Homemade Spaceship: The Music Of ELO Performed By P. Hux

Homemade SpaceshipThere’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.

3 out of 4My 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.

Order a download

  1. 10538 Overture (3:09)
  2. Mr. Blue Sky (4:08)
  3. Showdown (4:03)
  4. Can’t Get It Out Of My Head (4:22)
  5. Telephone Line (6:26)
  6. Sweet Talkin’ Woman (5:05)
  7. Evil Woman (4:54)
  8. Ma-Ma-Ma Belle (3:43)
  9. Strange Magic (3:41)
  10. The Diary Of Horace Wimp (5:13)
  11. Do Ya (4:08)
  12. Don’t Bring Me Down (3:34)

Released by: Reverberations
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 52:26

The Orchestra – No Rewind

The Orchestra - No RewindAfter 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 rating: 4 out of 4“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.

Order this CD

  1. Jewel & Johnny (3:56)
  2. Say Goodbye (4:25)
  3. No Rewind (4:07)
  4. Over London Skies (4:32)
  5. Twist And Shout (6:34)
  6. Can’t Wait To See You (3:28)
  7. If Only (4:38)
  8. I Could Write A Book (3:12)
  9. Let Me Dream (4:01)
  10. Before We Go (5:03)

Released by: ART Music (Argentinian release)
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 44:01