After nearly ten years of touring and recording, Electric Light Orchestra Part II – which included original ELO veterans Bev Bevan, Kelly Groucutt, Louis Clark and Mik Kaminski – met its match. It wasn’t touring exhaustion – unlike the usually reclusive Jeff Lynne, these guys love playing live. In this case, it was Lynne himself, who was in the process of reclaiming the ELO name for an upcoming greatest hits box set and an all-new album of original Lynne material; Lynne wanted any other use of the ELO name dropped. Drummer Bev Bevan, who had been with ELO ever since the band evolved from The Move in 1971, decided not only to give up the ELO Part II moniker, but to retire from performing as well.
This left ELO Part II – now consisting of Groucutt, Clark, Kaminski, Eric Troyer and newly recruited guitarist Parthenon Huxley – with no drummer and no name. Huxley called on a friend of his, a fellow L.A. session player named Gordon Townsend, to audition for the open drum seat, and the rest of the band approved. Rechristened The Orchestra, the band continued touring, also booking studio time out of their own pockets on several tour stops to lay down tracks for a new album. The result, which the band proudly proclaims was created without a single cent of money from any labels or outside benefactors, is No Rewind, which marks an incredible reinvention of the group’s sound.
The band’s new blood – Huxley and Townsend – asserts itself right off the bat with “Jewel And Johnny”. Kicking off with a beat not a million miles away from the fun, jaunty gait of “Mr. Blue Sky” itself, Jewel and Johnny shows that the new recruits have, in fact, brought The Orchestra that much closer to the sound of old-school ELO. (It’s worth noting at this juncture that Huxley is from the same pool of reared-on-the-70s L.A. power pop talent that has also given us Jason Falkner and Jon Brion.) There were tracks on both of ELO Part II’s studio albums that faintly irritated me because they made it sound like the group was trying to bring a hard rock sound to the table; not so with No Rewind. The songs here are finely crafted pop-rock with a Beatlesque sensibility, which is, ironically, what Jeff Lynne was always trying to do with the original ELO. And the songs featuring Huxley on lead vocals are a real treat, because it sure doesn’t hurt that Huxley’s versatile baritone isn’t a million miles away from the voice of the aforementioned Mr. Lynne. Whether consciously or not, there seems to have been a reassessment of what made the original ELO what it was; the songwriting is sharper this time around, both musically and lyrically, with fantastic results.
Highlights include “Jewel And Johnny”, the mesmerizing and majestic “Let Me Dream” (co-written by ELO Part II veteran Eric Troyer and original ELO violin virtuoso Mik Kaminski), “Can’t Wait To See You” (another tune written and sung by Huxley, which is as close as one can imagine to a lost Jeff Lynne song), and the Troyer-written tracks “No Rewind” and “Say Goodbye”. The orchestral components of each song are several orders of magnitude beyond most of the output of ELO Part II – arranger Louis Clark is all over this album, imbuing the new songs with the densely layered string sound he gave to the classic ELO albums A New World Record and Out Of The Blue, but also wisely backing off and giving Mik Kaminski numerous opportunities to wow us with a single violin.
Curiously absent, however, are many frontman opportunities for classic ELO bassist/backup singer Kelly Groucutt; when he joined ELO Part II full-time in 1991, his distinctive background vocals brought the whole exercise much closer to being “real ELO.” He was all over the next studio album as both lead and background vocalist, as much as any one member of the band could be with the rotating-vocalist scheme, but he’s in the lead on only two out of ten songs here.
One of those two songs, incidentally, is a reworking of “Twist And Shout” which is almost funny in how it deceptively repaints the song as a downbeat dirge before allowing the original tune to emerge. Once we’re in familiar territory, however, it’s pretty much a pastiche of the Beatles’ cover of “Twist And Shout”, which is my one disappointment with No Rewind – all of the other songs are not only originals, but damned good originals. Ironically, the best of those originals sound more worthy of the ELO name than anything the band’s done before – so naturally, they’re no longer permitted to use the name.
No Rewind, whether in its limited (and now out-of-print) edition issued through the band’s official web site or in a real live label release from, of all places, Argentina, is worth a listen. When I first heard it, I was thinking “Dear Jeff Lynne, get back together with your old bandmates.” But having listened to No Rewind more and more, and taking into consideration that it’s taking a long time for either Lynne or his erstwhile bandmates to release new material, I retract that. There are now two entities turning out an increasingly uncommon kind of music that I love. And that’s not a bad deal.
- Jewel & Johnny (3:56)
- Say Goodbye (4:25)
- No Rewind (4:07)
- Over London Skies (4:32)
- Twist And Shout (6:34)
- Can’t Wait To See You (3:28)
- If Only (4:38)
- I Could Write A Book (3:12)
- Let Me Dream (4:01)
- Before We Go (5:03)
Released by: ART Music (Argentinian release)
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 44:01