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Music Review: ELO – Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra

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Remember all those cheap re-recordings of big hits featuring one or two members of the original bands? Sure you do. They populated gas stations all across the nation and you can still find them in a few isolated cases. Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra (released on October 9) is kind of like those collections.

Jeff Lynne doesn’t own the master tapes to the ELO catalog and he wanted a bigger cut of the pie when his songs were licensed and used for movies, TV, etc. His decision to re-record these songs is clearly for commercial reasons and while there’s nothing wrong with that, the big question is whether or not fans should buy this album. With numerous anthologies of ELO’s singles, album tracks and the original albums reissued earlier in the decade with bonus tracks and remasters, there really isn’t a need for note-for-note remakes of the original tracks included here.

According to Mr. Lynne the reason he re-recorded these is that he is a better producer now and he wants to fix all the mistakes from his original recordings. This truly is a solo album of remakes masquerading as ELO. Lynne plays all the instruments himself, engineered the album and sings all the vocals, making this truly a “solo” album of unnecessary remakes of classic ELO material. Lynne is certainly competent enough to play all the instruments but the album lacks a bit of the fire of having a band of other musicians interacting with him.

Lynne walks a fine line here combining the original arrangements for these songs with his more contemporary sound. This isn’t the problem with this album though. The problem is the mastering. As with most contemporary CD releases the album is highly compressed with little dynamic range. I’m not sure who mastered the album – the mp3 files I was given access to didn’t have a full booklet with credits – but while the album is listenable, it’s a difficult listen because of the over-compression of the songs. It robs them of their depth, damaging the sound stage but making them perfect for poorly rendered mp3 files to listen to on ear buds.

There is a new track, “Point of No Return.” It’s quite good but I just wish it was on an album of new material rather than retreads.

Listening to Mr. Blue Sky I can’t help feeling conned, as if I had bought one of those cheap gas station compilations where the hits were recreated by someone else.

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About Wayne Klein

  • Trance88

    Hi Wayne,
    I have the CD release of this album and it suffers from the exact same mastering problems you described. I’ve analyzed the audio in Audacity (a free recording and editing program) and it is one of the worst examples I’ve ever encountered when it comes to hypercomression. Each track displays as a giant wall of hacked off soundwaves. Just listening to the tracks themselves, you can hear the damage done to the waveforms with all the “sparkles” and “crackles” in each track.

    “Howie Weinberg Mastering” is responsible for this mastering disaster. I really wish there was a good way I could get in contact with them to express my disappointment. I’m glad you and a few others are concerned as well.

  • burpo

    Isn’t Point of No Return a remake from the Zoom album?

  • Lincoln

    I have to make a few comments. An opinion is an opinion, and can’t really be argued, so I’m not trying to agree or disagree with anything that’s been written. Even though E.L.O. was successful for many years, I feel that Lynne never really got his due for his contribution not only to the success of the band (and the Wilburys for that matter), but never really got a lot of recognition for his influence on the rest of the music scene as a musician, writer, singer, and producer. He has a real signature style which is hard enough to achieve, much less sustain for as many years as he has.

    I’m sure that when Johnny Cash started doing his American Recordings series, some people said, “we don’t really need that, we’ve heard those songs”. Maybe we don’t need artists re-recording songs whether they are their own or someone else’s. I became interested in this album primarily because they were remakes, and especially because Lynne plays all of the instruments and does all of the vocals. Not many people in the world can do that, especially today in our age that underemphasizes musicianship.

    The “over-compression” or any other slight imperfections that can be heard don’t bother me. If you put on any Beatles CD in headphones, you can hear imperfections. The Foo Fighters did some of their best recordings in various home studios, and “Wasted Light” was specifically recorded in a studio he built in his garage. For me, it’s more about the personality, characteristics that can be achieved through unusual methods rather than just pay “X” amount of dollars in whatever studio your producer chooses and you record and mix until your budget runs out.

    I like listening to these recordings. I feel like I’ve been ripped off when i purchase a song, or CD and even if the production is perfect, the bulk of it has no soul, or anything I can listen to more than once or twice without getting bored. When you start with great songs, and a great artist, the rest of the discussion about compression, and artist’s intent, and other things like that are just a distraction. Maybe this is just in the category with “basement tapes”, or “demos”, or “lost ‘B’ sides”, but fans like that kind of stuff. And I think this is primarily the kind of record meant for fans, not people who have never heard E.L.O. Just my .02.

  • Crush Everything

    I haven’t heard this CD yet and I certainly agree that the pandemic of overly loud and/or compressed mastering jobs in recent times is hugely disappointing, I have to say that anyone writing a (negative) review based upon hearing mp3 versions of a CD is a moron. Mp3 files are not an accurate representation of a CD and always sound like shit. Listen to the actual disc on a high-end system, preferably at high volume, and then write your review.

  • douchebag123

    There’s nothing wrong with mp3s per se. Anyone who thinks there is is a moron.

  • Wayne Klein

    Crush Everything,

    As I noted the label ONLY supplied the album as an series of 256kps mp3 files not a physical copy. There was no way to review this prior to release without the label providing one.

    I find calling anyone a “moron” unnecessary (and its against the policy here as it’s a personal attack). My review noted that the CD might sound different but, again, I wasn’t given access to the CD. I’m not going to go out and buy it just for this particular review (and when I agreed to do the review I should note that I was under the impression I would be sent the CD).

    You’re certainly welcome to review the sound of the CD (I doubt that it differs signficantly from the mp3 files in terms of how compressed they are given the current trend).

    douchebag 123–

    As I stated, I was commenting on the quality of the mp3’s sent to me and I referred to them as highly compressed mp3’s that might not necessarily be of the same quality of the release itself (although why there would be two different versions is beyond me). I never stated that there was anything wrong with the mp3 files and pointed out that they may sound different than the CD itself. As you’re aware the sound quality of an mp3, like a CD or vinyl, is going to depend on the source, how it is mastered and–if it is digital–the sampling rate used.

    Again, it’s fine to disagree and you can make your points without calling people names or accusing them of being “morons”. It’s amazing to me that people are unable to politely disagree without and reasoning rather than throwing names at each other and it cheapens the discussion.

  • Andrew Robinson

    i agree with most of the review , the songs were awesome as they were , i think if new material was on this cd it would have been a big seller , it sure was a jeff lynne solo project . i mean turn to stone failed for me , without Kelly grucutt on every 2nd verse and the harmonies to that song it did not work even jeffs vox , the chemestry of band members shone in ELO tracks dispite the songwriter,and those plug in strings were awfull, really miss hugh, melvin and mick….

  • Thomas Bonta

    Some people are misinformed about Jeff Lynne and his reasons for revisiting these ELO songs. First and foremost, Lynne is worth millions and has no reason to worry about trivial financial gains resulting from this release. As most of you are aware, Lynne became a direct extension of The Beatles, working with George Harrison in the 1980s and with McCartney, Harrison and Starr on the new songs for The Beatles Anthology series. Lynne’s trademark production style is both organic and timeless. Listen to The Beatles’ Real Love or Free As A Bird or any Jeff Lynne solo album to hear why Lynne is one of the best producers in the world. Lynne’s decision to revisit the classic ELO songs made sense to me, because he was able to eliminate many of the corny elements that were present in the original recordings. The end results are fresh, stripped down, harder-rocking versions of ELO classics which do not sound outdated. These new recordings will allow Lynne to reach new generations of audiences. Lynne does not seem to age like most mortal humans and his voice is as rich and powerful as it was in the 1970s. Make sure to check out Lynne’s new solo projects, including Long Wave and an all-new solo album due out in Fall 2013.