Sunday, November 15, 2015
Jeff Lynne's ELO: Exactly What I Wanted; Possibly What You Didn't
It pays to love the man unconditionally. From the very early days of The Idle Race, through the short-lived genius of The Move, through the hit-making years of the Electric Light Orchestra, and then his production work that made George Harrison listenable again, both alone and with the Traveling Wilburys, not to mention giving Tom Petty the biggest record of his life, Jeff Lynne has had his hand, head and harmonies in some of my favorite music of all time. So what if he ruined Dave Edmunds? Everyone was ruined in 1983.
Now, 15 years after his last record of new music under the ELO moniker, Jeff Lynne returns with "Alone In The Universe." After my first, uninterrupted pass through both sides, I thought, "This took 15 years?" I was still struggling to find a comfortable position on my couch with a fresh beverage and Side One was already over. I thought I missed something. If this was someone other than Jeff Lynne, I might not have bothered with Side Two.
Now if you're expecting some scathing words to follow, you'd be wrong. I have now visited with "Alone With The Universe" four times and each time, it thrilled me more. And I'll tell you why.
If I'm going to complain about Todd Rundgren making electronic dance music, and Elvis Costello & Joe Jackson making classical records, and Brian Wilson writing third grade lyrics, and Neil Young and Prince churning out mediocre crap for the last 20 years, how can I fault Jeff Lynne for writing ten songs that sound exactly like Jeff Lynne? I can't and I won't.
Everything on this new record is familiar. Every song pays tribute to either something previously released by Jeff Lynne or to one of his heroes, like "I'm Leaving You," an absolutely gorgeous heartbreaker which is basically Roy Orbison's "In Dreams," just sideways, sort of. Or, "Ain't It A Drag," which chugs along like one of those Dylan Wilbury tracks. Or the other eight tunes, all recalling the great chord changes of Lennon & McCartney. This is pop music at its finest.
My friend said, "After all this time, I wanted a masterpiece." He clearly sounded disappointed. I replied, "These songs sound like Jeff Lynne could write them in his sleep," which sounds like I'm tossing them off. But I quickly realized, just because Lynne could write these in his sleep doesn't mean anyone else can or does for that matter. Take "Love & Rain," a simple, mid-tempo groove that, if you can believe, sounds like ELO doing B.B. King, except for what happens at 2:23, a transition so surprising and beautiful, it could only come from the mind of Jeff Lynne. It is exactly these moments which are sprinkled generously throughout the record's 33 minutes, that keep you listening.
My biggest complaint about new artists is "WHERE ARE THE SONGS?' Well, they are here. Ten perfect pop tunes, carefully crafted, beautifully sung. That they may be charted territory doesn't bother me. That there is nothing more thought provoking than a bridge that makes you play "Name That Tune" is alright by me. These songs provide hooks and melodies that will latch onto you and never let go. Is it the long-awaited masterpiece? Not by a long shot, but if you've ever been a fan of Jeff Lynne, I see no reason why some, if not all of "Alone In The Universe" shouldn't make you very happy.