Alan Parsons Project – I Robot (remaster)

Alan Parsons Project - I RobotIf someone was deliberately trying to drain my wallet, one could hardly concoct a more diabolical scheme than releasing remastered CDs of classic ELO and Alan Parsons Project albums, with extra tracks and bonus material, at the same time. This is indeed happening, and all under the watchful eye (in the sky?) of Sony, no less. As a preamble, I’ve always felt that if you’re already a fan of either ELO or Alan Parsons Project, you’re primed to be a fan of the other. Musically, they’re miles apart, with the lyrical and thematic gloominess of Parsons and Project partner Eric Woolfson counterpointing Jeff Lynne’s “Mr. Blue Sky” cheer. But stylistically, these two very different groups are in the same ball park: lush orchestration, banging against the walls of what constitutes rock and threatening to leave a hole big enough for classical to seep into the room – to say nothing of mesmerizing overdubbed harmonies and widescreen production. I’ve always loved both.

Released in 1977, I, Robot is the Project’s second album, but its first for the Arista label, which would release the rest of the group’s output until it disbanded in 1990. (Sony’s acquisition of Arista and its back catalog is what brought these remastered editions about; the rights to the groundbreaking first album are held by Mercury, which will capitalize on remaster fever by reissuing that album as a double-CD set later this year.) While at times this album seems to be trying a little more self-consciously to “fit in with the times” (“The Voice”‘s brief dive into disco territory, “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You”‘s funky rhythm section), it’s also surprisingly forward-looking for relatively mainstream ’70s prog rock.

In addition to the outstanding original album, presented in crystal clear remastered sound (coincidentally, with the help of Jeff Magid and Tim Fraser-Harding, who oversaw the recent ELO remasters), which upon more recent listening has withstood the test of time better than I think I’ve previously given it credit for (despite elements that clearly mark it as a creation of the 1970s), there are a few early demo recordings and instrumental mixes. There’s a fantastic instrumental of “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You”, missing only the vocals and Ian Bairnson’s ferocious guitar solo, as well as demos of “Day After Day”, “Breakdown” (sounding almost like a soulful ballad) and “I Robot” itself, the latter being a weird experiment using the sound of metal balls bouncing. “The Naked Robot” is a medley gathering instrumental bits, pieces and snippets from several of the songs, including a great many elements and ideas left on the cutting room floor, never to be heard in the final album.

The booklet itself is a wealth of information, revealing that Parsons and Woolfson actually approached Isaac Asimov to sound him out on the idea of basing a prog rock opera on “I, Robot”, but since any adaptation rights were tied to the long-stalled film rights, they had to knock the comma out of the title and adjust their thematic Rating: 4 out of 4approach every so slightly. The book also pins a lot of the group’s success on the coincidence that I Robot arrived in record stores immediately on the heels of Star Wars with a robot on the cover and a futuristic theme in its music. It might be true, who knows? But it certainly didn’t hurt that it was a great album to begin with.

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  1. I Robot (6:02)
  2. I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You (3:23)
  3. Some Other Time (4:05)
  4. Breakdown (3:53)
  5. Don’t Let It Show (4:25)
  6. The Voice (5:23)
  7. Nucleus (3:22)
  8. Day After Day (The Show Must Go On) (3:57)
  9. Total Eclipse (3:12)
  10. Genesis Ch.1 V.32 (3:30)
  11. Boules (I Robot Experiment) (1:59)
  12. Breakdown (early demo) (2:11)
  13. I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You (backing track rough mix) (3:29)
  14. Day After Day (early stage rough mix) (3:41)
  15. The Naked Robot (10:19)

Released by: Legacy / Arista
Release date: 2007 (originally released in 1977)
Total running time: 62:51

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

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.

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  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