Release Date: 1 Nov 2019
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Jeff Lynne is another classic name whose new album seems to have come, well, from out of nowhere, given that I thought he was happy as a mega-producer to the legends, but apparently he reformed the Electric Light Orchestra back in 2014 under the name of Jeff Lynne's ELO and this is the second album to see a release under that name, after 2015's Alone in the Universe.
If you're into Lynne's style of pop/rock, this is an essential album. There simply isn't a single bad song here, each of the ten on offer being a three minute and change crafted masterpiece with a hook that most musicians would kill for. It's the closest thing I've heard to the Beatles since, well, the Beatles and, even with long term collaborator Richard Tandy on board again, it's pretty much a one man band nowadays.
Lynne wrote all the music, of course, and that's his voice on all the songs, often harmonising with himself. He played almost every instrument: not just the guitar, bass and drums but piano, cello and even vibraphone. He handled the production. He probably even put the coffee on when needed. Tandy did a piano solo on One More Time and engineer Steve Jay added some percussion at points, which may mean that he shook a couple of tambourines. And that's the extent of outside involvement, I think.
Clearly the man is a genius, but the real question is whether this is going to stand up to posterity as there are two obvious catches.
One is that this sounds safe, something that I'm starting to resent as I get old. With every year that passes, I find myself empathising more with the Dude from The Big Lebowski: "I hate the fuckin' Eagles, man." It's not that they don't do their jobs supremely well. It's just that I know they can add an edge but they refuse to do it because it'll hurt the bottom line.
The other is that the album's sound is so inevitably consistent. While it's clearly in the style of the Beatles, it's very safe Beatles, with maybe an extra pinch of safe Eric Clapton on songs like All My Love. Listen to this through, then follow up with Sgt. Pepper and Disraeli Gears and recall what those musicians did when they didn't have self-imposed boundaries.
Even when the source style isn't outright Beatles-influenced pop, such as the funk of All My Love, the soul of Goin' Out on Me and the rock 'n' roll of One More Time, the end result still sounds like John Lennon singing for the Beatles in the seventies. That's odd, of course, given that Lennon was from Liverpool and Lynne hails from Birmingham, but it's there nonetheless.
All that said, the last time I felt like this about an album was Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever, which sounded like a safe take on what Petty had previously done, mostly because of the writing and production of one Jeff Lynne, but it went on to become a bona fide classic and, as much as it gets overplayed on my local classic rock station, I'm not tired of it yet the way I am of Take It to the Limit Eighty-Four More Times.
This album seems strong enough for a similar end result and I don't know why I'm surprised. Lynne will turn 72 years old next month and he's apparently rediscovered his love for writing and performing. He's rich enough to never set foot in a studio again, let alone on a stage, but he clearly felt driven to write another ELO album and do it this damn well. All power to him.