There’s gonna be a throwdown! At least that was what I thought when I first heard of this release: Parthenon Huxley, the songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist behind the excellent No Rewind album from The Orchestra (formerly ELO Part II), tries on some bona fide Jeff Lynne classics for size. Given ELO Part II/The Orchestra’s storied legal history with Lynne, surely Huxley had some massive brass balls. Not only had he become one of the inheritors of the ELO sound, but he was taking on classic ELO songs written by one of the group’s founders. A gutsy move, to say the very least.
Huxley is, like many modern power pop practitioners, an admirer of Jeff Lynne’s songwriting and production acumen, and so perhaps it was wise for him to do something really unexpected with Homemade Spaceship: in many cases, he almost rewrites the music. Same words, but completely different takes on some of the familiar melodies. There are plenty of hints of the familiar melody of “Mr. Blue Sky”, for instance, but the timing has changed, and Huxley completely changes the trajectory of the main vocal melody. The lush harmonies are gone for the most part too, further confusing the ear that’s accustomed to Lynne’s wall of sound.
Some songs stick very close to their source material: “10538 Overture” is a folkier take on the very first ELO song, and has the added benefit of making the lyrics easier to understand than the original does. The closest any of the tracks here comes to their inspiration is “The Diary Of Horace Wimp”, which is presented in a laid-back way but, unlike many of the songs covered on Homemade Spaceship, preserves much of the harmonies in the chorus. “Showdown” stays close to the original, but trades in the original recording’s layers of foreboding strings for a pared-down, folky western dirge.
Some of the songs that do stray further from the source material are real treats: Huxley makes “Evil Woman” his own via some melodic twists and turns that differ significantly from the original, but it still has a driving beat and a bluesy feel at its heart. “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle” is a much softer song than the hard-rocking original, but the changes give the same set of lyrics a compeltely different emotional angle.
My one complaint about Homemade Spaceship is that, like L.E.O., Huxley chooses to parody “Don’t Bring Me Down” instead of doing a more straightforward cover of it. With a faux British accent, he turns it into a song that’s spoken instead of sung, and occasionally reduces it to a Pythonesque farce. After the rest of the album’s thoughtful deconstructions of numerous ELO favorites, this approach struck me as cheap and cheesy, but your mileage may vary. Overall, a very interesting collection – ELO ultra-purists need not apply.
- 10538 Overture (3:09)
- Mr. Blue Sky (4:08)
- Showdown (4:03)
- Can’t Get It Out Of My Head (4:22)
- Telephone Line (6:26)
- Sweet Talkin’ Woman (5:05)
- Evil Woman (4:54)
- Ma-Ma-Ma Belle (3:43)
- Strange Magic (3:41)
- The Diary Of Horace Wimp (5:13)
- Do Ya (4:08)
- Don’t Bring Me Down (3:34)
Released by: Reverberations
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 52:26