Jeff Lynne’s ELO – Alone in the Universe (Big Trilby / Sony) review
The ELO Spaceship rises again for their best record since their late-Seventies’ heyday
Electric Light Orchestra were one of the biggest bands of the Seventies and early Eighties. Their combination of Beatles’ soaked melodies, drizzled with classical overtones made their ear candy radio hits immediately recognizable. And that signature ELO drum sound – it was like four drummers playing at once! Leader Jeff Lynne grounded ELO in the late Eighties and turned his attention to producing some of the biggest-selling albums of the next two decades: Tom Petty, George Harrison, the Traveling Wilburys, Roy Orbison, and even the reunited Beatles all carried on that signature, Lynne sound. Now, with The Muppets back on TV, and Star Wars in theaters, the time is right for ELO to fly again.
Alone in the Universe kicks off with the excellent ballad “When I Was a Boy.” Fueled by Lennon-esque piano, the track finds Lynne reminiscing about his early days: “don’t want to work on the milk or the bread / just want to play my guitar instead.” Immediately, that patented sound: jangly guitars, haunting harmonies, strings and the sound of four drummers is still in tact. And, Lynne’s voice is the biggest surprise: still warm and resonating, even able to reach high falsetto notes (maybe all those years of not touring actually paid off).
The moody “Love and Rain” is propelled by a repetitive riff similar to their 1973 hit “Showdown,” while “When the Night Comes” has a reggae beat and signature ELO-layered background vocals. “The Sun Will Shine on You” is a gorgeous piece of positive inspiration.
Writing a good “middle eight” is a lost art form – and Lynne is still a master, throwing in some Beatles’ hand claps after the second chorus of the rocker “Ain’t It a Drag,” and he borrows the familiar Roy Orbison shuffle beat for the slow “I’m Leaving You.”
“One Step at a Time” is the finest ELO track since “Hold on Tight” – an upbeat number with familiar keyboards, killer guitar solo and a great hook – you’ll find yourself immediately singing along.
Another hallmark of ELO was their clever packaging (I still have my cutout spaceship from the Out of the Blue LP). Lynne doesn’t disappoint in this department either – providing a way-cool, 3-D cover, making the physical CD the true way to enjoy the album.
The project is billed as “Jeff Lynne’s ELO,” and rightfully so – he played and sang virtually every note on the record. Yet, he’s also assembled a fantastic band to play some live dates (he’s promised a tour of the US for the spring of 2016).
Alone in the Universe is a strong studio album that should go a long way toward bringing ELO back into the spotlight. —Tony Peters