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CD Review



ELO - Out Of The Blue
Sony Legacy
         How cool is it that I get to review a re-release of one of my favorite childhood musical milestones: Electric Light Orchestra's masterpiece Out Of The Blue? In a word: very!  This album, along with Nick Lowe's Labour of Lust, formed and forged my pop music tastes as I grew from a young adolescent to a teenager. Purchased by my parents as a companion to a new stereo they had bought for me (Lowe's Labour of Lust is the first album I purchased myself) the album made a deep impression upon me, helped no doubt by the fact it was the only album I owned then so I had nothing else to play anyway.
         Regardless of that aspect, the album's deceptively simple melodies and lyrics combined with every musical bell and whistle imaginable really spoke to me as being a mirror of what life was like for a teenager at the time. Relatively simple tasks like getting up in the morning, going to school, and playing sports became major life altering episodes when mixed with all the complex emotions and physical changes happening at the teennage stage of life. The alternately light-hearted aspects of the album clashed with some of the darker apsects in some of the songs, matching when the happier times in my life clashed with some of my darker moods. This album had everything for me, from upbeat power pop to moody classical interludes, running the gamut from one extreme to the next, sometimes in the same song. It had a musical scope I had never experienced before, one which has really never been equaled today. Atmospheric synth bands almost never rock out and the classical interjections in rock have hardly worked for anyone, save The Moody Blues and Colin Blunstone.
         Truly, ELO has everything and were able to use it effectively.
         Founded by two veterans of The Move (Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood), the band was originally only supposed to be a side project Lynne and Wood were doing to re-charge their musical batteries so they could bring some fresh ideas back to The Move. After recording the first ELO album, however, the project was deemed so much of a success The Move were disbanded and both men focused their energies on their new band. Unfortunately for Wood, his time in ELO was only to be temporary. As the leader and visionary of The Move, Wood took the relatively green Lynne (who had previously had a short stint in the band The Idle Race) and mentored him, taking Lynne's fragmented ideas and expanding them into full-fledged songs. As time went on, Lynne's musicianship and songwriting skills progressed and Lynne subsequently became more of an equal to Wood and started chafing under Wood's control. As the recording sessions for ELO's second album (ELO II) progressed, Wood and Lynne began to clash over the direction of the band. Wood wanted to retain an esoteric nature to the band and feature more progressive rock elements while Lynne wanted to aim more for a pop sound and have some hit records, something The Move could never accomplish. The rows culminated with Wood leaving the band and Lynne becoming sole leader and visionary of ELO. Needless to say, after a few albums of finding his direction, Lynne soon began having hits with ELO on a regular basis and the band quickly became one of the '70's biggest album-selling bands and concert attractions. Upon the band's final album in 1986 (excluding a so-called "re-union" in 2002 that resulted in the album Zoom which is, for all intents and purposes, a Lynne solo album) Lynne became an in-demand producer and worked on some of the biggest-selling albums of all time in the late '80's and early '90's with the likes of George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty both seperately on their solo albums and together when they formed the Traveling Wilbury's with Bob Dylan. 
         A masterpiece in every respect, Out of The Blue is the culmination of everything Lynne had learned as a songwriter and musician. Flush after having several hits and a bunch of successful albums, Lynne was starting to trust his songwriting and production abilities and was ready to do something major. It couldn't have ended up being any more major than this album. But it wasn't an easy task by no means. Taking a vacation to get away and write songs, the first two weeks provided nothing worthwhile. Scared and doubting himself, Lynne woke up, looked outside at the morning sky and within a few ours wrote the eventual hit Mr. Blue Sky. After that songs flowed like a river Lynne couldn't shut off. And what songs. The amount of hits and classic songs on this disc is so amazing it could've been called ELO's Greatest Hits all by itself. I mean, while only four singles were released from this album I would defy any music fan around at the time to listen to this album and not be able to sing along word-for-world to at least ten songs. The album rock stations played the shit out of this album and rightly so. Not only did the band weave in the varied elements of futuristic synths and juxtapose it with the instrumentation of classical music, but they did it in a way that was rocking as hell. From Mr. Blue Sky to Turn To Stone to Sweet Talkin' Woman, this album is filled with some of the best pop rock going. Even the less well-known songs like Jungle and Birmingham Blues are home runs out of the park. Out of the albums you own how many do not have any throwaway songs? Now, how about a double album like this one? Not a throwaway song on it. Rouighly twenty songs and not a bad one in the bunch.
         Needless to say ELO fans are going to simply love this. Not only is the remastered sound excellent and the liner notes by Jeff Lynne very interesting (though a little too brief) to read, but the album itself has always been a masterpiece and Lynne has found three bonus tracks of similar quality to add to this set. Those who are fans of orchestral pop as well as the synthesizer-fueled musical flights of such bands as Air, High Llamas, and Grandaddy will love this as well and should take note at the innovations originated here which these newer bands have taken and built upon for their own music. A statement from a well-known rock critic said if the Beatles had stuck together they would have sounded like ELO. While that may be too simple an assessment, one can take a look at the classic pop melodies contained herein and the use of the studio and other technical innovations and draw parallel lines to what the Beatles were able to accomplish on albums like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper. While I would not place ELO on the same plane as the Beatles, for me the impact of ELO was just as much as The Fab Four and I am sure a lot of rock fans around in the '70's have many fond places in their hearts for these songs. One of the greatest albums ever made, bar none. Pick it up and see if you don't feel the exact same way. - Scott Homewood



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