Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Where Did We Go Wrong?

Electric Light Orchestra : Mr Blue Sky

On October 3, 1977 Electric Light Orchestra released the double album Out of the Blue. Someone gave me a cassette version of this album in high school and I have to admit I didn't listen to it very much. It's possible I never flipped it over because , years later, I was surprised to find out that my favorite ELO tune, "Mr Blue Sky", was on it. Seventeen songs --with a running time of 70 minutes -- is a lot to work your way through. 

They were all written by Jeff Lynne, who socked himself away in a Swiss chalet for three weeks.

"For the first four days, I couldn't get a thing, I just looked at all that equipment and thought, What a funny job I have",  he told Mojo Magazine. "Mr Blue Sky" took a week to finish. Lynne remembers pounding the chord sequence for nine hours in a row one day.

From Billy Altman's dismissive review for Rolling Stone :

Here are just a few of the fun facts to be picked up from the inner-sleeve credits on Out of the Blue, ELO's double-LP set: Jeff Lynne's Marshall amps are custom-made be Tony Frank; all ELO road cases are made by Anvil; no less than fourteen utilized in the creation of this work; engineer Mack "slaved over a hot mixer for 1127 hours." Here's my favorite, though: Bev Bevan uses Slingerland "Bev Bevan" drumsticks. One could say that ELO is more than a bit smitten with itself.

 One could say it, and one would be right, though self-absorption is not any grounds for attacking a rock band; it's almost impossible to think of a band or an artist that isn't mainly ego. When one crosses over into self-indulgence, however, it's a different story completely. I didn't read the credits until after I had waded through the four sides of this totally uninteresting and horrifyingly sterile package. What I heard was a meticulously produced and performed set of songs, with subtle nods to the Beach Boys ("Across the Border" has a melodic passage identical to "Heroes and Villains"), the Bee Gees ("Starlight" and "Steppin' Out" both feature Jeff Lynne as Robin Gibb) and, of course, the Beatles (clearly Lynne's biggest influence). And without any noticeable passion or emotion. All method and no madness: perfectly hollow and bland rock Muzak. Solos are virtually nonexistent, which makes perfect sense because an individual statement by any one instrument would set the ELO ship jaggedly off course by injecting some heart into the proceedings. Group commander Jeff Lynne obviously is consumed by his vision of the totality of the ELO sound, floating slowly through the void.

Most ELO fans, I think, will read the credits before they listen to the records, and to them all I can say is, forewarned if forearmed. Entertainment without pretense is fine, but if you're going to imply that what you're giving us is something special, Captain Lynne, you had better make sure that we're reserving seats for an adventure, and not just a walking tour of the industrial works.

From Billboard's review ( note "Mr Blue Sky" absent from list of best cuts) :

This versatile group's first double pocket LP with 17 cuts all tracked at Munich's Musicland Studios may be its quintessential statement. While the music is certainly an extension of its well identified fusion of rock and amplified classical elements it manages to go one step beyond without being overproduced. All kinds of special effects such as echo and delay devices and the speech altering Vocoder are employed in the mix of high energy rockers and lush, ethereal ballads which make it a truly spectacular, multi-track extravaganza. Mind boggling possibilities for both AM and FM programming. Best cuts: "Turn To Stone," "It's Over," "Night In The City," "Jungle," "Sweet Is The Night," "Wild West Hero," "Standin' In The Rain," "Summer And Lightning."

From Jim Harrington's review in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

Jeff Lynne is a man with serious ambitions. That much was clear from the start, when he and two other ex-members of pre-ELO psychedelic pop outfit The Move announced that they would now pick up where The Beatles had left off with "I Am The Walrus." But even by Lynne's standards, Out Of The Blue was a daringly ambitious project -- a galaxy-spanning double platter that melded spacey art rock, Beatlesque pop, and sleek orchestral arrangements.

Despite its length, ...Blue does not contain much filler. It kicks off with a trio of tunes that rank among ELO's finest -- the giddy "Turn To Stone" and "Sweet Talkin' Woman" that bookended the meticulously produced "It's Over," a track that hints at what Lynne would later accomplish with George Harrison. The album draws inspiration from both Berry and Beethoven as it moves through rockers such as "Birmingham Blues" and the symphonic side-long "Concerto For A Rainy Day," which climaxes with "Mr. Blue Sky." The cinematic "Wild West Hero," complete with its McCartney-like refrain, brings the album to a triumphant close

Released at the height of disco, Out Of The Blue was seen by some as a futuristic fish out of water. (The trippy spaceship cover was illustrator Shusei Nagaoka's expansive development of the UFO-shaped logo from the band's previous LP, A New World Record.) Nonetheless, it quickly became a platinum-selling hit and launched the band on one of the most ambitious world tours of the 1970s.

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