentation both from ELO’s rhythm section and from the studio orchestra – all that’s missing is the vocals. (Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I’m wondering if Lynne’s ever thought of re-re-releasing some of ELO’s material in this form, both for the karaoke fans out there and those of us who just love the intricate arrangements.) Heard in all of its vocal-less glory, “Waterfall” is an excellent candidate for this treatment, standing out as a fantastic performance even as an instrumental.

Rating: 4 out of 4Whether or not one really great instrumental of a song you’ve already heard is worth buying the album over again is up to you, but that alone is just about worth the price of admission for die-hard ELO fans – and in the end, “Down Home Town” aside, Face The Music is still a fine album and a prime specimen of early ’70s rock.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. Fire On High (5:31)
  2. Waterfall (4:11)
  3. Evil Woman (4:29)
  4. Nightrider (4:26)
  5. Poker (3:32)
  6. Strange Magic (4:29)
  7. Down Home Town (3:54)
  8. One Summer Dream (5:51)
  9. Fire On High Intro (alternate mix) (3:23)
  10. Evil Woman (stripped-down mix) (5:00)
  11. Strange Magic (U.S. single edit) (3:27)
  12. Waterfall (instrumental mix) (4:15)

Released by: Epic / Legacy
Release date: 2006 (originally released in 1975)
Total running time: 52:28

ELO Part II – One Night: Live In Australia

Electric Light Orchestra Part Two - One Night: Live In AustraliaJust as often as ELO Part II fails to live up to its ancestry in the studio, this band amazes me live. I mentioned earlier that Greatest Hits Live With The Moscow Symphony Orchestra is not an accurate reporting of ELO Part II’s live sound. On the other hand, One Night is good – it’s a true rarity, a live album I actually like. For all of the failings of the original material written by Part II, they do justice to Jeff Lynne’s classic ELO numbers that the original band simply never had the sheer number of performers to pull off. And to make this album even better, there’s a recording of “Ain’t Necessarily So”, a real humdinger of an original tune which is specially tailored to the new band’s strong points: harmony Rating: 3 out of 4and hard rock. I hope they commit this song to tape on their next studio album – they could actually turn into real contenders. I highly recommend this to you – or better yet, if ELO Part II comes anywhere near you, get some tickets and go see the show, and this album will make an excellent reminder of the group’s live sound.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. Standing In The Rain (4:43)
  2. Evil Woman (4:01)
  3. Don’t Wanna (4:04)
  4. Showdown (4:55)
  5. Can’t Get It Out Of My Head (6:36)
  6. Whiskey Girls (3:47)
  7. Livin’ Thing (3:53)
  8. One More Tomorrow (5:11)
  9. Mr. Blue Sky (5:01)
  10. Telephone Line (4:49)
  11. Ain’t Necessarily So (4:02)
  12. Strange Magic (2:11)
  13. Sweet Talking Woman (2:04)
  14. Confusion (1:52)
  15. Do Ya (2:27)
  16. Rockaria! (3:15)
  17. Roll Over Beethoven (5:55)
  18. Don’t Bring Me Down (4:19)

Released by: CMC International Records
Release date: 1997
Total running time: 73:13

ELO Part II – Moment Of Truth

Electric Light Orchestra Part Two - Moment Of TruthPerhaps I’m always looking at ELO Part II from the wrong angle. I keep hoping that they might someday approach the artistry of the original ELO, and that must be too high an expectation. I used to refer to the “original” ELO as the “real,” ELO, but the band’s lineup on this album starts to erode my old argument/complaint that this isn’t the “real” ELO. Bassist Kelly Groucutt, whose backup harmony vocals complemented Jeff Lynne’s leads and overdubs so well from 1975 to 1981, has joined ELO Part II, and arranger/keyboardist Louis Clark and violinist Mik Kaminski, who played with the original ELO from 1973 right through the last album, have joined full-time. Of course ELO/Move drummer Bev Bevan is still there (when ELO Part II debuted in 1990 he was the only representative of the original band). Of the original Part II lineup, only Bevan and Eric Troyer (who once sang backup for John Lennon) have been retained, and if only for Troyer, this is good. The Troyer-penned songs on Part II’s first album were the closest the band came to the distinctive Jeff-Lynne-dictated ELO sound of old, and even Troyer’s best was none too close to that style. Signing on is gravelly voiced guitarist Phil Bates, whom I confess to never having heard of before. The album kicks off with a ponderous and predictable orchestral overture, a lot of which sounds synthesized. “Fire on High”, it ain’t. Then “Breakin’ Down the Walls” opens up and it’s apparent that the band has improved – if for no other reason than the addition of Groucutt and Kaminski – but its orchestra has been diminished. It’s sure not ELO. This song in particular is virtually indistinguishable from Tears for Fears’ “Sowing The Seeds Of Love”…just not as good. A nifty Troyer tune called “Power Of A Million Lights” follows, but the song suffers from some unimaginative arrangement. It’s clear that the entire pool of talent in ELO Part II lacks Jeff Lynne’s genius for classically Beatlesque twists in song structure. “One More Tomorrow” is a bland ballad; Troyer’s almost funky “Don’t Wanna” is a palatable no-strings rocker, and “Voices” sounds like a second-rate copy of Alan Parsons’ recent “You’re the Voice”, found on Parsons’ live CD which was released at around the same time. Following this is a rather pointless 4-second track called “Vixen”, which consists of someone saying “Hello, hello, you little vixen!” A Groucutt-penned tune called “The Fox” wades somewhat tiringly through a tale of a fox hunt from the fox’s point of view. “Love Or Money”, written by Troyer and Bates, improves on the unpredictability of song arrangements that the group should be concentrating on, but not by much. Then follows “Whiskey Girls”, a standard issue southern-fried rocker I could’ve done without. “Twist Of The Knife” is a nondescript collaboration between Groucutt, Bevan and Bates, and “So Glad You Said Goodbye” is a Troyer/Bevan/Bates number that doesn’t arrive at a distinguishable style until about three minutes into the song. Clark’s “Underture” continues the theme of the album’s opening track, followed by a soundbyte of the band in the studio.

“Breakin’ Down The Walls”, “Power Of A Million Lights” and “Don’t Wanna” are the best songs on the album, yet none of them are as close to the sound most listeners associate with ELO as the first album’s “Honest Men” and “Thousand Eyes”. I know, I know, it’s not the same band, and maybe they’re not trying to be the same band. If this continues to be the case, they need to change their name soon so there will be fewer disappointed listeners; if these blokes intend to continue passing themselves off as ELO they might do well to study what made the original incarnation of the band so outstanding and learn from it. I don’t think Jeff Lynne would’ve written a song like “Whiskey Girls”, or would written a song such as “Breakin’ Down the Walls” which constantly addresses its lyrics to an unspecified “girl.” And while someone will no doubt remind me that Jeff Lynne has nothing to do with ELO Part II, someone should also advise the band of this so they can hurry up and change Rating: 3 out of 4that name. ELO Part II may have all but a couple of key members of the original ELO – no, make that the real ELO after all – but without the caliber of songwriting, arranging and performing that Lynne brought to the group, they don’t even have half of what made ELO what it was. One thing that the real ELO was happened to be my favorite band of all time, hands-down; Part II…isn’t.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. Moment of Truth – Overture (4:07)
  2. Breakin’ Down The Walls (4:27)
  3. Power of a Million Lights (4:54)
  4. Interlude 3 (0:32)
  5. One More Tomorrow (5:00)
  6. Don’t Wanna (3:41)
  7. Voices (4:27)
  8. Interlude 2 (0:20)
  9. Vixen (0:04)
  10. The Fox (4:35)
  11. Love Or Money (4:08)
  12. Blue Violin (1:10)
  13. Whiskey Girls (3:37)
  14. Interlude 1 (0:58)
  15. Twist of the Knife (4:30)
  16. So Glad You Said Goodbye (4:12)
  17. Underture (2:52)
  18. The Leaving (0:25)

Released by: Edel
Release date: 1995
Total running time: 54:15

ELO Part II – Live With The Moscow Symphony Orchestra

Electric Light Orchestra Part Two - Greatest Hits Live with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra“Well,” I thought, “that’s nice, it’s in the bargain bin.” Then I did a slight double-take. “What? This is new, and it’s already in the bargain bin.” This meant trouble. The fading remnants of my favorite band were fading really fast if their new release, even though it is a live album, was entering the music store shelves at rock-bottom. And I found out why (that’s the great thing about bargains, eh?). This is, at best, an excessively mediocre live album. Years later, in 1996, I saw ELO Part II perform live when they made a stop in my home town of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and I discovered that ELO Part II does a kick-ass live show, just not on this album. Perhaps the improvement in their live repertoire is that they’ve expanded their selection of post-ELO originals, which are better suited to their live performance needs because they know what they’re capable of on stage. This album is comprised entirely – with the singular exception of “Thousand Eyes” – of classic ELO songs which people have come to know with a full string section. The Moscow Symphony can deliver the goods most of the time, but even they have their off nights, as can be heard when somebody hits an outrageously, painfully flat note in the Rating: 1 out of 4Beethoven intro to “Roll Over Beethoven”. I think as ELO Part II expands their repertoire of original tunes, their live show will only get better and better, as the new songs are tailored to the new group’s strengths. In fact, I keep hearing about a new live album called One Night which has yet to make it to the States, and I’d love to hear it, because, even though this album fell seriously flat, ELO Part II really brings the house down live.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. Overture (2:26)
  2. Turn To Stone (3:51)
  3. Evil Woman (4:20)
  4. Showdown (5:08)
  5. Livin’ Thing (4:04)
  6. Hold On Tight (2:58)
  7. Thousand Eyes (4:28)
  8. Can’t Get It Out Of My Head (6:46)
  9. Telephone Line (5:04)
  10. Roll Over Beethoven (6:05)

Released by: Scotti Bros.
Release date: 1992
Total running time: 45:10

Electric Light Orchestra Part Two

Electric Light Orchestra Part TwoIt really surprised me when I read that ELO drummer Bev Bevan was trying to pull the band back together again, and trying to do so without Jeff Lynne, who had made the original ELO a success. I remember thinking that this was a daft idea, and how bad it was going to be. Then the album came out.

I hated to admit it when I heard it, but there are parts of ELO Part II’s debut album that aren’t bad at all. And on two songs in particular, ELO Part II actually managed to sound not entirely unlike the original ELO. “Thousand Eyes”, composed by the versatile Eric Troyer (who is ELO Part II’s saving grace), and “Honest Men” really do come across as authentically ELO-esque, complete with Louis Clark string arrangements, wonderful harmonies and ever-shifting rhythms. If the rest of the album falls prey to any particular problem, it is a tendency to strive less for an ELO sound than for a sort of string-embellished glam-rock style. That aside, to my amazement, I can honestly say I do recommend this album to you. ELO Part II has Rating: 2 out of 4yet to surpass this feat on record, which is a bit of a shame, since their self-titled debut proves that the potential is there! If you don’t believe me, listen to “Thousand Eyes” toward the end of the song, right after the bridge, as the strings begin their rapid-fire arpeggios during a reprise of the chorus, and it’s almost like it’s 1979 all over again. If only for the length of that one song, they did it.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. Hello (1:17)
  2. Honest Men (6:13)
  3. Every Night (3:15)
  4. Once Upon A Time (4:18)
  5. Heartbreaker (4:55)
  6. Thousand Eyes (4:49)
  7. For the Love of a Woman (4:01)
  8. Kiss Me Red (4:01)
  9. Heart of Hearts (4:18)
  10. Easy Street (4:56)

Released by: Scotti Bros.
Release date: 1990
Total running time: 42:03