Electric Light Orchestra
Balance of Power
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2007, Volume 14, #3
Written by John Metzger
Like many pop artists, Jeff Lynne has had a habit of recycling his ideas by twisting and turning them around as he moves from one album to the next. Generally speaking, the connection between any two given songs wasn’t meant to provide lyrical insight; instead it was limited to his unwavering desire to improve upon his prior melodic and symphonic concepts. With Electric Light Orchestra’s 11th outing Balance of Power, however, Lynne took a different approach. In the wake of its gargantuan endeavor Out of the Blue, the band had floundered in its abilities to move its music forward, a product, no doubt, of its close ties to the ’70s. While the group had remained popular, particularly in the U.K., it also was beginning to run out of steam.
The songs on Balance of Power reflected Lynne’s sadness over Electric Light Orchestra’s impending demise, though he simultaneously couched his ruminations within the framework of a love affair that was on the decline. Consequently, while the music was genuinely joyous, there were darker textures that bubbled beneath its surface. Frustration and anger lurked within Secret Lives, for example, and a sad yearning clung to Is It Alright. Though Lynne remained focused on placing his own stylistic spin upon the canons of The Beatles and The Beach Boys, the lone truly reconfigured moment from his past occurred during Sorrow about to Fall. Echoes of both Evil Woman and Showdown were tucked inside the tune’s swirling, aqueous arrangement, thus lending a greater meaning to the twin interpretations of the album as a whole.
Nevertheless, Balance of Power was plagued with a fatal flaw. In trying to overcome his struggles with penning new material, Lynne had jettisoned the orchestrations that previously had defined Electric Light Orchestra’s music. At first glance, this wasn’t necessarily a bad strategy for him to have employed, especially since he had begun to feel stifled by his need to concoct his customarily complex arrangements. What he utilized instead, though, was a heavy dose of electronic effects. The drum machines and synthesizers suffocated the music, leaving it cloaked in a cold, calculated sterility to which a live string section ironically would have added some much needed warmth. Although the hit single Calling America held merit, largely because of its ingratiating melody, the bulk of the outing fell flat.
Appended to the conclusion of the newly remastered rendition of Balance of Power are seven bonus tracks, most of which now are being released for the first time. There are several alternate mixes — Secret Lives, Sorrow about to Fall, and Heaven Only Knows, the latter of which boasts an instrumental introduction that simply is titled Opening — and these serve primarily to highlight some of the early promise of the material as well as some of the lapses in judgement that were made along the way. As for In for the Kill, it is such a forgettable slice of ’80s pop that it’s easy to see why it wasn’t included on the final endeavor. More notable are the U.K.-only b-sides Caught in a Trap and Destination Unknown, both of which speak rather directly about the dissolution of Electric Light Orchestra.
Prior to the creation of Balance of Power, Lynne had worked with Dave Edmunds on Information and Riff Raff, and soon enough, he would be hired to produce Mystery Girl, Roy Orbison’s late-’80s, comeback album. In that sense, the final two tracks on the original version of the outing (Endless Lies and Send It) provided plenty of hints as to where Lynne’s heart and mind increasingly had begun to rest. Balance of Power, then, was the transitional effort that allowed Lynne to close the book on Electric Light Orchestra and better position himself for the next phase of his career as a well-respected, if heavy-handed, producer. ½
Balance of Power is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box