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