This ELO article was written by Ben Malkin, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Hazel Webster
Jeff Lynne gets nostalgic on new release ‘Alone in the Universe’. The album is ELO’s first studio record in over fourteen years, the previous being 2001’s ‘Zoom’. Fans of the Brummy ensemble will certainly be interested to hear how Lynne has matured as a writer, especially whilst attaching the Electric Light Orchestra name to the album – the reason for this being the more-or-less recent reestablishment of the band, alongside multi-instrumentalist Richard Tandy. Despite this, and despite multiple mini-reunions of ELO, this is still essentially a Jeff Lynne project and nothing more. But hey, if the attachment of the name means anything, let’s see what Jeff Lynne’s ELO sounds like in 2015!
The album opens with ‘When I Was a Boy’, which is the basis of the heaps of nostalgia present. This song is mainly nostalgic because of the lyrical content based around Lynne having a dream as a child to become just what he ended up becoming; which is simply a maker of music. The other factor that makes the song fairly reminiscent is the composition as far as the music is concerned. ELO had a number of sides to them back in the day, whether it be their more adventurous, progressive side, or their accessible, pop side. There was also a side to them that drew comparisons to The Beatles, and the rhythm and style of balladry on ‘When I Was a Boy’ is just that, or at least 1970s Paul McCartney-esque. The style is nice but a bit too familiar, you could call it a fairly cute ballad. Things get a bit harsher on the following track ‘Love and Rain’, but the lyricism is still too moderate, the same goes for ‘Dirty to the Bone’, which has some pretty instrumentals, but is lacking elsewhere.
Maybe Jeff Lynne is maturing to the extent that his songwriting is becoming too serious and tame. But as mentioned, every now and then layers of instrumentation will burst out and turn into something more inspired – guitars and keyboards and the like – so it’s not like ‘Alone in the Universe’ doesn’t have its redeeming qualities.
As far as redeeming qualities go in regards to individual tracks being complete packages; ‘Ain’t It a Drag’ actually has a lot of charm; it’s as simple as anything else on the album, but the song is fun, well-paced and really easy to enjoy for newer audiences whilst maintaining a lot of throwback appeal. ‘One Step at a Time’ is somewhat similar, but more drawn-out.
‘Alone in the Universe’ is a simple album, with simple appeal. It feels like there are a few things missing but it should please a lot of big ELO fans. At just over half-an-hour long, you can’t say the album suffers in the length department. Jeff Lynne displays a lot of competence as a writer and musician, as you’d expect. And it’s not like the emotions behind the songs don’t come across as authentic, just in small doses.
‘Alone in the Universe’ is out now via Columbia Records.