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CD Review: Electric Light Orchestra – ELO II (Expanded Edition)

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To celebrate the 35th anniversary of Electric Light Orchestra’s founding by Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood, Epic/Legacy is releasing expanded editions of seven of the band’s albums, starting with No Answer and ELO II. Founded in Birmingham, England, the band re-energized music by fusing orchestral rock with classical music.

Originally released in 1973, ELO II features the band’s first U.S. chart hit “Roll Over Beethoven” – a cover of Chuck Berry’s popular rock & roll tune mixed with Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony.” Epic in scale, “Roll Over Beethoven” effortlessly zigzags between Chuck Berry rhythm and Beethoven melody, becoming an elegant blend of pure instrumental composition and classic 50s rock.

Lynne loved to work in the studio and experiment with different sounds and styles. In “Mama,” ELO mixes R&B with its orchestral rock sound, creating an easy going, soulful number. Soul is a huge part of ELO’s sound, despite the band’s dominant electric tones. Lynne sings heart-wrenching lyrics in “Kuiama” that combines soul and country rock, resembling Creedence Clearwater Revival and even Led Zeppelin at times with its long instrumental solos.

ELO is a band that doesn’t put lyrics center stage in its songs. The instrumentals are the dominant and most important aspect of its music. ELO juxtaposes complex rhythms and beats into a mystic jumble of harmonious enchantment. The starting instrumentals set the mood and pace of the songs. In some cases, the mood and pace changes throughout the song like in “From The Sun To The World (Boogie No. 1)” [Real Media stream, Windows Media stream] where it shifts rhythm and style many times, eventually slowing to a ballad march before speeding into a full boogie medley.

This album is an expanded edition with four never-before-released tracks. There is an instrumental version of “In Old England Town” [Real Media stream, Windows Media stream] that sounds very incomplete without any lyrics. There is a session outtake of “Baby I Apologize,” which is a reinventing of band’s own sound. It has more vocals and is more upbeat than any other song. “In Old England Town” and “Roll Over Beethoven” receive alternate mix versions, and sound darker than their original counterparts. “In Old England Town” has heavier guitar riffs while “Roll Over Beethoven” is longer and more electric — it seems to have lost its classical spirit.

Electric Light Orchestra is a revelation in classic rock with many bands owing much to its original sound. Bands like Trans-Siberian Orchestra probably wouldn’t exist without ELO’s experimental creativity. The band let their hands and hearts tell the story.

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About Tan The Man

I am a proud dork and loser.
  • http://www.utopia2000.org Barry Stoller

    All Hail Jeff Lynne for his many contributions to MOR! Rock with violins – god, how radical!

    How 101 Strings’ Back Beat Symphony (1962).

  • http://jpsgoddamnblog.blogspot.com JP

    Well Jeff was more Beatles’ “I am the Walrus” or “Elanor Rigby” but you have a point. At the same time, I am somewhat of a Lynne fan, as I think the criticisms are overdone.

    That said, criticisms of the homogenization of sound he was responsible for during his Wilbury years are valid–but you won’t get a whole lot of that here, it’s more of a raw recording. “Mama” is one of his best early songs, and the full “Roll Over Beethoven” is entertaining. The “boogies” are filler.

    I’m interested to see how this mix sounds, but not until I can find a used copy or something.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    There are no units of measurement large enough to gauge my hatred of Jeff Lynne and ELO.

    They are the impressarios of gilded crap.

    Dave

  • Dr. Emil Shuffhausen

    Gee, Dave, tell us what you really think of Jeff Lynne and ELO. And please, don’t hold back, LOL!

    Seriously, as someone who loves the music of Jeff Lynne and ELO–and has actually listened to all of their recorded output–I will have to put in a good word for them here.

    Electric Light Orchestra II was a transitional album for ELO as Roy Wood departed in mid-stream (though he plays uncredited on the two “Boogies.”) It’s wildly experimental, at times rough and barely listenable, but it is a brilliant and stirring piece of work.

    This 1973 album is a masterpiece, albeit somewhat flawed by later ELO production standards. It was here that ELO truly became Jeff Lynne’s band, and he makes the most of it. “Mama” is a lovely pastoral Lynne ballad, with a memorable instrumental break. “From the Sun to the Sun to the World” is an orchestral rave up and showcases new keyboardist Richard Tandy, who rocks his socks off here. Jeff contributes a memorable, smoking guitar solo. “Roll Over Beethoven” is the perfect marriage of orchestra with retro-rock and struck pretty big on the charts. It remains popular today, and is the definitive version of that oft-covered tune.

    “Kuiama” is a very ambitious prog-rock tune that lumbers along at times, soars celestially, and ultimately breaks your heart. It’s unlike anything ELO has done since, and bears repeated listenings. Kudos to Bev Bevan for his perfect drumming on that tune and througout this entire album. Wilf Gibson’s violin solo is stunning on “Kuiama.” The album’s lead-off track, “In Old England Town (Boogie #2)” is somewhat of a mis-step. Instrumentally interesting, it contains one of Jeff’s harshest vocals ever. Check out the instrumental version of this song on EARLY ELO, which I greatly prefer. Still, ELO gets points for trying. This whole album has a very experimental air, and saw the band stretching its legs like never before or since.

    If the only ELO you know is from pop radio, you might give “II” a spin; it contains some really fine progressive rock. (Also look for the UK import expanded edition THE LOST PLANET which contains two discs with contributions from the Move’s Carl Wayne and T. Rex’s Marc Bolan.)

    Sony will be releasing re-masters of ELO’s catalog all throughout 2006, so be on the lookout for classic titles such as OUT OF THE BLUE, A NEW WORLD RECORD, and FACE THE MUSIC.

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    Well Dave, I guess that means I’d rather have gilded crap, than ungilded crap.

    As for you Tan, Great, thanks a lot, “now I can’t get it out of my head…” I’ll be humming that all night until I break out the CD, I have all of them you know…

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    i like ELO, especially their earlier stuff (“Fire On High, etc.)

    as far as gilded crap…hey, Phil Spector had the jump on everybody.

    what i never liked about Jeff Lynne was that, no matter who he produced, he made ‘em sound like ELO.
    not good.

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    That’s very true Mark, but the thing I like about them is their consistancy. I’ve lost count of how many “2nd albums” I’ve bought, only to discover that they sounded nothing like the first one by that particular group, that I purchased.

    When you buy an ELO album, you know what’s consistantly coming and you’re already pretty sure you’ll like at least 75 percent of it.

    When he’s doing other bands, I LIKE that it’s just ELO in another flavor.

    But what can I say, I love the Alan Parson’s project too.

  • Dr. Emil Shuffhausen

    It is a shopworn cliche to say that Jeff Lynne makes everyone he produces “sound like ELO.” Oh really? The Travelling Wilburys sound like ELO? Sure, George Harrison used to *joke* that Lynne had made him “sound like ELO” on CLOUD NINE, but then he picked Lynne to produce his final album, the brilliant BRAINWASHED…which…TA-DAH!…does not sound a thing like ELO. And, does CONCERT FOR GEORGE sound like ELO? Nope. Have you heard the cuts from the upcoming new Lynne-produced Tom Petty album, HIGHWAY COMPANION? Guess who these tracks sound like? Here’s a clue…NOT like ELO. C’mon, Jeff Lynne fans, no need to meekly take the abuse or accept the myths and legends and accusations. Hold your head high…Jeff Lynne is a genius, and that’s why so many top-shelf artists are thrilled to work with him.

    And, by the way, I wish he had made ZOOM, the most recent ELO album, sound a little MORE like…gulp…ELO! (Even though it is a brilliant rock and roll album in its own right.)