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13 July 2013

Electric Light Orchestra (United Artists)

Back before it was cool to like ELO, it was extremely un-cool to like them. Which of course made them cool, until they became cool, but by that point I was mature and confident enough in my tastes that I didn't really give a shit. The El Dorado/'Mr. Blue Sky' ELO is awesome and great too, but this early material, with Roy Wood in the band, is the logical continuation of the Move's more orch-tastic experiments and really must have felt like the world of pop music was going to change forever. When listening to side one of this record (sometimes called No Answer) it's hard not to be dazzled by the approach; Wood's cello saws through the first two cuts like a roundhouse punch, there's a shitload of ideas jammed into every crevice, and it just sounds HUGE, even when there aren't a zillion overdubs. Somewhere on YouTube there's a video of '10538 Orchestra' being performed by Jeff Lynne, Roy Wood and about 700 cellists (if my memory serves me right, though it's probably actually just a few) and it sends chills down my spine.  Lynne's taste for bubblegum merges perfectly with Wood's darker sonorities, and 'Look at Me Now' takes it even further, with a more spacious arrangement. It's a bit like His Name is Alive's 'Cornfield' as if it appeared on Wood's Boulders album, but with an English hunting horn thrown on top. The yin and yang of these guys worked in the Move but it really explodes here, just coming together perfectly. There's a tendency towards old English music-hall styles and relatively restrained production (especially compared to later ELO), and the gatefold cover has cryptic photographs for each song. It's really an art-rock classic, with major progressive tendencies but enough instant gratification to avoid it sounding anything like the bad side of prog. The contrapuntal violin runs, quotes of 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', and hook-drenched breaks follow from 'Cherry Blossom Clinic' and other madness on the Move's second album; this is a continuation with purpose, and it's really sad that Wood and Lynne didn't stick together longer because they really tempered each other's excesses while simultaneously inspiring each other. And Lynne is great - 'Queen of the Hours' is maybe my favourite song he ever wrote, drenched in a poetic longing that is all flowers and razorblades, a far cry from 'Roll Over Beethoven', which only came an album later. It's almost sad that this perfect pairing only lasted for one album in full Electric Light Orchestra form (cause this blows away both of the Move records with Lynne). Every time I listen to this I want to hold onto it, because as great as Boulders is (and as 'pretty good' as Mustard is), that's really the last great Roy Wood work to me. Though, I never got into Wizzard properly - but there's still time in this long and lonely life to give them a chance.

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