Jeff Lynne’s ELO – Alone In The Universe

Alone In The Universe15 years after his last album that took 15 years to arrive, Jeff Lynne is back, once again operating under the ELO banner, with an album that straddles his own tendencies toward classic rock and the trademark sound that his fans all but demand anytime he surfaces.

It’s not as if he’s been completely dormant during this time: an album of re-recorded-all-by-himself ELO covers, some of them fairly close to the sound of the originals, as well as an album of rock covers of classic hits and standards, done in Lynne’s trademark style. Armchair Theatre, his 1990 solo album, was reissued with bonus tracks. He’s also been producing albums for the likes of Joe Walsh and Bryan Adams, so it’s not as if he and his sound have gone completely underground.

But what has been missing is Jeff Lynne, writing new songs and performing and producing them himself. Long Wave and Mr. Blue Sky, nice as they were, were covers albums. Alone In The Universe is what Lynne/ELO fans have really been waiting for: new music from that familiar, laid-back voice. “When I Was A Boy” opens the album with languid nostalgia, perhaps as autobiographical a song as we’re ever likely to hear from Lynne, chronicling his childhood love of music that led to a life of writing and performing. There are hints of strings, all synthesized/sampled, though they’re kept far enough in the background that it doesn’t break the song.

“Love And Rain” picks up the tempo with a guitar groove reminiscent of “Showdown”‘s clavinet, while “Dirty To The Bone” bestows a cheerful sound upon some surprisingly biting (and occasionally silly) lyrics. What follows next is a one-two punch of two of the album’s best numbers, the mesmerizing “When The Night Comes” and the strangely relaxing and uplifting “The Sun Will Shine”. “When The Night Comes” takes some tried-and-true elements, such as a chorus that owes more than a little bit to the chorus of the Traveling Wilburys’ “Not Alone Any More”, and sets them to a beat that’s as close to reggae as Lynne’s ever likely to stray. “The Sun Will Shine” is a gently uplifting song with some of Lynne’s best lyrics in ages, with a soothing synth-and-guitar wash in the background. (In the electronic press kit interview for the album, Lynne says he wrote it to help a friend who was depressed; I can tell you that it does work in cheering up someone in dire straits.) “Ain’t It A Drag” is a delightfully cheery song about karma catching up with someone who’s done you wrong, while “All My Life” is a more plaintive, idealized love song, but a very pretty one.

“I’m Leaving You” sees Lynne going for the full Orbison, which is a gutsy thing to do because, as Bruce Springsteen himself once said, no one can sing like Roy Orbison. Still, this is a better approximation than most could manage. “One Step At A Time”, added at a late stage out of concern that the album didn’t have enough upbeat tracks, is a curious mix of a driving rhythm that wouldn’t have been out of place on Discovery, slathered with languid slide guitar that is simultaneously at odds with that rhythm and yet fits over it nicely. (And, for the first time in many years, it’s an ELO song with more cowbell!)

“Alone In The Universe” brings the album to a close in its intended configuration, Lynne’s ode to – of all things – space probe Voyager 1, outbound from the edge of the solar system, and it turns out to be the most ELO-ish song of the entire album, in both subject matter and presentation. Where Zoom might’ve left some fans thinking that it was an ELO album in name only, this album’s title track demonstrates that ELO is back in more than name only, even if it’s just Jeff Lynne in his studio. The sound of ELO is back as well.

Various deluxe versions of the album somewhat jarringly add anywhere from two to three extra songs after that perfect closure, from the country-rock of “Fault Line” (probably inspired by Lynne’s proximity to San Andreas), “Blue” (an addictively Wilbury-ish number), and the very ’80s-ish “On My Mind” (whose production touches include helicopters flying overhead for some reason).

4 out of 4Assembled as a musical package, Alone In The Universe is almost everything I’ve missed about ELO, tied up with a bow – this is why I still get excited to hear about Jeff Lynne heading into a studio, and why I hope he doesn’t keep taking off 15 years between albums.

Order this CD

  1. When I Was A Boy (3:12)
  2. Love And Rain (3:30)
  3. Dirty To The Bone (3:06)
  4. When The Night Comes (3:22)
  5. The Sun Will Shine On You (3:30)
  6. Ain’t It A Drag (2:36)
  7. All My Life (2:51)
  8. I’m Leaving You (3:08)
  9. One Step At A Time (3:21)
  10. Alone In The Universe (3:55)

    Bonus Tracks

  11. Fault Line (2:07)
  12. Blue (2:36)
  13. On My Mind (3:09)

Released by: Columbia
Release date: November 13, 2015
Total running time: 32:23 (standard edition/LP), 37:06 (deluxe CD/download), 40:23 (Japanese Blu-Spec CD)

Jeff Lynne – Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra

Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light OrchestraClaiming in multiple press releases that he had “never been satisfied” by the quality of the original (career-making) recordings, ex-ELO frontman Jeff Lynne set about re-recording many of the band’s most iconic hits in his home studio, playing and singing everything himself. The result is, at the very least, interesting: it’s fascinating to hear what Lynne thought the essential elements of the original recordings were that needed to be reproduced, and what was non-essential enough to jettison. It’s tempting, going in, to think that everything will be stripped back to almost-acoustic bare bones with drier (i.e. less reverb-drenched) – the Traveling Wilburys Orchestra, in short. But it’s not always that obvious.

The opening volley, “Mr. Blue Sky” itself, is arguably Lynne’s best-known song, and he takes a respectable swipe at replicating it. Jeff Lynne can still sing, and he’s still the master of singing his own backup – nobody does it better. The worst indignity foisted upon “Mr. Blue Sky” is the total omission of the song’s epic extended coda. On one hand, changes in the prevailing winds of radio may make this a good idea for the lead single, and the coda was always a callback to “Big Wheels” (an earlier song in the four-song “Concerto For A Rainy Day” cycle from 1977’s Out Of The Blue, for which “Mr. Blue Sky” was originally written) anyway. But even without knowing about the refrain from “Big Wheels”, it’s come to be an integral part of the song. It’s always been part of the experience to have it there. (And it’s the coda of “Mr. Blue Sky” that was artfully worked into the score of the Doctor Who episode Love & Monsters.) It feels like the song’s been gutted.

“Evil Woman” is nearly indistinguishable from the “stripped down” mix that appeared on the Face The Music remaster (which mixed most of the strings out of the original master recording); the strings here are obviously synthesized. “Strange Magic” is reproduced with almost eerie accuracy, down to the flanged vocals going into each chorus. “Don’t Bring Me Down” sports more significant changes, but they’re not intrusive, and they turn the song from a disco-era looping experiment into a chugging rocker. “Turn To Stone” also rolls with some changes in style that have occurred in the 35 years since its original recording became a hit, and I actually liked some of Lynne’s minor changes to the vocal melody, even if the recording itself isn’t as densely-packed as the original (and the tightly-harmonized a capella bridge toward the end of the song isn’t what it used to be).

“Showdown” is an excellent recreation of ELO’s earliest bona fide hit, and despite the “Jeff Lynne DIY” approach, it’s actually a bit more lush here than it was in 1973, when it was part of the group’s early configuration (grungy overdubbed cellos without session players making the whole thing sound properly posh). But there’s a lyrical misstep that might’ve been averted if Jeff had simply Googled his own lyrics: the original recording’s “’cause I’m really suffering” in the second verse inexplicably becomes nonsensical in the re-recording: “I’m a real submarine.” Part of me thinks it may be a little hint of Lynne’s tongue-in-cheek British humor.

“Telephone Line” isn’t quite as successful in the recreating-the-original department, but it’s pleasant enough as a “cover band” exercise. The synth strings aren’t quite capable of pulling off the violin solo that’s central to “Livin’ Thing”, making it one of the least successful covers. “Do Ya” straddles the fence between the original Move recording and the prettied-up ELO version. The strings are less important to “Do Ya” in the end; Lynne deftly replicates – and subtly improves on – the straight-ahead-rocker guitar work of the original. “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” nicely recreates the sound of the original, except for the lead vocal line, which is so relaxed that it seems strangely unenthusiastic.

A new version of “10538 Overture” brings the reminiscence to a fitting end, and like “Showdown”, it’s quite a bit more modern than its original incarnation, and relatively stripped down. The original “10538” was the genesis of ELO’s original wall-of-cellos sound, and included such tricks as running some of the vocals through the Leslie speaker normally used on a Hammond organ. But the sound can never be the same: digital recording means you have infinite tracks for the cellos, they’re always going to sound cleaner because less “track bouncing” had to be done, and applying that effect to the vocals is a matter of point-and-click these days. The original recording earned an A+ for solid engineering effort even if you didn’t dig the tune itself. Still, it’s nice to hear it clean and crisp like this.

Closing the album out is “Point Of No Return” – a brand new song done by Lynne in a style borrowing from quite a few eras of ELO past. Musically, it’s very nice, though the lyrics seem a bit uninspired – but in the end, this is what I’m actually wanting from the novel and exciting idea of Jeff Lynne being back in the studio.

Over a decade ago, the now defunct (and sorely-missed) Not Lame label gathered some of non-mainstream power pop’s brightest rising stars to record their own homages to Lynne’s entire career; everything was fair game, from Idle Race to The Move to Armchair Theatre, and if you didn’t like the result, it was okay because the next song was by someone else. Some of the reinterpretations were radical (Evil Woman edged into hip-hop R&B territory and survived the transition), and that was okay. Truth be told, I 3 out of 4think I had more of a stomach for new artists reinventing these beloved songs than I do for Jeff Lynne himself to redo them as the sole performer of record. A couple of the new recordings of old favorites simply inspire me to turn them off halfway through and go back to listen to the originals with renewed appreciation.

Order this CD

  1. Mr. Blue Sky (3:44)
  2. Evil Woman (4:30)
  3. Strange Magic (3:53)
  4. Don’t Bring Me Down (4:01)
  5. Turn To Stone (3:45)
  6. Showdown (4:15)
  7. Telephone Line (4:29)
  8. Livin’ Thing (3:42)
  9. Do Ya (3:56)
  10. Can’t Get It Out Of My Head (4:34)
  11. 10538 Overture 40th Anniversary Edition (4:43)
  12. The Point Of No Return (3:14)

Released by: Frontiers Records
Release date: October 9, 2012
Total running time:

The Idle Race – Back To The Story

The Idle Race - Back To The StoryIn the post-Sgt. Pepper 1960s, many an up-and-coming British band longed to be the next Beatles, and with record labels hitching their wagons to the musical “British invasion” of America, there was certainly no shortage of success stories. Some bands, however, by choice or by fate, remained strictly local concerns – and such was the case with the Idle Race, a Birmingham group that rose from the ashes of a previous local band, Mike Sheridan and the Nightriders, after Sheridan left the band and a young guitarist named Jeff Lynne joined up. Even while the band was still actively recording and playing live, Idle Race won critical acclaim (including from the Beatles themselves, who invited the band to sit in on some sessions for the White Album)…and sold so few records that the band might’ve vanished into local history but for one of its members’ later success. Back To The Story is a 2-CD set that collects all three of the albums recorded by the Idle Race – two with Lynne in the driver’s seat (including his first credit as producer), and one recorded after his departure.

An utterly charming little slice of obscure ’60s psychedelia, The Birthday Party is the Idle Race’s debut effort, boasting intricate arrangements, some teriffic vocal harmonies, and even a studio string section, quite an unusual luxury for such a young group. The harmonies and the sense of whimsy running through both music and lyrics are clear evidence of a Beatles influence, though there are also touches that might remind keen-eared listeners of the Byrds here and there.

The Idle Race - The Birthday PartyBy modern standards, The Birthday Party is barely an EP, not even weighing in at half an hour, but the songs are layered enough to merit repeat listening. Where there’s lyrical whimsy, it’s almost too much at times, with “I Like My Toys” and “Sitting In My Tree” sticking out in that regard; depending on your mood, it’ll either be a little too saccharine, or endearingly childlike. It’s in numbers like “Follow Me Follow” and especially “The Lady Who Said She Could Fly” that the real potential of the group is exposed, and they’re a revelation – decent rock numbers with a nice string arrangement woven into and around the Idle Race’s basic rhythm section. The songs leave a huge impression – honestly, why they haven’t been covered is a total mystery to me – and they show that the group’s young lead vocalist (and self-appointed rookie producer) Jeff Lynne had some very clear ideas about what he’d do with a studio and a band at his disposal. Despite overtures (ha!) from his friend Roy Wood to join The Move, Lynne stubbornly stuck it out with the Idle Race for another album.

The Idle RaceThat album was the self-titled The Idle Race, and while Lynne’s songwriting and production are still front and center, somehow the second album doesn’t just reach out and grab me the same way that The Birthday Party does. In a few places, Lynne is reaching too far for the kind of Beatlesque affectations that many critics accuse him of being about for his whole career. If you thought Lynne was trying too hard to set up shop on the Fab Four’s turf during his ELO career, stay right away from The Idle Race here. There is one bona fide gorgeous Lynne classic on here in the form of “Follow Me Follow”, which just about makes the whole album worthwhile. “Come With Me”, “Sea Of Dreams” and “Going Home” are a nice triple-act right at the beginning of the album…but all this means is that The Idle Race has an extremely soft center. The second CD kicks off with a selection of non-album singles and B-sides, which are also a mixed bag; I thought I’d get a big kick out of hearing Lynne cover his buddy Roy Wood’s “(Here We Go ‘Round) The Lemon Tree”, originally performed by the Move (and with Roy Wood sitting in on this cover version), but while it’s a faithful enough rendition musically, the production touches are a bit much – this is Lynne at an age where he was getting a big charge out of being The Producer, and he was throwing everything plus the kitchen sink at the job, whether the song called for it or not. There’s a really good cover of “In The Summertime”, dating from the band’s brief post-Lynne era, but it differentiates itself so very little from the original that you might as well stick to Mungo Jerry.

The Idle Race - Time Is...In any case, Jeff Lynne did ultimately join the Move and, with Wood, later formed ELO; his Idle Race cohorts released a third album, Time Is…, which sounds absolutely nothing like Lynne-era Idle Race. Roger Spencer and the other members of the group steered things into a more mainstream psychedelic rock vein, and while there are some nice tunes to be found on the group’s swan song, you have to keep in mind that this is solid 1969/1970 material a year or two past its sell-by date. These songs slid right under the radar because music had moved on – Led Zeppelin was in full force, and even the Move was busting out mind-blowers like “Open Up Said The World At The Door”.

Thus ends the complete catalog of the Idle Race – enough to fill two CDs, with space left over for both sides of the final Mike Sheridan and the Nightriders single, and a few alternate versions. (Hey, albums were shorter back then.) The alternate takes of three songs – including the gorgeous “Follow Me Follow” – quickly reveal why the versions we’re used to are what made it onto the albums. “Follow” in particular is marred, in this recording, by a strange effect on the vocals during the chorus; at best, this bit of “producing” is just unbecoming considering the rest of the song’s beauty.

3 out of 4
A “complete recordings” box set is due later this year, rumored to span more than twice as many discs as this set, but between my own post-baby budget and my ambivalence about the material presented in this collection, I’m going to have to see some awfully good reviews and see some awfully tempting stuff on the tracklist before I blow my money on it. For most people, even diehard fans who “Follow Me Follow” Jeff Lynne wherever he goes, this complete presentation of the Idle Race’s commercially released material will do nicely.

Order this CD

    Disc one
    The Birthday Party

  1. The Skeleton and the Roundabout (2:21)
  2. Happy Birthday / The Birthday Party (3:23)
  3. I Like My Toys (2:10)
  4. The Morning Sunshine (1:46)
  5. Follow Me Follow (2:48)
  6. Sitting In My Tree (1:53)
  7. On With The Show (2:22)
  8. Lucky Man (2:37)
  9. (Don’t Put Your Boys In The Army) Mrs. Ward (2:13)
  10. Pie In The Sky (2:27)
  11. The Lady Who Said She Could Fly (2:19)
  12. End Of The Road (2:09)
  13. The Idle Race

  14. Come With Me (2:45)
  15. Sea Of Dreams (3:13)
  16. Going Home (3:44)
  17. Reminds Me Of You (2:54)
  18. Mr. Crow And Sir Norman (3:17)
  19. Please No More Sad Songs (3:21)
  20. Girl At The Window (3:44)
  21. Big Chief Woolly Bosher (5:15)
  22. Someone Knocking (2:56)
  23. A Better Life (The Weather Man Knows) (2:45)
  24. Hurry Up John (3:33)
  25. Bonus tracks

  26. Lucky Man (alternate take) (2:35)
  27. Follow Me Follow (alternate take) (1:56)
  28. Days Of Broken Arrows (alternate take) (3:39)
    Disc two
    Singles & B-sides

  1. (Here We Go ‘Round) The Lemon Tree (2:44)
  2. My Father’s Son (2:15)
  3. Impostors Of Life’s Magazine (2:21)
  4. Knocking Nails Into My House (2:27)
  5. Days Of The Broken Arrows (3:51)
  6. Worn Red Carpet (3:03)
  7. In The Summertime (2:58)
  8. Told You Twice (3:38)
  9. Neanderthal Man (3:56)
  10. Victim Of Circumstance (3:36)
  11. Time Is

  12. Dancing Flower (2:14)
  13. Sad O’ Sad (3:28)
  14. The Clock (3:23)
  15. I Will See You (3:11)
  16. By The Sun (6:42)
  17. Alcatraz (4:02)
  18. And The Rain (2:52)
  19. She Sang Hymns Out Of Tune (3:07)
  20. Bitter Green (3:45)
  21. We Want It All (4:13)
  22. Mike Sheridan & The Nightriders

  23. It’s Only the Dog (2:15)
  24. Your Friend (3:22)

Released by: EMI
Release date: 1996 (re-released in 2007 without Nightriders tracks)
Disc one total running time: 74:26
Disc two total running time: 73:23

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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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

George Harrison – Brainwashed

George Harrison - BrainwashedRecorded in the months leading up to his death in late 2001, Brainwashed was always going to be George Harrison’s posthumous album. Knowing he wasn’t going to be around to apply the finishing touches, Harrison left copious notes on how he wanted everything to sound. That task was left to Harrison’s son Dhani and Traveling Wilburys collaborator Jeff Lynne. (Even that surprised some observers, given that Harrison was quoted in 2001 as saying that Lynne wouldn’t be involved in his next album because he didn’t want it to “sound like an ELO album,” though this may be yet another example of the dry wit that distinguished Harrison back in his Beatles days.)

In the end, though, Lynne did finish Harrison’s swan song, and it looks like Harrison planned it that way all along. Brainwashed is as fitting and haunting an exit for George Harrison as Mystery Girl was for Roy Orbison.

Given that Harrison knew the end was near, the slate of songs on Brainwashed is surprisingly cheerful and philosophical at the same time …and it’s no more downbeat than anything that came before. Given that the ex-Beatle had recently suffered through a prolonged series of cancer treatments, as well as recovering from being stabbed by an unstable fan, I doubt anyone would’ve blamed him for being a bit darker and more bitter…but in the end, that just wasn’t George Harrison. And maybe that, along with his music, is his legacy and lesson for everyone. And while he didn’t spend his last opportunity venting, he does wax a little more spiritual than usual – the outstanding “Rising Sun” (with its “I Am The Walrus”-esque cello backing arrangement) is a good example of this, as is the lead single, “Stuck Inside A Cloud”. He also pokes some gentle fun at the Catholic Church in the Wilbury-esque “P2 Vatican Blues” (which also shows more than just a little hint of Bob Dylan’s influence), and laments what he sees as the duping of society in the title track. Chances are, George Harrison mentions God more often in the course of Brainwashed than any other non-Christian mainstream album has in the past year.

I also have to say, for the record, that “Never Get Over You” is one of the best songs I’ve heard anyone do in the past few years; it has some incredible harmonies and the kind of non-date-specific sound that gives it a feel not unlike Harrison’s best music from the 70s. It’s that good. I tend not to put one song on continuous repeat unless it really trips my trigger, and I think I listened to nothing but “Never Get Over You” for two or three hours straight the first time I heard it. “Rising Sun” and the wistful “Marwa Blues” instrumental inspire that kind of compulsory repeat listening too. I’m not trying to be funny when I say I can’t get them out of my head.

Overall, it’s amazing stuff – it doesn’t sound like the last album of someone’s career, let alone the last album they’re going to make while they’re alive. And as for the naysayers who are complaining that George 4 out of 4Harrison’s final set sounded like “an ELO record,” relax…it really doesn’t. And almost as sad as the fact that George is no longer with us is the fact that he didn’t grace the world with more of his unique sound in the decade before his death. Brainwashed is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, and not just for the nostalgia factor.

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  1. Any Road Will Take You There (3:54)
  2. P2 Vatican Blues (Last Saturday Night) (2:41)
  3. Pisces Fish (4:54)
  4. Looking For My Life (3:51)
  5. Rising Sun (5:28)
  6. Marwa Blues (3:43)
  7. Stuck Inside A Cloud (4:07)
  8. Run So Far (4:08)
  9. Never Get Over You (3:28)
  10. Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea (2:36)
  11. Rocking Chair In Hawaii (3:08)
  12. Brainwashed (6:07)

Released by: Capitol
Release date: 2002
Total running time: 48:11