Electric Light Orchestra
The Essential Electric Light Orchestra
First Appeared at The Music Box, May 2003, Volume 10, #5
Written by John Metzger
Long before Jeff Lynne joined the Traveling Wilburys or became a controversial but very successful producer, he led the widely popular í70s group Electric Light Orchestra. In actuality, Lynneís career began back in the late 1960s as frontman for The Idle Race, a British band that fared well in its local market, but failed to make a dent outside the U.K. with its Beatles-influenced psychedelia. Lynne soon joined The Move, and alongside guitarist Roy Wood and drummer Bev Bevan, the group began to lean towards artsier inclinations. Success still didnít come, but the groundwork for Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) was being paved.
In 1970, Lynne, Wood, and Bevan started ELO as a side-project, and its earliest recordings had far more in common with the growing progressive-rock movement than they did with Beatle-esque pop. Classical elements, courtesy of string and woodwind instruments, frequented the ambitious songs, though ultimately it was a chore to listen to them. A disagreement in directions caused Wood to depart from the band, leaving Electric Light Orchestra completely within Lynneís hands. He quickly reconfigured the group to record its follow-up, and though the album continued ELOís overblown, prog-rock tendencies, it did lend the band its first U.S. hit ó a lengthy blast through Chuck Berryís Roll Over Beethoven.
With each passing album, however, Electric Light Orchestra shifted more and more away from its lengthy prog-rock excursions, though it did retain many of the elements it had been developing. The groupís albums were often conceptual in nature, meant to be taken as a whole, and the instrumental layers grew sizeably, often incorporating choirs as well as mid-size orchestras. But something else was also happening ó Lynne was perfecting his songwriting style. The songs became shorter, more melodic, and downright infectious. It seems his years of Beatle-worship had finally taken root.
The Essential Electric Light Orchestra collects the bandís most successful songs from the í70s and í80s and strings them together in a way that makes a strong case that the group was far better than it is often remembered as being. True, there is a somewhat dated quality to ELOís sound, and as time has passed, Lynneís signature style has become a bit over-utilized via his often heavy-handed production. Nevertheless, itís impossible to resist gentle ballads like Canít Get It out of My Head or Telephone Line as well as the charmingly buoyant pop of tunes like Mr. Blue Sky, Sweet Talkiní Woman or ELOís remake of The Moveís Do Ya. Likewise, í80s hits Calling America and Rock and Roll Is King hold their own against the material from the bandís heyday. Indeed, save for the most fanatical of the groupís fans, The Essential Electric Light Orchestra should suit everyoneís needs just fine.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box