“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 Beethoven 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.
It 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 yet 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.