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There aren't that many albums that you can say are consistently good, that every single track is memorable and that the same amount of effort has gone into each and every note - ELO's most recent album Zoom perhaps just fits that bill.
The Electric Light Orchestra is basically just one guy these days, the big bearded producer Jeff Lynne. Lynne has carved out a niche for himself since the original ELO called it a day in 1986 producing albums by Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and George Harrison, as well as contributing his talents to The Travelling Wilbury's and producing his own solo album - the much ignored but brilliant Armchair Theatre.
Zoom was the band's first proper album for fifteen years and although features contributions from Ringo Starr and George Harrison but failed to set the charts alight and was forgotten as soon as it was released. Thats a real shame because its such a strong and fresh sounding album that it deserves to be heard again from those that bought it and to be discovered by those that didn't (me included).
The sound of the new ELO is much less 'disco-very' as they were back in the late 70's. Its much more orchestral and rock and roll based, much like Armchair Theatre was really. Those of you who enjoyed George Harrison's final album Brainwashed will almost certainly enjoy Zoom due to the similar modern take on an old way of playing. There aren't many bands that manage the power pop sound of The Beatles and Badfinger these days, its up to ELO to keep flying the flag. (I would certainly ignore Ringo's recent effort - read my review!)
The songs that really stood out for me was the excellent 'Moment In Paradise' which features Ringo on drums. 'State Of Mind' could so easily have been another Roy Orbison chart topper if he had lived long enough. 'Easy Money' is one of the best Beatles rockers that the group never wrote, blisteringly heavy this one had me almost singing out loud the other day in the gym (I'm glad I held back!)
The most modern sounding song on the album is 'Stranger on a Quiet Street' which combines modern sounding production values along with the classic ELO sound. I think the slower songs on the album are certainly the best - 'Ordinary Dream' is a great song, perhaps my favourite song on the whole album. Its strange that an album actually gets better the further you get into it, the best songs coming right at the end, unlike most bands who put their 'single' at the beginning.
Zoom is an amazing album. It ranks right up there with ELO's best albums from the 70's and is actually a little more melancholic due to the albums 'final' nature, assuming that this is band's last album.
I urge everyone to part with their cash and get a copy of Zoom - you won't regret it!
After an absence of fifteen years a new album by Electric Light Orchestra is a welcome and delightful surprise. Well I remember those high powered albums of the 70s combining elements of rock with lush classical backings and the spectacular light and sound live shows. I was fortunate to be in the front row at their Newcastle City Hall concert. When a US arena tour was announced I had visions of a full blown reunion tour (after all both Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles have managed it) and I was planning my flights to join in. This was a CD I had to buy ? sound unheard. My initial reaction was that this is a brilliant collection of songs, superbly performed and engineered. The album runs for 43 minutes. As I got immersed in the tracks it became apparent that there was more to this album than initially meets the eye (ear?!). As always the songs are all written by Jeff Lynne who is also the producer. ELO was typically a four piece rock band (Lynne, Bev Bevan, Richard Tandy and Kelly Groucutt) with classically trained string players (electric violin - Mik Kiminski and cellos - Melvyn Gale, Hugh McDowell) added. So what is the dramatis personae here? Jeff Lynne provides (on various tracks): Lead vocals, Backing vocals, Lead Guitar, Rhythm Guitar, Piano, Keyboards, Bass, Drums, Cello. He also shows a much wider range of vocal styles than on previous ELO albums. He has ?special guest stars?: Ringo Starr plays drums on two tracks, George Harrison plays slide guitar on two tracks and Richard Tandy plays electric piano on one track. The running order is: Alright Moment in Paradise State Of Mind Just For Love Stranger On A Quiet Street In My Own Time Easy Money It Really Doesn?t Matter Ordinary Dream A Long Time Gone Melting In The Sun All She Wanted Lonesome Lullaby. ?Alright? is a fairly slow paced rocker and was released as the debut single. ?Moment in Paradise? is my particu
lar favourite reminding me of laid back Summer afternoons of the mid 60s ? the chorus could easily have been written by The Kinks ?State of Mind? is a magical meld of several influences. Listen to the background guitar riffs (?Lucille? ? Everley Brothers or ?Oh Pretty Woman? ? Roy Orbison (Lefty Wilbury) mixed with a modern fast vocal refrain and a classical ELO backing. Unexpected maybe but it works! ?In My Own Time? is a lush blues number from the early 1960s. The string accompaniment could have done justice to Brook Benton and the piano, Floyd Cramer?s ?Last Date?. ?Easy Money? is a straight reworking of ?Let?s Have a Party? (various including Elvis). ?It Really Doesn?t Matter At All? hints of Travelling Wilburys. ?Melting In The Sun? could have come from Dylan or Tom Petty. Tracks which are highly typical and reminiscent of ELO at their best (?Out Of The Blue? and ?Discovery?) are ?Just For Love?, ?Stranger On A Quiet Street?, ?Ordinary Dream? The plot thickens when you consider the history of ELO. The break up when it came appears to have been quite acrimonious. Jeff Lynne went on to record production, including collaboration with members of The Beatles. Various remaining members of the band wanted to continue touring and after a variety of legal battles persisted with the name ELO Part II. As Otis Wilbury, Jeff was also instrumental in putting together, writing the music for and producing the eponymous album ?The Travelling Wilburys? along with his county cousin Nelson (George Harrison). It was an amalgam of their various styles and there are tracks where the distinctive ELO sound was in evidence. The other members on that first album were Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. The ELO arena tour was announced in June 2001 and included 25 dates in the US during September and October. On August 16th 2001, the tour was cancelled with a management statement that read: ?ELO wanted to put on
a grand spectacle with a massive stage and light show that the group is known for and that?s just not logistically or economically possible in this marketplace at this time.? The sales of ?Zoom? were also disappointing. It entered the Billboard 200 album chart at 94 and then dropped out again after two weeks. By mid August 2001, sales were said to be about 52,000. At the same time, another tour was announced here in the UK. Going under the name of ?Orchestra?, the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra were joined by former members of ELO and ELO Part II (Kelly Groucutt, Eric Troyer, Parthenon Huxley, Mik Kiminski and Gordon Townsend were cited at the time) to ?take you on a roaring supersonic flight through the glittering galaxy of the ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA?s greatest hits?. The orchestra was conducted by Louis Clark (who also conducted and arranged the strings on many of ELO?s best albums). Overall this album is on a par with the best that ELO had to offer. It also compares well with the Travelling Wilburys. It would be a great pity if Jeff Lynne has made the mistake of exercising his intellectual property rights in calling ?Zoom? an ELO album. Clearly it is not; any more than Don Henley could call himself ?The Eagles? or Mick Fleetwood and Stevie Nicks ? Fleetwood Mac. In some respects ?Otis Goes Solo? would have reflected the pedigree of this album better and it is also somewhat ironic that it was nearly Nelson?s (George Harrison?s) last foray into the world of rock. It is mainly through the agencies of Otis that Nelson?s valedictory album (?Brainwashed?) was completed and released. I am so sorry that ?Zoom? does not hold promise the worldwide tour of reunited ELO. Now that would have been something worth waiting for. Maybe old enmities are just too deeply entrenched for that. This tragedy is really reinforced because a DVD of the inaugural concert (filmed at CBS Television City Studios in Los Angeles) was released in earl
y 2002. Although it was also entitled ?Zoom? it was a tribute to the many hits of ELO over the years and the 22 tracks included such notables as Mr Blue Sky, Evil Woman and Roll Over Beethoven. Five tracks from the album are included. The quality of the performance, the performers (which did include Richard Tandy on keyboards), the sound quality and the visuals are impeccable. There is a bonus track on the DVD which features an illuminating interview with Jeff Lynne. Mine is a region 1 DVD but I have no reason to assume that the UK release is any different. ZOOM (2001) Electric Light Orchestra. CD EPIC EK85336 (£11.99) ZOOM CONCERT TOUR (2001) ELO DVD IMAGE ID1334DDDVD (£18.99)
In 1986 a bored Jeff Lynne laid the Electric Light Orchestra to rest with their uninspired, contract-filling finale 'Balance of Power'. For the next few years he busied himself as a producer for George Harrison, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison, all of whom joined him in the Traveling Wilburys, before making a solo album and going on to help co-produce the last two Beatles singles. Meanwhile, after some legal shenanigans, ELO's drummer Bev Bevan regrouped several members of the old band to form the unjustly-neglected ELO Part II, who made two more studio albums and then called it a day. Now, in 2001, Jeff has his baby back. ELO, as heard on 'Zoom', is in effect Mr Lynne as a solo artist again, playing most of the instruments and singing nearly all vocals as well as writing and producing everything, as before. Apart from pianist Richard Tandy on one track, none of his old group are present, though a few other guests appear here and there - Rosie Vela, daughter Laura Lynne (backing vocals), Marc Mann (guitar), Suzie Katayama, Roger Lebow (cello), Dave Boruff (saxophone), and a couple of arrangers. None have a higher profile than George Harrison (guitar) and Ringo Starr (drums), playing on two tracks each, thus maintaining a Beatles connection. As for the 13 tracks themselves: 'Alright' kicks off, a mid-tempo shuffler, and a positive lyric that tells of going "through the darkest times of your life" to a new beginning; "No use thinkin' about what you ain't got, Just makes you bitter…You gotta hold on to somethin' that you believe". A clever little change in tempo near the end, and one of those massive-sounding echoey guitar breaks halfway through, bring this one to life. 'Moment in Paradise' is more ethereal, softer in sound, reminiscent of 'Telephone Line', especially with those sci-fi space sound effects. Nice but a little bland. '
State of Mind' really rocks out. I've always preferred ELO this way, and this one subconsciously tips its hat to 1970 when Jeff joined The Move, the group which ultimately evolved into ELO. A little touch of the guitar riff which fuelled The Move's first track on which he ever played, the Top 10 hit 'Brontosaurus' reappears, and a chord sequence which seems to ape 'Good Golly Miss Molly' somewhat. But Jeff always knew how to plunder the best rock classics and create something of his own in the process, and this is no exception. 'Just For Love' floats along like a dream. Pleasant, but like 'Moment', none too memorable. 'Stranger on a Quiet Street' is better. Another slow introspective song, this boasts a better tune, and an electric piano introduces a more stripped-down, less extravagant sound. 'In My Own Time', with its violin intro, starts off rather like an old 30s/40s-type song, or even a bit of music hall from an even earlier time than that, before the vocal harmonies and the full battery of widescreen ELO sounds come in after about a minute. 'Easy Money', non-nonsense rock'n'roll, finds Ringo hammering the skinks while Jeff does everything else. Other people I've talked to call this one a throwaway and one of the worst numbers on the album, but I couldn't disagree more. It may not be quite 'Don't Bring Me Down', but good fun all the same. 'It Really Doesn't Matter', a mid-tempo song that sounds dull at first but soon grows on you. Nice tune, massive sound again. 'Ordinary Dream', melancholy, ballad, nice tune, enlivened by the odd burst of strings going mental, and a nice searing piece of lead guitar towards the end. After repeated listening, one of the strongest songs. 'A Long Time Gone', with unmistakable guitar intro that could only be (and is) George Harrison, and
massive sound from Jeff's multi-tracked vocals, melancholy and a little dull. 'Melting In the Sun', brisker and more catchy, with colourful acoustic guitar to start with before the rest of the instruments build up to something more grandiose. Again, a strong tune make this one of the better tracks. 'All She Wanted' rocks with some slashing guitar chords and cello (compare ELO's early hit 'Ma-Ma-Ma-Belle'), and a short slow phased piece about halfway through adds interest. Another of my favourites - this is how I always preferred the band to sound. 'Lonesome Lullaby', mid-tempo with grungy guitar, which sounds like it's being played through a small amp with the reverb turned well up, and a few nifty slides up and down the cello from Roger Lebow. Overall, I enjoyed this as much as the two albums ELO Part II made in the early 90s, and I'd place it above the last three rather disappointing ELO sets from the 80s. Jeff's ability to write great songs and play almost all the instruments himself is beyond dispute, as are his production skills in creating that larger-than-life extravagant sound. There's no attempt at any grand portentous theme, any symphonic experiments, it's just a good uncomplicated selection of individual songs. But the fact that it's pretty well a one-man operation means there's a lack of balance, with hardly any input of ideas from others (apart from one or two strings arrangers) which would have improved it. Granted, for most of their history, ELO were Jeff Lynne plus a backing band. Yet if only Bev Bevan had been drafted back to play drums throughout, or at least add that full-blooded thump on the skins and cymbals on at least a few numbers, and Mik Kaminski contribute some violin flourishes, I'm sure it would have made a difference. Moreover, in view of Jeff's long silence as a recording artist (one solo album, 'Armc
hair Theatre', under his own name in 1990), 13 fairly short tracks and around 43 minutes playing time is a little ungenerous. For all that, as a long-time ELO fan, I'm glad to see him back. On the first hearing I had my doubts, but a few listens later it has come together.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Movement In Paradise
3 State Of Mind
4 Just For Love
5 Stranger On A Quiet Street
6 In My Own Time
7 Easy Money
8 Really Doesn't Matter Anymore
9 Ordinary Dream
10 A Long Time Gone
11 Melting In The Sun
12 All She Wanted
13 Lonesome Lullaby